Big Boys play at night’ was the slogan in vogue when cricket first began to become an evening spectacle under the glare of spotlights, when Kerry Packer first thought of a cricket league. That was of course a long time ago.
As India continues to sustain its slot as the financial epicenter of cricket, the Boys in the game just got bigger – the biggest names you’d think of have thrown their hat in the Indian Premier League (IPL) ring, and so, just this once, the stars on the ground may have to face serious competition in the attention stakes from those who run the teams. From the corporate world’s czars to the badshah of Bollywood, the team bidding process has quite justified the ‘premier’ that the P in IPL stands for. Come April, and we will fully understand just what has attracted an expenditure of Rs 3,984 crore for the media rights and Rs 2,852 crore for franchise bidding.
But even now, the picture is interesting. For now comes the most exciting off field drama of the format, when the franchises bid for the players who will play for them. Each team will have to bid for at least 16 players, at a minimum salary of Rs 20 lakh.
Interestingly, though, India’s Star players Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni are not available for bidding, and will have to play for their local teams. Of these, the T20 champions’ skipper, Dhoni, is still a wild card though, since Jharkhand has no team for this league; we will know only later which team he is asked to play for. To the presence of these stars, add a host of foreign players who will be up for grabs with each team allowed to have four foreign players.
The IPL, a potential $2 billion modern business in sport, will propel the national game of cricket into taking a quantum leap from the era of the begging bowl to a world of riches beyond imagination.
It’s less than a decade since Doordarshan’s Rs 230-crore TV rights deal (for five years) for international cricket in the country was thought of as a path-breaking route to riches. Since then, the rights contracts are threatening to break the billion-dollar barrier.
Add IPL revenues and it becomes easy to see why India is the undisputed economic powerhouse of the cricket world.
Cricket, the Indian dream machine, is going further this time. A powerful mix of Bollywood stars, glitterati, liquor and media barons and a virtual who’s who of Indian industry is lined up to anoint this leap into the truly professional era of the game. At the end of the day, the biggest beneficiaries will be the players, the best performing international stars and domestic Indian cricketers, who have never seen the game give them more than two square meals a day.
In one stroke, Indian cricket will wipe away years of neglect of the players just below Test and ODI level. The burgeoning revenues of both the international game in India and IPL will ensure money for infrastructure, which at the moment is terribly outdated in our sport arenas. The national cricketer will get a glamorous televised stage on which his performances may fetch him the recognition that has been given to him, thus far, only reluctantly by a selection rather than talent scout system.
The franchisee route by which superstars of the entertainment world, like Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta, will also own teams will take cricket in the country to the level of pro sport in the US. The US is where the modern visionary of the game, Lalit Modi, BCCI Vice-president, drew his inspiration. With the help of sports management companies, Modi, who comes from a family of industrialists, made the linkage between business, entertainment industry and sport possible.
The charisma of Indian cricket simply took it further. Which other sport in the country has the capacity to attract the most glamorous from Bollywood, the crème de la crème of businessmen, like Mukesh Ambani and Vijay Mallya, and infrastructure and media barons? Compared to this, the Indian Cricket League, a forerunner, is a much cheaper business property but one which showed the way in many ways, especially in the treatment of players and in serving their need for security.
The Bollywood mix of naughty girls, rock stars and comedians takes a day at the cricket to a different level of public entertainment. The victory of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s band of Indians in the world Twenty20 championship in 2007 changed the scenario forever. The new audience for the game, consisting of women and children, represents the formation of new ties, while the accent is on fun of the fair which now comes to the cricket.
What of the cricket itself? Twenty20 is a winner so far as the public is concerned. Critics may knock the slam-bang version as inconsequential but there is no denying there is a whole new generation of players who believe their future lies in this extreme form of the all-action game that leaves no time to think and the ones to blink first get left behind.
What of the scheduling in an age when all the talk among the pros is the amount of cricket that is being played? The clash of interests between state and club is what may cause a few furrows to be creased as programmers fight to find dates that will be most suitable for the IPL amidst a very crowded international schedule.
On the technical front, T20 cricket will add enormous pace to run gathering with the emphasis on big hitting that Yuvraj Singh (and Herschelle Gibbs before him in an ODI) already took to a new level with his six sixes in an over. More athletic fielders will try to aid their poor brethren, the bowlers, who are threatened with a fate worse than that reserved now for the slaves of the game.
In adding a third tier to the Test ODI format of the international game, T20 will most likely wipe the last vestige of public attention from national cricket. Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy will become mere talent-raising platforms since only players who get on to T20 will really make a good living off the game as a minimum wage of $50,000 per player per season is being thought of.
The franchisees, who were picked as much for their financial bids as for their strong presence in the respective cities, believe they have a fair deal, with business projections predicting the ownership of teams will break even between the second and fifth years.
The revenue-sharing agreement is fair although the bottom line will have to accommodate a considerable premium on the publicity spin off that the owners will get.
The prime driver of the whole business is television. Indian TV advertising revenues, projected to cross $6,000 million in 2008, are forecast to grow at a CAGR of 22 per cent.
With TV ownership spreading into 112 million homes, according to a PWC study, the Indian market represents one of the biggest in the world. Also, India is the third largest pay TV market with 68 million homes paying a monthly subscription to receive specialty channels and that market is expected to grow with the demand for cricket viewing.
Concluding, it’s a whole new ball game in an old ball park that is completely unrecognisable from the amateur sport played on the greensward for a bit of honour and national pride. Pro sport will make excessive demands on players who will have to play to match climbing pay scales while young fans will be too thrilled to be able to watch more of their favourite sport. The world has changed and the newfangled T20 cricket is a recognition of that change.
Percept Managing director Shailendra Singh has his own take. “I look at it as a real estate investment. It seems a saleable commodity going by the enthusiasm of BCCI. And with the ICC backing it up so seriously, this new format will be a hit for the already cricket crazy audience of our country.” But with huge expenses like hiring of the stadia, expenses for security and organisation of seven matches at home, training, salaries to coaches and support staff, and their own promotions, this ain’t for the faint hearted.
“I must add that the investors should have the appetite to lose Rs 60-70 crore each year for at least three to four years initially. But the extraordinary thing is the 10-year tenure, and with a billion fans, it should turn out to be an extremely profitable venture,” Singh adds. What players is he looking for in his Jaipur team? “I will like to have Ricky Ponting as my skipper for his sheer shrewd and tactical abilities, however much we may dislike him at the moment. I will love to have a blend of Aussie and Sri Lankan players.”
For some other investors, love for the sport is the inspiration, they say. “I wanted my favourite Yuvraj Singh to play for me and I am glad he will be playing for my team. Frankly I will like to see all the good players playing in IPL, whether in my team or for the opponents,” says Dabur scion Mohit Burman who is part of the group that acquired the Mohali/Chandigarh team.
Preity has said that “I am from the North and I always wanted the Chandigarh team. We already have an exciting player in Yuvraj. What more do we want?” Her wish-list also includes Dhoni and Sreesanth. And Shah Rukh Khan has said that he “adores Sourav Ganguly” and wants him to lead the Kolkata team.
TV rights of $1.026 billion for 10 years from Sony-World Sports Group (WSG).
Team franchises: $726 million for 10 years.
Teams: 8, to grow to 12 soon.
Matches in inaugural season (from April 18, 2008): 59 comprising 7 home and 7 away matches for each of 8 teams, 2 semifinals and a final (to be played in Mumbai).
Prize money: 16% of TV revenues, with winner taking purse of $4 million (about Rs 16 crores)
Venues: 8 cities
Franchisees: 8 who will get 64% of TV revenues to begin with, share becoming less as teams are added and tapering down over the 10 years of the contract.
Players: Up to 130 players, including 32 from a foreign pool of 84 IPL contracted cricketers, are likely to get sums ranging from $1 million to a minimum anticipated wage of $50,000 per season.
ODI comparison: In a typical ODI in India, BCCI gets close to $8.5 million from TV. Title, ground and apparel sponsors pay $1 million, ground sponsorship $1.7 million, bringing a total revenue of $11 million per match day.
IPL figures will be far less per match day. BCCI is worth nearly Rs 10 billion from current total assets of Rs 9.6 billion of which investments are Rs 7.5 billion. Last fiscal profits were Rs 232 crores.
National first class cricketer: Earns match fees of Rs 35,000 per day and shares prize money for domestic tournaments of Rs 4.2 crores.
International cricketer: Earns match fees of Rs 2.60 lakhs per ODI and Rs 3.5 lakhs per Test, besides an annual retainer ranging from Rs 60 lakhs to Rs 25 lakhs, depending on his rating in four categories.
IPL fees: Ranges from $400,000 to a projected minimum of $50,000 per player per season.