The Indian Premier League (IPL) today is like Alibaba’s cave. To be a millionaire overnight, it seems you just need to know the secret, magical phrase, “Open Sesame’. One question that bothers me however is: ‘How long will those treasures in the IPL cave last?’
Is IPL forever or does it have a use-by date? Is the league, said to be one of the best in the world, over-valued?
Broadcast rights for IPL were sold to Star Sports at the beginning of its 11th edition, this year, for the mind-boggling sum of Rs 16,347.5 crore; these rights are for the period 2018-2022. What’s astounding is that this amount was 158 percent of the sum paid by Sony for IPL’s broadcast rights in 2008, for a period of 10 years.
On acquiring the rights for IPL, Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India said that the fan following for cricket in India was growing and that the IPL was a ‘powerful property’. He would know, being one of the brightest managers around. According to estimates, IPL’s brand value was US$ 5.3 billion in 2017.
In business terms, IPL is an excellent, multi-billion dollar business right now. But we know that some of the ‘excellent’ companies of the 20th century don’t even exist today. Therefore, will IPL have to face the ups and downs that businesses face, or is it immune to market forces? Will it change to keep pace with changing demands?
To find out, let’s take a look at the business model that has made IPL what it is today. There were four factors that worked, and worked wonders at that:
- The participation of the world’s best players in the league.
- A franchise system that would build up fan following and crowd support.
- Involvement of the broadcast media, and
- Unstinting support from sponsors, as business partners.
As far as the best players participating in the league is concerned, it is surprising that stars like Hashim Amla, Joe Root, Martin Guptill, James Faulkner and Shaun Marsh didn’t find a team in this year’s IPL. Further, we are only half way through the league and IPL has already lost the services of crowd-pullers like Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Santner, Kagiso Rabada, Billy Stanlake, Chris Morris, Kedar Jadhav and Jason Behrendorff through injury.
Take the case of Chris Gayle. No franchise wanted him till King’s XI Punjab bought him as an afterthought on the second day of the auction. Gayle is a class performer by any standards. If, therefore, teams have to think twice before buying him, then there sure is a weak link somewhere in IPL’s business model.
Further, a few cricketers have preferred skipping IPL and playing County cricket in England. Cheteshwar Pujara, who surprisingly hasn’t been picked by IPL teams for a couple of years, is just one of them.
The questions to be asked here are, how long can IPL hold on to the best talent in the world, from April to May every year, with its money power? Will IPL lose its sheen with T20 leagues coming up in most other cricket playing countries? How long will top-class players warm the benches just to get a fat cheque at the end of an IPL season? Or will self-esteem take over some time very soon?
The second factor that IPL has to worry about is its fan base. Are the organisers of the league even bothered about creating customer delight?
IPL is the new status symbol in India. Cricketers who are picked by any of the franchises become celebrities overnight. It doesn’t matter whether they play for the country, ever. What they need to do is to appear on that small, idiot-box screen a few times during the league to be instantly recognised in public.
In a similar way, you no longer need to flaunt your cars or designer jeans to show that you are high-brow. A couple of IPL passes can do the trick. What’s more, if you can click a few pictures with a star cricketer and post them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you can gain instant celebrity standing. It doesn’t matter whether you know the difference between long-on and long-leg; what you need to know is how to react when the camera pans on you!
If I were to hazard a guess, less than 50 percent of the people ‘watching’ an IPL match would really be interested in finding out who wins. Most of them are there for the fun. An IPL match is an evening out with the family; it’s an occasion to forget the stresses and the strains of the work-a-day world; it’s a circus!
If the organisers of IPL or its franchises have done their customer-profiling they will have knowledge of what a spectator looks for in an IPL match. Therefore, they need to introspect and ask themselves if they have fulfilled their promises or are they short-changing their fan base.
Under no circumstances can IPL afford to lose fans, for they are the lifeline of the league’s model. Without spectators, sponsors will stay away and broadcasters will lose money. Therefore, the organisers have to start caring for customers; make sure that the spectator experience, at the stadiums and outside, is good.
Is it happening now? It isn’t.
Cricket officials and their sycophants are making merry while the sun shines on IPL. Tickets are being sold in the black-market, with touts having a field day, and passes are distributed only to the high-and-mighty. The stadium facilities, including seats, washroom facilities, catering etc., and even parking, are abysmal to say the least. What’s more, the security personnel at the stadiums make life difficult for the paying customer — ask Shah Rukh Khan.
I know of a man who lives entirely out of IPL. He confided in me once that he makes more money from an IPL season — officially and unofficially — than he would from a 30-year corporate career. Betting syndicates are riding piggy-back on IPL and I have heard, very often, of match-fixing being discussed, discreetly, at cricket soirees.
Long ago, I asked one of my former teammates, an IPL official, if he could arrange a few tickets for me. He gave me a ‘contact’ from who I could buy tickets at a premium. It is common knowledge that some former cricketers provide pitch and performance advice to bettors, at a price, and some of them even make a fast buck from their own wagers.
It is this consortium that gives IPL a bad name. Most people who follow IPL closely, ‘believe’ that matches are still fixed. And, it is this perception, along with the bad customer experiences at the stadiums that will create a dent in IPL’s image, sooner rather than later.
IPL’s organisers need to find solutions; and quickly! They have to think of how to attract and keep the best talent and how to deliver customer delight. Would Indian cricket be served better, if after eight overseas players are selected by a franchise, the final 11 were selected on merit? Does the salary cap need to be doubled?
BCCI and IPL needs to keep its ears to the ground to find answers.
As a brand, IPL may have peaked out. If so, the only way for it from hereon seems to be downward. Whether it slithers down a gradual slope to recover or it falls flat on its face will depend on how early BCCI sees the signs and changes with time. Two of the four factors that have helped IPL flourish are now hanging on a thread. Therefore brave remedial action rather than bravado will save IPL from an early death. Re-engineering is probably the magical phrase right now, or it could be ‘Close Sesame’ forever!
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he is now a sought-after mental toughness coach.
Updated Date: Apr 29, 2018 10:52:31 IST