A huge crowd of spectators at the Eden, screaming and hoping that Chris Gayle can smash Anil Kumble all over the park, Matthew Hayden coming in to bat carrying a Mongoose, high decibel music coupled with dancing cheerleaders succeeding every boundary or wicket, Saurav Ganguly using all his captaincy brains to get Sachin Tendulkar out. These statements which might have been fragments of imagination or even absurdity a couple of years back is now the reality of the Indian Premier League. The slam-bang format of the so called “Gentleman’s Game” has been further sensationalized by the IPL. In a recent interview, Saurabh Tiwary (Mumbai Indians) said “If you make a century in a Ranji match, nobody notices, but even a quick-fire 30 in the IPL makes you popular.” Although this statement raises a lot of questions, it certainly gives one clear answer – The Indian Premier League has captured the imagination of the country.
The limited version of the game began with a 60 over format. Today a 20 over format is recognized and it has earned recognition. Add to this, shorter boundaries, batsman friendly pitches, breathtaking amount of money, fashion shows, plethora of sponsors and you have the recipe for the IPL. Experts often term this format as the “death of bowlers”. When you give it a thought, 10 batsmen, 20overs with no bowler being allowed to bowl more than 4, on flat tracks does seem a tad unfair to the bowlers. People on the other side of the spectrum defend themselves by calling it a “Test for bowlers” and entertainment for the masses. One cannot deny that it is thrilling to watch a Sehwag or a Gilchrist relentlessly smashing the ball to all corners or a team getting past 200 in 20overs. It is no doubt very entertaining, but this brings us to the biggest question of them all- What is IPL? Is it cricket? Or is it entertainment?
The government has been at loggerheads with the BCCI, the issue being the imposition of entertainment tax on the IPL. Two teams battling it out on the field is just a miniscule aspect of the IPL. Terms like revenue, sponsors, franchise have become part of the game like never before. What is it about IPL that is attracting so much of star power and money power? One answer is that IPL is a sensational platform for “Brand-building”. Various brands have showcased themselves either as individual sponsors of franchises or as a franchise itself. Sponsors greatly believe in the brand building capacity of the IPL. Mumbai Indians get revenue close to 50cr from their individual sponsors (Videocon Mobile Services, Thomas Cook, Kingfisher, Pepsi to name a few). Take a look at their jersey and you’ll have a hard time counting all the logos of the different brands in there. In addition, franchises earn from gate receipts, in-stadia advertising, merchandise sales as well as media tie-ups. SetMax renegotiated a deal of Rs 8,200cr with the IPL last year. Franchises get 80% of the revenue coming in from Max this year. No wonder two new teams are eager to become part of the bandwagon even at a base price of 225 million dollars. Also, the publicity that Shahrukh Khan, Shilpa Shetty, Preity Zinta, Vijay Mallya get during the tournament is so extensive, that now even Saifeena wants to join the party. According to analysts, the smaller franchises like KKR or the Rajasthan Royals will be logical from the business point of view, if they look for a stake out. I simply ask….ARE WE STILL TALKING CRICKET?
Next year with two new teams, 94 matches will have to be covered in the allotted 45 days. So “overdose of cricket” is set to have a new definition. The BCCI sits at the top of all charts, their profits expected to touch 700cr this year. Indulging in such exorbitant finances speaks volumes of a country where children still die eating mud. A country where national hockey players have to go on strike for their 5 figure salaries boasts of buying foreign players for millions of dollars. India is getting the eyes of the world with the IPL, it remains to be decided though if the eyes are gaping in awe at this spectacle or glaring in dismay at the foolishness. As viewers, IPL is a treat to watch- action packed and fun filled, but as citizens of a developing country, I think it’s time we start looking beyond the madness…
– Sanchayan Bhattacharjee -