It is a cliche to talk of win-win situations but IPL is exactly that. Fifteen years since it started, IPL is a cricket and commercial blockbuster where all stakeholders — BCCI, teams, broadcasters, sponsors, players — are smiling. BCCI and the eight original teams are ones with the widest grins. Given IPL’s business construct, BCCI retains 50% of central sponsorship revenue. This figure could touch ₹5,000 crore annually when the next media rights are sold. Teams that spend ₹150 crore to run their franchise are currently guaranteed profits of ₹150 crore. Hard fact: IPL is completely risk free. Teams win even when they lose.
IPL is a classic case of atmanirbhar (self-reliant); Indian cricket becoming a vishwaguru (master of the world). IPL money has helped India conquer world cricket and everyone understands India can switch off the oxygen supply whenever it chooses to. Ramiz Raja was right when he lamented that India can shut down Pakistan cricket anytime because it depends on ICC, which, in turn, depends on Indian money.
India bosses cricket — it is player and umpire and someone who makes the rules. No wonder all countries want to be in India’s good books. As part of BCCI’s cricket diplomacy, India sent an A team to Sri Lanka (the seniors were away in England) for it to avoid financial ruin. India threw a commercial lifeline to West Indies when it was in distress and will be doing Ireland a similar favor this summer. After that India will be back in England, less than a year after their last visit.
IPL controls a two-month window in April-May when most other cricket is suspended, and in the run up to the event players are extra careful to keep fit. India flexes its economic muscle to fiercely protect IPL and prohibits its players from playing in foreign T20 leagues. Other nations are desperate to have Indian players (non-contracted, retired, anyone) because this boosts local sponsorships, helps ticket sales and increases the prospect of Indians investing in the league.
India is uncompromising about protecting IPL’s equity but the door has opened a crack with Indian women in the BBL and The Hundred. There are calls that the blanket ban on T20 participation needs a relook. With new leagues springing up, the latest in Dubai, why should Indian players miss out on the commercial upside? It’s one thing to disallow top stars with BCCI and IPL contracts, but stopping Ranji players is a bit extreme.
IPL should not be judged only in terms of huge profits, crazy sponsorship numbers or ₹10-15 crore player contracts. The league has shaken cricket and the commercial lottery has made traditional cricket economically unviable. With fans opting for snappy white-ball contests, Test cricket, which is a five-day 450-over affair, is close to extinction. Sponsors don’t want to touch it and players, despite the noble words about it being the pinnacle, think it is too much effort for too little reward.
West Indies and South African stars, asked to choose between club and country, have voted IPL in a landslide. The response of Ranji players, if posed the same question, would not be any different. In India, the worst fear that IPL will destroy other formats is being proved correct. It is an easy decision because Ranji is financially crippling compared to IPL. Ranji gave peanuts to Harshal Patel, Avesh Khan, Deepak Chahar, Shahrukh Khan, Rahul Tripathy and Rahul Tewatia. IPL gifted them life-changing multiple crores.
A similar shift is visible in international cricket. Franchise leagues have liberated players and this is the era of the free-spirited cricket nomad who pitches his tent wherever he chooses, unburdened by restrictions imposed by a national board. Faf Du Plessis gave up captaining South Africa because it makes more sense to play various international leagues and Tim David from cricket’s backwater Singapore is a T20 sensation. Mushrooming leagues around the world will make top cricketers follow the golf / tennis model where they freely ply their trade without baggage of country or club.
Because of leagues like IPL, Test cricket is tottering and bilateral series could soon be dismantled. Over the next 10 years cricket is due a major reset and it could go the football route where leagues are supreme and traditional contests are limited only to a few big world events. But in all future turmoil, IPL will continue its march. Given its financial clout and profitability, it will remain the ultimate win-win that pleases everyone.
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