When I last came on your podcast, I was blogging for pakpassion.com and Dawn. I graduated from college in the USA. I randomly went to Sri Lanka [in 2011], where I sneaked into the press box. That was my first experience of interacting with cricketers live. I interned with the New Zealand Cricket Players' Association. I was also coaching junior cricket in a club in Auckland. From there, I covered the 2011-12 India-Australia series for Dawn.
I was working full-time for the NFL Players' Association and for Monumental Sports Entertainment, which owns the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals, in the licensing and development department and the sponsorship department. Even though I was working in American sports, the dream was to get into cricket. It was a no-brainer that Pakistan needed a league of its own, but for various reasons, it hadn't been able to so far. So I wrote my position paper. I would like to believe that the position paper is something the PSL built towards.
The PCB were hesitant because they did not have experienced personnel to do a mega-event like the PSL. They wanted to outsource the project to a more experienced [operator], a model the Sri Lankan Premier League tried and failed. The Caribbean Premier League has tried that and it has been working for them, or at least till now. We had a strong sense that we should do this ourselves, because it would benefit Pakistan cricket more.
The first time, in 2012, the PCB decided to keep it completely local. We tried our best to get foreign players to Pakistan, but none were willing to play a single game in Pakistan. That has changed after this edition of the PSL. When I talked to the players or the commentators, there is this change in mindset where they might come for a game or two.
The PSL and similar leagues are commercial products. It is actually the Gayles, the Watsons, the Pietersens that make the broadcasters and the sponsors go, "This is a project worth supporting" and open their purses. They are not willing to open up their purses to the same extent just for the Pakistani players. The PCB will stand to gain financially, if not in the first, surely in the second or third editions. You first try and convince foreign players to come to Pakistan.
"If you spend so much time in building a brand in the UAE, why not make it into a global league? Why not look at other markets like Sri Lanka or Bangladesh?"
The scepticism within the board. I wouldn't say it was unwarranted. Having worked through the hurdles, you need some crazy people to get this thing through. The PCB were extremely strong in logistics and operational work. The PSL T20 team was able to supplement it in terms of the commercials, whatever the marketing we were allowed to do given the restraints, because we were a board that was not holding games at home.
The board of governors of the PCB - when we tried to get this project approved - provided a guideline that this should not be a loss-making project for the PCB. The financial model was based around that. UAE is extremely expensive in terms of getting the marketing campaign out there, like the MCL was doing. We did not care for what the MCL was doing, because, to us, our product was strong and it was with current cricketers. Pakistan cricketers had been playing in the UAE since the late '70s. This league was awaited by the fans since the IPL was launched.
Absolutely. It is a city-based franchise tournament. Some of the crowds on weekdays have been extremely disappointing, more so than even I would have imagined. The turnouts we got in Sharjah have been beyond my imagination. The final in Dubai was great, so was Peshawar Zalmi v Quetta Gladiators. That was a testament to the fact that Pakistan cricket has the strength to lure its fans anywhere in the world.
"The model right now is to refine what we have for the second year. In the third year, the addition of another team, and then maybe cap it at eight"
I don't know if I can say "borrow", but you can't help but say that a league like this is not just cricket but also entertainment. The [camera] shots to the owners and the celebrity interviews are going to happen; the commercial strategic time-out, the amount of money a broadcaster is trying to get.
There is a certain evolutionary process to sports broadcasting that has not occurred in the Pakistani market yet. A lot of that has to do with the state broadcaster and its stronghold. Those sort of controls have been broken in other markets, such as India, where the state broadcaster has come away from the market and the monopoly has subsided.
We tried the milestone truck - it was huge success with the fans. We did the anda [egg]; it wasn't supposed to be a duck, it was supposed to be an anda. I wanted to have more emphasis on music, because Pakistani people like a mix of music and cricket, which hopefully we will see from next season onwards. You can see music taking a prominent position in how the franchises are marketing themselves. Peshawar Zalmi has a whole album out and a lot of the songs are actually good. Lahore has two songs, Quetta has two songs, Islamabad has their own song, so does Karachi. All of them came up with sound tracks and did their own marketing. Kudos to them. I wasn't expecting the amount of marketing they pulled off in the short time. The franchises were sold in mid-December. They had barely a month and a half to get everything organised. Most of them were just getting the whole cricketing team together, let alone their marketing team.
Why were there five teams? You want to start small. The teams made sense in terms of how it was equally divided with each province getting its representation. We wouldn't have been able to fit in anything bigger than this in the time that was there, from Feb 4 to 23. There was a battle with the MCL, the New Zealand tour and the Asia Cup. The teams that qualified for the finals were the qualifiers for us. The playoffs are there because you need some amount of games that can give you commercial feasibility.
It is two teams making it to the playoffs. That is how we look at it. If you just do the regular round and the top two qualifiers, the number of games is not enough for the media agency or the broadcasters.
"We did not care for what the MCL was doing, because to us our product was strong and it was with current cricketers"
Yes, there were. The regular semi-final option was also considered. The strength of the league was the fact that there were no games that were not competitive or consequential. That was the power of both the format and the draft. The teams were of almost equal standard. You didn't have Karachi or Lahore being the more expensive teams, capable of getting the better players.
There are a lot of other cities who will want a team and have the population to deserve teams. Commercially, it comes to a point where it makes more sense to build the brand and then to derive commercial gain from it by selling those teams at a higher rate. That eventually helps the league and Pakistan cricket, because the money is coming back in and getting divided in the central pool. Then it goes to the PCB and can be spent on domestic cricket and on the grassroots development. But the model right now is to refine what we have for the second year. In the third year, the addition of another team, and then maybe cap it at eight.
Sony was showing the MCL. Star Sports already had too much on their plate. The values given by the broadcasters would have set a poor precedent for the PSL and would have resulted in setting the bar too low.
I have a personal bias towards this, but I would like my thesis to kick in. If you spend so much time and effort in building a brand in a foreign country and there is a following for the league and a population willing to consume it, you should take advantage of it. Don't think small, think big. The PSL could potentially be the second-biggest league after the IPL.