Unshackling IPL from cricket

First posted on CRI on 11 June 2011

The news and analysis cycle over the past few weeks has been negative and depressing. In as much as it concerns me as an Indian citizen, it also depresses me a bit. Not that I am going to permanently disengage myself from what is happening around me, but I did want to take a day’s break and this weekend just focus on some fantasy-building; and what better than to do some random thinking on whether there is scope to expand the IPL beyond cricket.

IPL, despite its lack-lustre performance this season (due to the surfeit of cricket, and the World Cup victory), is one of the few successful global brands that India has built, and in a very short time (four years). Each and every aspect of it is a marketing success, right from the bidding, to the main cricket season and the so-called “after-parties”! In as much as I want to criticize the BCCI for being dictators, opaque about their operations, and probably also corrupt, I can’t deny that they are doing a hell of a better job than all the other sports federations put together. And no, their success does not get explained just by the fact that cricket is the most popular game in India, there is something more to it.

The reason why corporate India has got involved in IPL is not altruistic, or just for the “glamour quotient”, but running a franchise is a bonafide business, and increasingly profitable at that (if well managed). Business analysts also point to the positive impact the IPL has on the Indian economy, in giving it a spending boost.

The impact that IPL is having on discovering new talent is slightly underestimated, but I am convinced that the Indian “Juniors” team in West Indies is doing dramatically well, because of the exposure and confidence that IPL has given them.

This post it to provide some random ideas on whether IPL could be significantly expanded in geographic coverage, as well as subsume the other two “field games” into this that India is dying to get better in, Hockey and Football.

My suggestions are as follows:

  1. Take away the rights of organizing IPL from the BCCI and vest it in an independent regulatory body, euphemistically titled “Indian Premier League Authority” (IPLA). 
  2. IPLA will have the responsibility to focus on organizing a premier league for “club games” in India, covering Cricket, Hockey and Football.
  3. Increase the number of franchisees from the current 10, to 16 in toto (to be frozen at that number). 
  4. The six new franchises should be geographically spread out within the under-represented region of the country (my suggestions – Ahmedabad, Dharamshala, Srinagar, Guwahati, Kanpur and Patna).
  5. Mandate that each franchisee will now mandatorily host six separate teams, i.e. a men’s and a women’s team, for Cricket, Hockey and Football. 
  6. Hand over the stadiums where the teams are based to be owned and managed by the franchisee (the team headquarters should be at the stadium). 
  7. Since the number of matches would rise dramatically, split the 16 teams into a “major” league of six teams and a “minor” league of 10 teams, based on the performance over the past three seasons (maybe just on the basis of points or some variation of that). 
  8. The season will start with the minor league games, and the top two teams will go on to play in the major league. 
  9. The major league games will be held between eight teams, the six major league teams and the top two from the minor league. 
  10. For team formation, do a one-time auction. Once the teams have been formed, changes can only be brought about through player transfers and fresh recruits, as the case may be. Leave it to the teams to negotiate independently. Remove all caps on what franchisers can spend on player salaries (if they can justify it in their business model, they should have the right to pay the moon to a player, if they want to). 
  11. Spread the season out over six months, starting with hockey or football, with women’s games first and then the men’s, so that season finale will be with the men’s cricket games.

Now, this is just a rough plan, and I’m sure it needs major modifications, before it can become remotely practicable. The benefits that I see coming from this are as follows:

  1. Cricket has always been seen as a cannibalistic sport, the 800-pound gorilla that demolishes all other sports in India. This will be a way to ensure that it pays back to other sports. 
  2. This will dramatically improve visibility of hockey and football, and even the women’s versions of all three games, although I don’t expect existing football clubs to be very happy about this (but frankly, they should just get acquired by the existing IPL franchisees). 
  3. There will be a significant transfer of fan-following from cricket to all other games, and hence start attracting talent, and also make it financially worthwhile for that talent, in hockey and football, and also the women’s versions. 
  4. The financial impact of this on the economy will be tremendous and could increase the impact by 2-3 times (estimates had shown that IPL3 had given an INR 10,000 crore boost to the economy).

As a very important aside, the ability of sport to draw in the marginalized regions of India into the mainstream is not completely comprehended, even in strategic circles. The impact of this on J&K and the NE regions can be tremendous.

I am frankly just ruminating about the brand extension potential of a sporting spectacle that I have come to love. I wonder what other think about this. I would love to know.

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