Harnessing market forces to develop cricket


“We are satisfied that we have created a global cricketing entertainment product, which will get its strength from the sponsors and millions of fans,” says Lalit Modi, Chairman and Commissioner, Indian Premier League Twenty20, in this chat with G. Viswanath.

Lalit Modi, Chairman and Commissioner, Indian Premier League Twenty20, is one of a kind in cricket administration. He was in the forefront of bringing a change in the BCCI in the last quarter of 2005 in Kolkata, and has delivered what he has promised. The entire cricket fraternity in India has benefited from the streams of revenue he has generated in under six months. The IPL, of course, is something new, a catalyst that will make India a cricketing hub in the years to come. In this interview to Sportstar, Modi takes us through the story of IPL.

Question: What encouraged or inspired you to work on the IPL concept?

Answer: I think it’s all about believing in yourself and having the conviction to carry on with your beliefs in spite of the odds. This I think summarises the success story of the DLF-IPL, thanks in no small measure also to the faith shown in me by the BCCI and my belief in creating India’s very own cricketing league. Therein lies the success story of the IPL.

I believe what we have today is not only the best platform for showcasing cricket in India, but is also a world stage for many an aspiring Indian youngster. It will significantly benefit the cricketing infrastructure of our country and help develop the game at the grass roots level, a fact mirrored in the 94 talented Indian youngsters who will display their talents alongside the best in world cricket.

It all started way back in 1994, when I partnered with ESPN to launch the channel in India. It was then that we started thinking on how India could have a world class cricketing league to call its own; kind of like the NBA or the NFL in America or even the English Premier League. The second idea that I was toying with was how sports and business could be merged for the greater good of the game. Today we are satisfied that we have created a global cricketing entertainment product, which will get its strength from the sponsors and millions of fans.

Were you always confident of making the most of the market forces, given the fact that the BCCI, and particularly you, were able to market the Indian cricket team from early 2006 to many sponsors and also establish events in Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur and Ireland?

We were always confident, thanks largely to adopting a strategy that focussed on the strengths of Team India. We simply went out and marketed the game to generate what we thought was the fullest potential.

We have simply done the same with the IPL, wherein we let market forces decide the true net worth of the game and its players. Of course the fact that the Twenty20 format is fast, furious and adrenalin-packed to draw in the crowds and an entire new generation of cricket lovers through the gates at stadiums helped a great deal.

Fundamentally, the Indian team per se had to do well, for the corporate community and other entities in the entertainment business to be nudged and respond positively to a unique concept.

In this regard India’s T20 win in South Africa must have been a shot in the arm?

Yes, definitely there has been an overwhelming response and greater interest after India won the World T20. Each of the players has performed well in their respective domestic and international appearances, resulting in excellent valuations for the IPL and its players. I see the T20 format being included in the ICC’S Future Tour Programme (FTP) in the future and all formats of the game will co-exist side by side, as each one caters to a distinct audience with varied appeals.

Consent from the ICC’s full members was also essential, after taking into account the primacy of traditional Test cricket, one-day cricket and also the ICC’s signature events like the World Cup…

I have always maintained that the ICC’s Future Tour Programme (FTP) is sacrosanct for all cricket playing nations and the same stands true for the BCCI also. We will continue to fulfil all our commitments to the FTP. We need to realise that the IPL is here to stay and it will carve a niche for itself in the cricketing calendar. It is club level domestic cricket which other countries have been playing for a while and so we will discuss this with the ICC to ensure that going forward the IPL becomes a part of the FTP. I do not forsee a clash of interests between the IPL and the traditional forms of the game.

Taking on board eminent cricketers like Tiger Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri must have been an advantage. It also proves that cricketers are involved in the process of running the event…

The BCCI has always adopted a very participatory process involving the leading cricketers in all its affairs. The IPL is simply following the same philosophy. M. A. K. Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri have been leading lights in their playing days and even after retiring from the game, their involvement with it has continued. We are lucky to have former players of such calibre.

They have played very important roles as members of the Governing Council, guiding the fate of the League right from its nascence and participating in all the affairs of the IPL. More importantly this only goes to show that former cricketers are involved in the process of running the game.

The franchisees seem to be happy with the revenue model…

Our franchisee mix is a delectable combination of some of the most business savvy corporate houses and Bollywood stars, each a major brand in themselves, having created billions of rupees worth of value for their individual enterprises. I am certain that each of our franchises would have realised the full potential of the business and ratified their own business models before taking the plunge. Having done that all of them now will leave no stone unturned to ensure success. The format will also help draw in the uninitiated and a whole new generation of fans and so the marketing dynamics would be that much more different. Also do not forget the global audiences that would be tuning into the games, all of which makes for some very exciting times ahead.

What was the intention behind making Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag icon players?

The idea obviously was to generate interest among the local followers of the game. The very presence and participation of these players is enough to inspire and draw the fans to the stadia. Imagine a Mumbai Team without a Sachin Tendulkar or a Kolkata Team without their Dada! Would be tantamount to a Cola without any fizz! The secondary reason was that we wanted these players to be the captains of their respective city teams.

You said the auction was the defining moment of the IPL; did any other method cross your mind to offer the 90 players to the franchisees?

The player auction was a unique event in the annals of international cricket. We spent a lot of time and energy to consider various ways and means of how to undertake the exercise of distributing the international players among the eight franchisees equitably so as to create balanced teams. This was a complex process and needed a complex solution. After a great deal of deliberation and studying various models, we felt that a player auction with groupings was the best option for us.