The IPL governing body and its commissioner Mr Lalit Modi are at the moment in the dock for the controversy surrounding the Kochi franchise. Most people in India seem to be crying foul that the IPL commissioner is not running the event with all sincerity and is in fact only looking at the bottom line. However, impropriety or not, I believe that the IPL governing body lost a golden opportunity during the second round of auctions. If Mr Modi’s long term vision is to turn this event into the likes of the English Premier League, he should ensure that the event stirs the imagination of the entire country and not just a section of it. In that sense what was the necessity to promote a second team “Pune” for the same state Maharashtra ? Why not have a team from the “North East”?
So how could this have been achieved? During the first bidding , businessmen were allowed to float their franchises and bid for them. This was necessary because no one was sure about the success of the tournament and it was necessary to pull in some glamour for the tournament. Now that the tournament is faring well, it is time to expand its viewership to newer territories. During the second round of bidding, the BCCI should have asked bidders to bid from a select group of franchise options (Kerala , Gujarat , UP Sikkim etc). This would have ensured that the popularity of the event spread into new regions.
It is also important for Mr Modi to brand the event rightly. It doesn’t serve him or the game or the event well, if people only spoke of the money generated in the event or about the cheerleaders in the stadium. If this event were turned into an out and out commercial event then there is no point in trying to compare it to an event like the EPL that is viewed by roughly 500 million people in 200 countries. It is also important for franchises to build an association with the city or state that they call their home. That is required for loyalty building. In some ways I see the CSK franchise using that tactic well. They have roped in local film stars such as Vijay to promote the team.
I believe that the IPL can never meet the likes of any football league because of the inherent difference in the way the games are played in a calendar year. While footaball is heavily dependent on the division leagues and the Championship league, cricket is more about clash between nations. Now that cricket is trying to venture into a new space, the ICC must realize that it is difficult for players who participate in events like the IPL to manage their national commitments. So they must ensure flexibility for cricketers. But then the power of the ICC would be greatly diminished if every country’s T20 League would ask for the same and the ICC would be reduced to an authority that simply manages the world cup once in four years.
Indeed, these are interesting times for a cricket fan. Would be choose to watch an Indo-Pak match or would be choose to watch Sachin play Warne in an MI versus RR match. It is his choice that will decide the future course of this sport in this country. Of course the attitude and sincerity of our cricket governing body is of even greater importance.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.