Saturday, April 19, 2008

IPL T20 Boom or Bust

Indian TV channels, print media and the Net are over spilling with the coverage of IPL (Indian Premier League Cricket) T20. T20 simply refers to a cricket match limited to 20 over. This is latest format of cricket after test and one day matches.

Every country has a national past time. In the US there is baseball, NBA, American football (not o be confused with soccer), Europe is crazy about Soccer (not to be confused with American football), down under New Zealand and Australia have rugby (again not to be confused with American football) India has cricket. Most countries too have sports they are crazy about but none are crazier than Indians are about cricket. The nation virtually comes to a standstill when ever there is cricket match.

Where ever there is a national sport, there is money, and no other sport offers more money than cricket. There is a logical reason behind this. And the reason is the captured TV viewers.
Now whenever there is a commercial break during a TV programme, people immediately switch/surf channels and the advertiser looses viewers, but no one changes the channel during the brief interval after an over is finished. People do not want to miss out on the first ball of the next over or any replay. In a T20 match there are at least 40 assured advertising slots after each over and more when a player gets out.

As if that was not enough now you have ads while the bowler walks back to his run up or just after batsman has hit the ball. There is a hustle among advertisers to pay moolah for these ad slots. TV channels bid billions to capture the broadcasting rights of IPLT20 and advertisers pay up to promote their products. (The end users of the product, you and I, pay for it dude)

So you can understand why BCCI (Board of Cricket Control of India) office bearer’s elections are such a big deal. Now you know why politicians like Shard Pawar and other luminaries make such an effort for post of BCCI president. Money brings power and BCCI has all the money in the sporting world. None of these guys are there for the sake of the sport. Hockey (remember the one time national sport and now the nation's shame) does not generate any revenue, so retired police officers like Gill are given the abandoned baby to do with it as they please. No one is interested in hockey any more since it does not generate money like IPL, hence no sponsors or advertisers.

Now where there is money there are businessmen. The first to come up the T20 national league was ‘Z TV’ broadcaster Subhash Chandra. He started ICL (Indian cricket league). He roped in legendry Indian captain Kapil Dev. I believe Kapil Dev really wanted to help out the cricketers who were left out in the cold with no income or support from BCCI.

BCCI knows a good thing when it sees one, specially where money is to be made. BCCI also does not want to lose its stranglehold over Indian cricket. First it tried to disrupt ICL by banning players playing in it, a big discouragement for any youngster who aspires to play for the national team. Then it came up with its own version of T20 cricket in the form of IPL. Business men (like Ambani, Wadia, Mallya ) and movie stars (Shah Rukh Khan, Priety Zinta etc) got involved (and I am sure not for the love of cricket alone), and suddenly big money was at stake. Players were auctioned, telecast rights were sold and in time you will see merchandising on the scale you have never seen before. The prize money is big, but still bigger is the loot that the sponsors and Team owners are going to rake in. It is good for the players too.DLF IPL team players are getting hefty contract fees.

Is it good for cricket? That’s a moot point. From a sport IPL T20 has turned it into a spectacle. DLF IPL T20 does not resemble the gentleman's sport it once was.

Will the Indian public digest DLF IPL? Only time will tell. ICL (Indian Cricket League) has not been much of a crowd puller in its second year. The stadium at Panchkula, Haryana never really filled up.

The IPL match at Mohali stadium was not much of a crowd puller either, more than half empty for the IPL T20 match. Are people glued to television sets? I doubt it. Despite all the cheerleading, movie star promos and song and drama at matches, IPL T20 has a long way to go. The Indian public has not formed any loyalties with teams as yet. It might happen and it might not.

With the kind of money involved you can be sure to see much more drama and glitz in IPL T20 than actual cricket. The promoters (BCCI and team owners) are cash rich and they are going to go all out to promote IPL T20. I hope some of the Indian youngsters get an opportunity to play and learn in IPL matches so that eventually Indian Team gets some new blood to perform better in the International Arena.

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