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Changing the order


FEATURE | CRICKET

Australian batsman David Warner celebrates an IPL century for Delhi Daredevils in 2012

Changing the order Few developments in world sport have had the kind of far-reaching implications that Twenty20 has for cricket. Now, as the format reaches the end of its first decade and its biggest league, the IPL, celebrates its fifth birthday, SportsPro looks at the story of the fun innovation that became serious business. By Eoin Connolly

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en years ago, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) launched the Twenty20 Cup. The result of a UK£200,000 consumer survey led by marketing manager Stuart Robertson, it was a domestic competition with the modest ambition of reviving attendances at English county grounds. Its premise was simple, yet brilliant. It would feature a shortened version of oneday cricket with 20 overs a side instead of the usual 40 or 50, with each contest lasting around three hours. The rules were

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near identical to the existing game; in fact, the model was familiar to amateur club players used to fitting in a match after a day at school or the office. Cricket, like so much else, makes infinitely more sense in hindsight, with small events on the field gaining huge significance when the day ends. Even now, the argument rages as to whether the creation of Twenty20 was a eureka moment or a springing of Pandora’s Box. What is clear, though, is that this ‘hit and giggle’ format was in fact the most significant innovation in the sport in

at least a generation. A huge success in England, it quickly spread, with national teams soon involved and the International Cricket Council (ICC) playing the first World Twenty20 tournament in South Africa in 2007. It was then to have an even more transformative effect. Shortly before the ECB’s brainwave, IMG executive vice president Andrew Wildblood had been mulling over the idea of a city franchise-based competition that could make the most of the enormous cricketing fanbase in India. He had established a working relationship with


“If you have a three-hour offering, then you are putting yourself in the mainstream of entertainment products.”

the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in the early 1990s when IMG bought the global rights to a home Test series, giving the organisation its first rights fee and prompting it to shake off the broadcast stranglehold of state network Doordarshan. In the time that followed, he had grown convinced of the need to satisfy a public who could wait years to see top players in the flesh as the Test and one-day international roadshow rolled through the country. Wildblood’s plans were to drift through the early part of the last decade before, at an India v Pakistan one-day international in Abu Dhabi, he encountered the livewire businessman and BCCI vice president Lalit Modi. “And actually, the first thing we did was have an argument!” Wildblood recalls, speaking in February. “We fell out with each other. Then a couple of years later, in the summer of 2007, Lalit called me and said, ‘Let’s meet.’” Modi, too, had been dreaming up a franchise-based league in India, and the conversation the two men were to have at that second meeting would alter the

course of modern cricket. Wildblood went back and “conceptualised the whole thing” with a team at IMG, and within weeks was giving a detailed presentation to the BCCI. The league had already taken shape: the number of franchises was set, there was to be no promotion or relegation so as to “give investors confidence”, and a broadcast deal would be sought before the launch to guarantee its financial future. Wildblood and Modi also decided, “very quickly”, that to give itself the best chance of moving “away from the traditional allmale Indian consumer to a more familydriven demographic”, the new competition should adopt cricket’s newest identity. “If you’ve got a one-day, 50-over, traditional limited-overs match, you don’t compete with Bollywood movies,” explains Wildblood. “If you have a three-hour offering, then you are putting yourself in the mainstream of entertainment products because you’re offering something that can be consumed in the evening.” The franchises would be sold to major Indian companies, with interest high despite the first knockings of the global banking crisis, while Bollywood celebrities were recruited to infuse some added glamour. But most critical of all, Wildblood says, was “making sure that what was taking place inside the boundary was hard, serious, competitive, aggressive sport”. That meant gaining BCCI and ICC clearance, something which was beyond the reach of the “badly conceived, badly constructed, unsustainable” Indian Cricket League as it rushed to market in late 2007. It also meant attracting the world’s very best players, something for which Modi “was almost exclusively responsible”. He signed 50 top international stars to deals in such a way that the BCCI, which had underwritten his efforts to the tune of US$200,000 a man, was not financially exposed. They would join the best that India had to offer. “We got who we wanted,” says

Wildblood. “Like all sports, if you’ve got the right players then you’ve got value.” Buoyed by India’s win in the inaugural World Twenty20 – which had made T20 zealots of a hitherto sceptical nation – the publicity around the league carried through the inaugural player auction. Then on 18th April 2008, Kolkata Knight Riders travelled to play Royal Challengers Bangalore in a game marked by a world record score of 158 not out by New Zealander Brendan McCullum. The Indian Premier League (IPL), cricket’s first big-money domestic competition, had begun. Less than five years had passed since the first official Twenty20 match. Five years on, the IPL is the richest commercial property in cricket and the fastest-growing professional league in sporting history. As with the wider story of Twenty20, it is tempting now to see this as a fait accompli from the outset, but there have been examinations along the way. In 2009, its second year, the tournament was relocated to South Africa in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the Indian government’s refusal to fund security during concurrent national elections. For IPL chief executive Sundar Raman, speaking to SportsPro from India in mid-February, that was a bold but crucial move. “It was important from the standpoint of the tournament,” he says, “the largest aspect of the tournament, so we can’t thank the sponsors, the franchises and all of the broadcast rights holders enough because they saw the vision and they saw the need, even in spite of relocating, to keep the tournament going. That did a big service to the fans. You can’t deny the fans what they’ve seen in year one, when suddenly you don’t have a tournament the next year. That’s not in anybody’s interest.” A little over a year later, the IPL was plunged deep into crisis again when the BCCI forced Modi from his role as commissioner. Modi’s relationship with Indian cricket’s other leading figures

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FEATURE | CRICKET

had been souring for some time before he was embroiled in a row over his Twitter disclosure of shareholders in the Kochi expansion franchise. A suspension and lengthy rap sheet was forthcoming from the BCCI; Modi found himself accused of corruption and money-laundering, and fired back with claims that senior BCCI officials, including the now president N Srinivasan, were engaged in conflicts of interest. A bitter public and legal dispute continues to this day. “From the standpoint of the tournament the show had to go on,” says Raman, “so the management team was always focused on delivering a tournament at the level and standard that IPL had set at the beginning of the event.” Wildblood does not think “anybody would argue” about Modi’s contribution to the IPL in its early years. “There is no doubt that Lalit Modi was the energy behind the IPL,” he says. “He was the guy who, with the support of others in the Indian board, was able to get it done. He was also the guy who, because of his character, took the IPL from the back page to the front page and to all the pages in between.” Nevertheless, he does accept that the league may have since outgrown the need for that kind of charismatic figurehead, saying that “once you’ve reached maturity, then the management requirement changes.” Without its talisman, the IPL continued to build. In Modi’s last weeks as commissioner the league’s global broadcast rights had been sub-licensed to Google for live streaming on YouTube in all territories worldwide, excluding the United States. That groundbreaking arrangement continues under the auspices of The Times of India Group’s Times Internet, and complements an international broadcast network alongside domestic partner Sony Max which features the likes of Africa’s Supersport and the UK’s ITV – the IPL is the only cricket tournament available live on freeto-air television in the country where the sport and T20 format were created. “What’s interesting is that when kids come back from school, they sit in front of the television,” suggests Raman. “I keep getting feedback on how kids get so absolutely involved in the UK. The

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Lalit Modi joined forces with IMG executive Andrew Wildblood to develop the IPL concept in 2007

culture of supporting clubs is ingrained into part of the lifestyle when people grow up. Kids pick sides, they want to watch their favourite player or favourite team participate, play, win, etc.” The 2011 edition toiled in the long shadow of India’s home win in the 50over ICC Cricket World Cup but in 2012 TV ratings, attendances and on-field quality rebounded. Raman describes the early part of the year as the “‘don’t let anything go wrong’ stage” but he could be forgiven for heading into IPL 6 in confident mood. Reasons for optimism include a new title sponsorship with ICC partner Pepsi, which at Rs.396.8 crore (US$73.66 million) over five years is worth almost double the previous deal with DLF. “They’re certainly bringing more money, for sure,” Raman chuckles, “so that’s one part of it. Companies realise the value of IPL and they pay what they believe is the price for IPL which is fantastic. The money will be the secondary part. The primary part is a global brand, an American brand participating which has got deeprooted connections with the Indian youth for over two decades, has a firm understanding of the consumer and brings with it a significant level of activation around the brand.” Another newcomer will be the

incoming Hyderabad Sunrisers team, whom Raman hopes can stabilise comfortably in 2013. They will replace the Deccan Chargers, who were eliminated from the league when owner Deccan Chronicle Holdings failed to meet a bank guarantee deadline in October 2012. Sun TV bought the new franchise for an annual Rs 85.05 crores (US$15.87 million) until the end of 2017. The company’s total expenditure over five years will be close to what Deccan Chronicle Holdings had pledged to pay over ten. The departure of the Deccan franchise is one of a number of off-field developments that feed an occasional sense of chaos in the IPL. For Raman, such disputes are no different from those which occur “in leagues around the world”. Wildblood takes a similarly phlegmatic view. “I suppose what you have to remember is that it’s only five years old,” he says. “I know it seems like it’s been there forever. There are a lot of people who consider how to improve it all of the time. Therefore, as it should be, it’s still in a period of evolution.” In any case, he argues, such controversy should not only be viewed through a negative prism. “The IPL, I think, needs a little bit of spice,” he says. “It doesn’t want to become just another boring event.” There seems, at this rate, to be little


“I see IPL as something that will help us take the game to a greater number of people, more and more fans.”

Sundar Raman is the chief executive of the IPL

Shah Rukh Khan co-owns Kolkata’s champions

danger of that happening but the IPL and its member franchises still hope to do more to be heard above the fray. Last year, the BCCI approved plans for IPL teams to play games in associate and affiliate countries – those where official cricket is played outside of the ten Test nations – to help grow their brands, and the sport, outside of India. “And it’s for the teams to start capitalising on that and start to contribute back to the game in that sense,” says Raman. “Because to me, the global brand of each of the franchises is still not as big as we all believe it will be in the coming years.” Twenty20 is doubtless here to stay. Money talks, for one thing, but other factors will also interject. At the end of February the advisory MCC World Cricket Committee gave its blessing for a bid to get cricket into the Olympic Games, possibly as early as 2024 – a prospect which has the support of outgoing IOC president Jacques Rogge – despite the short-term financial cost to the sport. And the balance has already shifted between the domestic and international game. The latter has been dominant commercially since time immemorial but the rise of franchise cricket, particularly the IPL, is affecting players’ priorities. In January, a working party made up of Raman, ECB chief executive David Collier, Cricket Australia chief executive

James Sutherland and Cricket New Zealand chief executive David White told the ICC board that the sport would be best served by “attaining co-existence between domestic T20 leagues and the international game”. It is an outlook that would find favour with Wildblood. “I think that the one thing the IPL deserves is an exclusive window in the ICC calendar,” he says. “I think it contributes enough both to the sporting and economic benefit of cricket for it to be respected in that way. It’s difficult for England, it’s difficult for the West Indies and all the rest of it, but they ought to be able to find a way such that they enable their top players to benefit from the riches that IPL can offer. Because the problem is, if they don’t, the riches will eventually become more attractive than ignoring them.” Wildblood is speaking in a week in which the England wicketkeeper Matt Prior – a respected voice in that dressing room and a world class player passed over at this year’s IPL auction for availability reasons – admitted that while Test cricket remained the pinnacle for his team, “there are going to be more and more people getting frustrated at the lack of opportunity to play in the IPL.” His concerns were echoed by the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, Angus Porter, who stressed

that despite generous central contracts England players were “substantially underpaid” compared with their peers with access to franchise cricket. “As we move further away from the days in which Twenty20 started and the days in which IPL started,” Wildblood warns, “the people coming through are going to be less focused on the other various parts of the game, notably Test cricket. But one of the ways you will sustain Test cricket, in my view, is giving it a proper place in the calendar that doesn’t clash with other forms of the game.” Raman, for his part, is as proud of the players the IPL has introduced to international cricket as he is of those the league has attracted from it, and talks of the strides made in all forms of the game by the likes of Australia’s David Warner and Shane Watson after eye-catching displays in India. He says, “The inscription on the trophy states in Sanskrit: ‘Yatra Pratibha Avsara Prapnotihi’. That’s Greek and Latin to you but what it means is: ‘Where talent meets opportunity.’” Beyond the overwhelming financial power that the IPL has exerted in its fiveyear existence, that is the kind of influence that Raman would like to ascribe to it. He sees it as a vessel for bearing cricket beyond its traditional borders. “The IPL is not as commercial as it is commonly described to me,” he says. “To me personally, I see IPL as something that will help us take the game to a greater number of people, more and more fans, and that’s how the game has to go. Cricket at the end of the day, even today, is not played by a large part of the world, and if we can attract more people to the game through IPL or the T20 format – or any other format – we are only doing what is good for the game.”

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FEATURE | CRICKET

Chris Gayle dances ‘Gangnam Style’ as the West Indies toast a World Twenty20 title in 2012; hopes are now high for the new Caribbean Premier League

Around the world in 20 overs

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he ECB may have led cricket into the brave new world of T20 but, in a country where Test cricket forms the bedrock of eight-figure sponsorship deals and nine-figure television contracts, it maintains a conservative approach to its domestic competition. The Friends Life t20 was launched in 2010 but remains broadly similar to the original Twenty20 Cup and retains the involvement of the 18 first-class county teams. Currently, there are plans in 2014 for a summer-long tournament played mostly on Friday nights, with city franchises a distant prospect. English county cricket may not exactly be a commercial perennial but its deep roots have held it firm through the T20 whirlwind. Australian broadcasters failed to reach an agreement to show IPL 5 last year but local fans could enjoy a new T20 tournament of their own. Cricket Australia has opted for eight city franchises for its KFC T20 Big Bash League, running the competition separately from its domestic state competitions but still selling rights under its broader commercial umbrella. The second edition of the tournament,

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“Everybody thinks it’s easy, and very few people really understand the economics of these things.” which replaced the KFC Big Bash, finished in January to warm reviews and while it lacks the scale of the IPL, it has proved a fertile testing ground for wild innovation – including flashing bails and umpire cams. Cricket South Africa’s tournament, relaunched this year as the Ram Slam, shares a similar model but other leagues seek to follow the IPL’s example more closely. The Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) and Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL) have succeeded in attracting the likes of West Indies superstar Chris Gayle but largely operate below the radar internationally. The Pakistan Super League (PSL) boasts the involvement of former ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat as a consultant. Earlier this year it made headlines with its promise to players of six-figure paydays

and US$2 million life insurance policies to assuage security fears in a land not currently permitted to host international fixtures. In February, however, the Pakistan Cricket Board opted to suspend the competition indefinitely to resolve logistical issues and shore up financial guarantees. PSL managing director Salman Sarwar Butt resigned a few days later, citing scheduling conflicts brought on by the postponement. A competition in the US, launched as a joint venture between the USA Cricket Association and New Zealand Cricket, was also postponed from summer 2013 to 2014 to seek more franchise interest. Speaking to SportsPro last July, ICC president Alan Isaac questioned the “financial viability” of some of the proliferating leagues and said the international calendar had to be protected.


CLT20: The best of the best?

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Verus International managing director Dirk Hall

IMG’s Andrew Wildblood, one of the architects of the IPL, is also circumspect about their prospects in the absence of major Indian broadcast deals. “There are plenty of people who want to do this,” he says, “because everybody thinks it’s easy, and very few people really understand the economics of these things.” Wildblood believes the league with “the most chance of success at the moment” is the upcoming Caribbean Premier League. West Indies cricket has listed badly at times since its teams powered through the 1970s and 80s. The past two decades have been scarred by running disputes between key players and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and declining standards on the field. They are, however, the new ICC World Twenty20 champions, with a team featuring some of the most explosive talents in the shortest form of the game. Ajmal Khan, the Indian-born, Englisheducated Barbados resident and president of investment firm Verus International, hopes to make this part of the solution. Verus will be the main backers of the sixteam CPL when it begins later this year. “Ajmal was a huge fan of West Indian cricket in the glory days and he wanted to try to do something to bring cricket back,” explains Verus managing director

he international explosion of Twenty20 cricket led very quickly to talk of a global club competition. The Champions League Twenty20 (CLT20) was the first official effort, announced soon after the end of the inaugural IPL season. It is jointly owned by the BCCI, Cricket Australia and Cricket South Africa, but has so far lacked the impact of the IPL. It has a ten-year, US$1 billion global broadcast and commercial deal in place with ESPN Star Sports but has failed to deliver ratings, while Karbonn Mobile became its third title sponsor in August 2012 – Airtel and Nokia having made early exits due to disappointing returns. Still, chief executive Sundar Raman remains defiant about the prospects of the two-week tournament, which invites qualifiers from the world’s top eight cricketing nations. He believes that the sporting benefits are beginning to be felt. “What has started to happen is over a period of time there is a fair bit of interest that is coming to the domestic cricket structure and the T20 leagues,”

Dirk Hall. West Indies cricket has been here before, of course, with Allen Stanford bankrolling an inter-island competition and a series of US$20 million winnertakes-all internationals with England before his arrest on massive fraud charges in 2009. But if Stanford’s approach could be mildly described as egotistical, Verus International’s is more holistic. “For us,” says Hall, “it starts with: how do you attract more money into West Indies cricket?” Lessons have been learned from major international sports leagues, including the IPL, as Verus and the WICB look to reach beyond traditional cricket fans and to the global West Indian diaspora with a celebrity-flecked, “uniquely Caribbean” proposition. The firm is hoping its commitment will encourage others to join the CPL sponsorship platform and offer wider support to cricket in the region.

argues Raman. “I mean, until recently the domestic teams who won from each of the countries were not known possibly beyond their own cities or regions, or their country at best, but now with Champions League T20 the enthusiasm for the domestic cricketers has started to go up.” The CLT20 has now been granted a slot in the ICC’s Future Tours Programme, ensuring it will not clash with international cricket matches – a development Raman describes as “fantastic”. It is important, he believes, to look beyond the commercial growing pains and allow the competition to mature at its own pace. “We’ve got to give it time to establish itself,” he says. “What it has done, I call it a cyclic development that has happened. So teams are starting to play better in order to qualify for the Champions League, and because of that the quality of the Champions League has become better. Because the quality of the Champions League has become better the teams have started to play far more aggressively within their domestic competitions.” Hall is clearly most proud of the fact that the scheme will allow cricketers not currently tied to WICB retainers to earn a living from the game. 90 players will be employed across the six teams, with each awarded one West Indian ‘franchise player’ and allowed to sign up to four overseas stars to 15-man squads. The rest will come from the Caribbean pool of talent. “We have 60 players that right now do not receive any substantial money that will have money,” says Hall. “They will all be able to enter into the draft to be picked in the teams. You have four under-23 players that would not otherwise get on to a team that can play with the greats of the West Indies as well as top international players. So if you do that year after year you can see the level of development that will happen for the young players in the West Indies, and that’s what’s really needed.” The inaugural CPL season will run from 29th July to 26th August 2013.

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Changing the order