It was the year 2007. We were in South Africa for the first edition of the ICC T20 World Cup. I distinctly remember the day when two gentlemen walked up to me, and a few others, to discuss how to run what they kept calling “the world’s biggest and greatest cricket league”.
But what they were calling a global league, was in reality a domestic league, right? We were not sure what exactly was in store. It sounded all very ambitious and grand, but we were nervous and skeptical, Unlike the two gentlemen in question, who were 100% confident that what they were proposing was going to change the sport forever.
IPL 2022: New season, new teams, new possibilities
Before I knew it, I was named Tournament & Marketing Director for the Indian Premier League. So, how was this going to work out? How were teams going to be sold, when was it going to be held, what were the television rights going to be like? So many questions! Over the next few months, we would have the answers, as the league started taking shape and form, bit by bit. We were very clear that the IPL was going to bring into people’s drawing rooms something called ‘cricketainment’ – and for that SONY seemed like the perfect choice as the broadcaster. When the bids opened for the franchises, we were quite taken aback by the money the owners wanted to pour in. It was overwhelming, to be honest.
In fact, if one were to just look at the owners and the organisational structures of the franchises, it is easy to trace the trajectory of this league. The owners, all distinguished industrialists, and established movie stars had no experience of running a sports league. But look at how all of them, and the structures of the franchises have evolved today. Going into its 15th season, the league and its franchises are run 100% professionally. Owners and every one part of the ecosystem are fully aware of all aspects of the league, be it the cricket itself, or even the commercials and operational aspects of it. The franchises have also realised the importance of having specialists take care of different aspects of running it, just like other global leagues do. This did not happen overnight, and with every passing season, we have all learnt from our mistakes and moved on to get better.
The IPL’s biggest contribution on-field has of course been in giving India (and other countries, too) world-class cricketers. Last year, for instance, we had teams playing tournaments in England and Sri Lanka simultaneously, purely because that’s the kind of bench strength India has. And there is no denying the fact that the IPL has had a massive role to play in creating that bench strength, and that too from various corners of our country. A lot of international cricketers also realise what an incredible platform this is and take time out each year to come and be a part of it.
But I want to highlight the contribution of the league beyond the cricket field. It has, over the years, helped create a robust sports industry in India. An ecosystem that provides jobs to plenty of individuals, not just during the tournament, but beyond the season. The IPL was a smash hit right from the start. And it did not take long for other sports in India – hockey, football, badminton, wrestling, kabaddi, badminton – to hop on to the league bandwagon. The basic blueprint was there, and the adjustments and adaptions had to be made for each sport. Having been a part of many of these leagues, I have witnessed first-hand how it has been beneficial to so many professionals. Whether it’s fitness trainers, physiotherapists, tournament operations staff, photographers, videographers – so many professionals have now created systems for themselves to work across leagues and teams, and that is extremely heartening to witness. In fact, a lot of the staff that works on the IPL are currently from India. This was not the case, even 10 years ago when people were hired from overseas because the talent available here did not have enough experience or expertise to handle the running of a tournament of such scale. But that has changed drastically now.
Come to think of it, there’s barely a season of the IPL that goes by without a bit of controversy. Each time there are debates over whether the tournament has lost its sheen, are sponsors still keen and are the audiences still interested? But the IPL has weathered all these storms, and more. In the last two years of the pandemic, the tournament flourished. The IPL was among the first of the tournaments to be held (in Asia at least) amid the pandemic, in strict bio-bubbles, and the competition in the UAE was highly contested, and enjoyed by everyone at a time when they needed to relax and enjoy some good quality sport. This time around there will be 10 participating teams, with the new teams having paid astronomical amounts to win the franchise rights during the bidding process. The marketing and sponsorship teams of the franchises will tell you how a whole new range of brands and products now want to be associated with the IPL – E-learning, E-commerce, digital payment brands, NFTs, fantasy gaming apps and so much more. So, if anybody had the slightest doubt about the brand value of the league dropping, those thoughts can be put to rest!
As we inch closer to the 2022 edition of the tournament, my mind goes back to the very first match of the very first year of the IPL in 2008.
The gates of the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru were to open at 4 PM for a grand opening ceremony before Royal Challengers Bangalore were to lock horns with Kolkata Knight Riders. Just 30 minutes after the gates were opened, there were 50,000 people inside the stadium! It was unbelievable what we were witnessing.
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The match that followed was a sign of things to come. I had to head to the airport after the first few overs but was stuck in traffic right outside the stadium with Shane Warne, Virender Sehwag, M. S. Dhoni, and Yuvraj Singh for company. By the time we did reach the airport, Warnie told us that Brendon McCullum had smashed 158 off 73 balls for KKR. It sounded too good to be true, and Yuvi joked Warnie was probably reading the team score, not the individual one. But Baz had indeed scored all those runs, making history and giving this splendid tournament just the start it needed. As clichéd as it sounds, the rest is history.
As someone who has seen this tournament right from its rudimentary stages, I am delighted it is back in India, and I look forward to seeing the crowds back in the stadium to see their stars in action. From that day in 2007, when I was approached about joining the league and running the tournament to now – it’s been one heck of an adventure.
And in case you’re wondering who those two gentlemen were who had their faith in the IPL even back then, let that be a mystery for the time being.