FICCI Frames 2008: India sports, in Leagues of its own

IPL. ICL, cricket and some more cricket dominated the session on ‘Sports: The big entertainment options’. First came Kerry Packer’s so-called ‘Pyjama Cricket’, then day and night matches, and now the Twenty20 format. From a serious game, cricket is increasingly assuming an entertainment format. The sparring by Ajay Jadeja and Lalit Modi further enlivened a lively discussion.

e4m by Rishi Vora
Updated: Mar 28, 2008 11:50 AM
FICCI Frames 2008:  India sports, in Leagues of its own

Where Day 2 of FICCI Frames 2008 saw a gripping session on filmmaking, with some well-known filmmakers vociferously airing their views, the concluding day of Frames saw a similar gripping session, but this was on sports. Sparring on the platform were cricketer Ajay Jadeja and Lalit Modi, Vice-President, BCCI, and Chairman, Indian Premier League (IPL) – the former associated with cricket for years and having played for the country and the latter who has taken upon himself to take cricket to an even higher platform (if that is possible) with IPL. Marketing the League has pumped in a staggering Rs 8,000 crore even before the start of the Tournament season.

Along with Jadeja and Modi, the session on ‘Sports: The big entertainment options’ also had panelists Ayaz Memon, Editor-at-Large, DNA; Peter Hutton, Senior Vice President, Programming and Production, Ten Sports; and Thomas Hoehn, Economics Partner, PwC, UK, presenting their views on the buzz generated by IPL and the Twenty20 format, ICL and future of Indian sports.

Modi taking control

Modi opened the session with a key note address on the IPL vision and Indian sports in general. He said, “Sports is one thing that binds India together, and like all aspects of the society, sports, too, has seen massive changes. India’s wealth has increased and so has our demand for entertainment, be it in the form of multiplexes, different art avenues, etc. In the last couple of years, we have seen top quality live entertainment, and with IPL there would be much more of it. While cricket is a passion in India, it hasn’t been on the line of the English Premier League in the UK, and was never marketed that way. But now is the opportunity to market cricket like never before and give the world a chance to watch domestic cricket in IPL, which would be aired live around the world.”

Modi further said, “A lot of in-depth research has gone into creating IPL, we studied how international leagues operate. We thought Twenty20 was the format to go with, and it is going to be a huge success factor in India. People can see the match after office hours, and this is extremely important.” Citing some challenges, Modi said that cricket was a game that was more skewed towards the men, attracting women was one of the challenges.

Ridiculing competition

In a surprising admission, Modi said that his competition was the usual prime time ‘Saas Bahu’ sagas and not ICL. Though it seemed amusing to a few in the panel and part of the audience, Modi reiterated that his endeavour was to bring the current prime time viewers in watch IPL.

What about ROI?

On the revenue side of the business, questions could be raised about the ROI aspects. How would the teams generate the required ROI from the city based teams owned by a bunch of biggies? Commenting on this, Modi said, “These teams are an asset to their respective owners. Initially, you can’t expect anything new venture to generate high returns from the start. It will at least take a year for these teams to fructify revenues.”

Addressing a question from the audience on having just a single IPL season, and its possibilities of clashing with the ICC schedule, Modi agreed that that IPL could have had a longer season as against the scheduled 44-day tournament starting April. He, however, explained that the 44-day schedule was a prudent decision given the fact that a lot of things happened around the year right from setting up the required infrastructure to coaching and nurturing talent.

And the conflict begins…

Modi’s remarks on the love for the game among the Indians didn’t go down well with Jadeja. Having played the game himself, and being an avid follower, he observed that Indians were not crazy about the game of cricket. Instead they were crazy about the Indian cricket team, he insisted and corroborated his point with viewership stastistics, saying, “The viewership data of matches like India versus Bangladesh is much higher than say an Australia versus South Africa match that happens at the same time. If India was a cricket loving nation, you would have lots watching the Aus-SA match.”

Jadeja further added fuel to fire stating, “The general tendency among Indian cricketers is such that even when they are paid heavily for performing at an exhibition match, their interest levels are down, affecting their performance. This could pretty much be the case with these Leagues. After all, playing for the country is the biggest platform a cricketer looks for.”

Modi was quick to respond to this, and said, “Owners like performance. If players don’t perform, they will be thrown out!”

Ayaz Memon presented some interesting figures. He said, “After 16 years of existence, the total revenue of English Premier League is $3.6 billion, and contrary to this, a 30 seconds ad costs $2.7 million. In 1992, Sky Sports was the only specialist sports channel in the UK. Now they have six channels, and overall there are 30 channels for sports in the UK, while India has only eight.” He further stated that in 2006 Winter Olympics, NBC Network had generated advertising revenues to the tune of $900 million.

Ten Sports’ Hutton, though being a competitor of IPL (given his connections with ICL), was appreciative of the amount of money IPL had been able to generate and market itself across the world. “A lot of new money has come into sports, and IPL is a fantastic example of this,” he noted.

Need more money? Bring in IPTV

Hoehn chipped in at the end of the session, as he too presented insightful views on Pay TV as a concept in India. “My experience shows that if you want to have increasing right fees, it is only possible if Pay TV kicks of in India. We don’t have Pay TV in India and this is putting a limit on the money that could be raised,” he remarked.

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