Re-inventing the IPL

Mohan R. Lavi | Updated on March 09, 2018

The T-20 professional league could deliver more returns to franchisees if spread over fewer days.

“The cricketing world proposes, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) disposes.”

It would be almost impossible to disagree with this statement given the clout that the BCCI today wields over cricketing matters worldwide. It has a balance sheet and cash flow statement that would be envy of many a corporate. This power is what has, in turn, enabled it to call the shots and virtually redraw the rules of the game.

As the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) reaches its business end, we realise that the BCCI has successfully blocked out two months of the cricket calendar every year. Modelled largely on the format of the English Premier League (EPL) – including the concept of a Fantasy League, where viewers can ‘create’ and ‘own’ their own team, in this year’s edition – the IPL intended to do to cricket what the former has done to soccer.

The IPL is, indeed, a creature of Globalisation with all its associated features and concepts – private ownership of teams, targeting a global market for the ‘product’ and seeking profits for investors.

Desi EPL

Though global in design, the IPL has actually ended up as a quintessential desi event much on the lines of a typical Bollywood movie with its share of thrills and spills. Thus, we have its original promoter (Chairman and Commissioner, as he was called) now fighting Twitter battles over charges of financial misdemeanor; two teams that have bitten the dust; a Union Minister who had to resign on allegations of his wife being offered ‘sweat equity’ in an IPL team for questionable reasons; a foreign player charged with rape; and an Indian matinee idol banned from entering Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium after getting into a brawl with a security guard trying to do his duty.

The BCCI has a complex revenue-sharing agreement with its franchisees over how the spoils of the IPL are to be shared. It appears all of this has helped only one entity – the BCCI – as the financial statements of the franchisees apparently do not make for much pleasant reading.

This conclusion is, of course, being drawn only from hearsay; the finances of the franchisees are, in any case, a hush-hush matter.

Cut the duration

But one of the significant things that the BCCI can do is to reduce the tenure of the annual IPL events. The inaugural season in 2008 had 59 matches spread over 43 days; the latest one has 76 matches packaged across two hot summer months. When the general elections of 2009 came in the way of holding the second edition, the venue got shifted to South Africa, which conducted it over just 37 days.

Compare this with sporting events elsewhere. The London Olympics took only 16 days from start to finish. Wimbledon does not take more than two weeks. The EPL is held over 36 weeks, but with matches only once a week and a small break for Christmas.

The reason why there is no viewer ennui is because they last for a limited time or are spread over a period. It seems to be a marketing formula to attract eyeballs and retain them.

The present IPL package, by contrast, appears to be riding on the passion for the religion called cricket in India and the sheer eyeball volumes seen as associating themselves with the game. But a shortened version is what would actually make more business sense.

The main cash cow of any sporting event – advertising revenues – hinges on the number of people showing up at stadiums or switching on the idiot box in their living rooms. Advertisers would know that the rates for an event spread across two months would be different from one spread just over, say, five weeks. The latter would be costlier as more people are likely to show up at the venue as they do not want to miss out on action that is on show for only a limited time. This would not only increase gate collections and in-stadia revenues. The per second ad rates charged would also be higher, as the advertising air-time is limited. The increased earnings, as a result, could add muscle to the franchisees’ bottom-lines .

It is time the BCCI reduced the duration of the IPL to a maximum of 40 days. It could also be transparent on finances and ask the franchisees, too, to be transparent. The demise of two franchisees could tempt foreign investors to thrown in their hats, if permitted. After all, the prima donnas of the EPL – Manchester United and Chelsea – are owned by an American and a Russian respectively. But the first thing they would ask for for an authentic balance sheet.

On the non-commercial side, too, the BCCI could do well by permitting five foreign players to play for at least 15 matches during an IPL (right now, there is a cap of four in the playing 11). The IPL has become a global event and, therefore, should showcase global talent. The BCCI would be doing a great service to the world of cricket if its showpiece event could help discover not just a Sanju Samson, but even the next David Miller or James Faulkner.

(The author is a Bangalore-based chartered accountant)

Published on May 14, 2013

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