So now 15 years of IPL are over ! 10 teams; a deserving winner, clearly the number one cricket competition in the world, the best players, and spectacular visuals to support a cricket enterprise which has exceeded all expectations. Through its financial success, it has enabled BCCI to strengthen its structures, its out reach, its talent base, and most importantly to raise even more capital, to fuel more success and even more change.
The change bit needs to be debated a bit, I think , in terms of what IPL has achieved, which is easy to outline; but more so in what more it can do going forward . The Television ratings this year were surprising, and disappointing, but I am not too worried about them. Some of it is the overhang of digital streaming, as the viewers watch matches differently now, and some of it is more focused viewing around the teams fans follow, thus deepening the engagement significantly. But that said, I think BCCI and the teams, probably need to debate on the way forward on how they want to take this great institution forward.
The IPL teams are doing well, especially the ones who came in early. A glamorous asset which is profitable with valuation of more than a billion dollars. What else does one need? Even the new ones, who have come in with seemingly astronomical sums, are poised to make a significant return on their investment almost immediately. It’s a limited supply asset, with strong cash flow, with a media amplification which borders on surreal. In some ways, the success of the teams, have precluded what they could have done to add to the spread of the game and the league. Almost all teams have under delivered on creating their own super structures of academies, talent pipelines, their own tournaments, and their own proprietary content which drives affiliation. They haven’t needed to – they are profitable and the ownership is happy, but its time they got to it.
Unlike, the other big leagues in the world, where the teams either are invested in the league, or have votes on the table, IPL has evolved in a different way. The teams have been issued licenses, BCCI has been a benevolent despot, and things have worked for all. In fact, in another place, and another time, the timing would have been right for a breakaway league, and I have argued about it earlier where I feel some of our neighbours leagues could use the IPL penumbra to build very attractive platforms. But having said that, I think it is incumbent upon BCCI to drive the expansion through the Franchisee management structure. Apart from the expansion of the game, it is also sound business economics, to build strong entry barriers.
So, the IPL now enters its defining years, and International Cricket cowers from its increasing dependence on the T20 product and the revenue it brings, and the hugely complicated structure of multiple formats, multiple countries and the revenue shenanigans around it. As Hockey has shown, too much of country stuff can also lose relevance, not only because of the sapping emotional bile it raises, but it is so difficult to make happen. And the responsibility over BCCI and IPL is so much more, because while no one may admit it publicly out of India, it is the brightest beacon in the sport.
Interestingly, the debate around techniques required, player adaptability, formats etc. is dwindling, and it is becoming an accepted norm that the best players do well in all formats . Across the nations if one looks at the cricketing talent, the best does equally well at either ends of the spectrum of the sport. Almost to the man, all the captains of the test playing are also terrific T20 players. I would argue that T20, apart from making the 50 over format irrelevant, has also made the format and player debate irrelevant . I worry about the relevance of International Cricket Council (ICC), and the impact it may have on the big four and the cricketing calendar going forward.
The cricketing calendar across the world will be now split in three large time frames. The IPL season , which should soon become 3 months, the English season, which should shorten a bit , and the Aussie season , where Big bash may play a bigger role; the Australian domestic tournaments which are such a bedrock of the game down under will come under pressure .
With smart money now entering T20 cricket, pace of change will be accelerated. The academy and the talent structure will have smart capital chasing it, and talent scouting and management will become global. I do not see a reason why Indian T20 franchises will seek out talent from across the world and grow it in house. More importantly, we will see partnerships across franchises across various leagues as investors seek to add punch to their platforms, and their financial models . We have seen smatterings of it already, but new team and franchise content will also become a great eyeball and affiliation generator. The role of BCCI then is to expand the game by building feeder T20s in the junior circuit to keep the revenue pie churning, and enhance the model. Women’s IPL is already a reality.
It will be important to watch what BCCI does in these heady times. While the primary objective of BCCI is to make Indian Cricket great, a path to it is also to grow the international game , to enhance its competitiveness, spread and the way it connects with the audiences. In a rather fractious Federation led sporting firmament in India, BCCI outshines all, not only because of the financial muscle and acumen, but also the high quality management and long term thinking they have bought to the game . I look forward to them contributing to building the game globally as the IPL footprint expands.