The third edition of the IPL tournament is in its last leg and the teams are fighting it out in the trying heat and dust. Batsmen are finding it easier to sweat bucketloads than to make runs. Teams seem to have some strange affinity for the number “12” as five teams seem to be stuck on this magical points figure. The stadia seem full, at least at Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi. TRPs are soaring, IPL post-match party tickets are being sold at Rs 50,000 if rumours are to be believed. But things are not as hunky dory as they ought to be. The attention shifted slowly but surely from the cricket to franchisee ownerships, bribes, mudslinging and more, taking its toll on Shashi Tharoor. Reports have it that Lalit Modi will also be forced to quit. In short, whatever is happening with the induction of new teams is, to borrow a phrase as old as the game, “just not cricket”.
IPL a revolutionary brand
I have no doubt in my mind that IPL revolutionised the IPL 2023 face of cricket in India definitely, and the world. It is an idea whose time had come, and whether the inspiration was Kerry Packer, the NBA, American baseball or the fact that twenty-twenty cricket was, like David Warner, just waiting to explode, the concept took off. It was brilliantly packaged, wonderfully promoted and successfully executed even if it was a bit ‘in your face’ for my liking. But let’s give Lalit Modi his due for creating a global brand in a very, very short period of time.
The western world tried to ignore this for some time, and then grudgingly had to accept even as its own players came running to be a part of it. Even if many of the global players sat on the bench like our software engineers of yesteryears, they did not seem to mind. The unique mix of Bollywood, team owners who cried in the stands, cheerleaders who had not the foggiest notion of who was playing, ageing cricketers who showed their younger counterparts a thing or two, whether it was the zooter or the mongoose bat, some outstanding emerging Indian talent, some close finishes, some breathtaking innings, some shocking bloomers, all contributed to the enormous success of the format.
Too much, too soon?
While JM Keynes said that in the long run we are all dead, Jack Welch said that while any fool can make money in the short run (and here I am paraphrasing) and any fool can make money in the long run, it needs true ability to make money in both, the long run and the short run. There is no denying the phenomenal success of IPL in the short life it has had so far. It has not only created a following (if not for the local teams) but managed to make people buy enormously expensive tickets and advertisers buy dubious advertising properties at fancy prices. Already the climate is being created for the advertising rates to touch an all-time high. For the next IPL, the Max mobiles and the Karbonn mobiles of the world are already licking their lips in anticipation, even if I am dreading what I am going to be in for soon.
Lalit Modi must easily be the most photographed and televised person in the country (Shah Rukh Khan, kindly excuse) as every newspaper, television channel and Web site seems to either love or hate him. No half measures with our man, are there? In fact, if we were to do a “share of voice” analysis, compare and contrast the coverage that Lalit Modi has with, say, a gentleman by the name of Manmohan Singh, who has the job of Prime Minister of the country, the latter would be a distant second. This, of course, is a commentary on the sad state of news coverage in this country that I shall come to later, but let’s stay with the brand IPL and the current imbroglio it seems to have gotten itself into.
Trouble in God’s own country
Kerala is an absolutely delightful place to visit and holiday in. But despite Shashi Tharoor’s overt and often misplaced enthusiasm for the place as a business destination investors have been wary of going there, and I think it is irrelevant (at least for this author) to figure out the rightness or wrongness of perceptions about investing here. But there is no doubt in my mind that the latest investment by an IPL franchisee has put the cat amongst the pigeons.
It has all the ingredients of a media potboiler. A suave, sophisticated minister who tweets into trouble with the ease which the Indian team used to get into corners; a lady whom the media say is close to the (now former) minister and who has sweat equity in the company; owners who are not well known as some of the other franchisee owners; rumours that a current cricketer is part of the team; an allegation by the CEO that Lalit Modi offered him a bribe (which indiscreet utterance has already cost him his job); tweets from Lalit Modi about the uncertainty of the owners, allegations and counter allegations flying around, questions raised about the original franchisees… Thank God newspapers have only 16 pages!