When the Indian Premier League (IPL) was launched in 2008, connoisseurs of the game wrote it off as plain “entertainment”. Fourteen years on, the Twenty20 league, which counts Bollywood actors and industrialists among franchise owners, is a phenomenon in its own right with almost every team owner now looking at the “property” as a “model” for a globally scalable business.
In the most recent step in this direction, IPL team owners have scooped up all six franchises of South Africa’s new domestic T20 league, which is scheduled to get under way in January next year. Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings, Lucknow Super Giants, Sunrisers Hyderabad, Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Capitals were the giant killers.
Reliance Industries, which owns IPL’s most successful team Mumbai Indians, bought the Newlands franchise of the league; JSW Sports, which owns Delhi Capitals, bagged Pretoria, while the owners of Chennai Super Kings purchased the Johannesburg franchise. CSK CEO KS Viswanathan said: “We have been evaluating new opportunities across the globe over the past few years. We felt this T20 league in South Africa will be highly competitive and it is a great opportunity for us to give back to the sport. It would also help us spot new talent.”
Among others, the owners of Rajasthan Royals have picked up the Paarl franchise; the Sun TV Group, which owns the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) franchise, has snapped up the Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) franchise. The RP Sanjeev Goenka group has successfully bid for Durban after buying the Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) franchise last year for a staggering `7,090 crore.
“The format of the IPL is such it’s not one country’s game, it’s gone past that, which is also the reason for its immense popularity. Plus the franchisees are flush with funds so they have the wherewithal to invest in a new league/ country,” said Amit Adarkar, CEO, Ipsos India. “On the other hand, South Africa is a potentially big consumer market and it has a huge Indian diaspora. Put the two together and it’s a tremendous business opportunity for franchisees and brands to ‘expand’ their market,” he added.
“What we are seeing is a form of real estate grab,” said Rediffusion managing director Sandeep Goyal. “We in India play only one game unlike the US or even Australia or New Zealand. So we feel we own that real estate and we must grab more of that real estate wherever available. At the end of the day, in the IPL format that you see today, the costs and overheads are low and the returns are huge.”
Many, however, say IPL still remains a pygmy compared to other major sports leagues. The league comprises 10 teams, playing a total of 74 matches. In the UK, Premier League football — to which IPL owners often compare the league — has 20 teams playing a total of 380 games. Compared to even the other leading global leagues it aspires to, it is far smaller in all aspects, including commercial value. But it may be too harsh a judgement as IPL is still much younger and needs a few more years to blossom.
The new league will be run by Cricket South Africa in partnership with television broadcaster SuperSport. The new T20 league is CSA’s third attempt at organising a sustainable franchise-based T20 league, following the failures of the Global League T20 and Mzansi Super League.
This is by no means the first global foray for IPL franchisees. KKR had made the first “global” move about seven years ago when it became owner of the Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR) in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) in 2015. Since then, RR and Punjab Kings have also bought franchises in the CPL. Knight Riders Group has also made a significant investment in Major League Cricket (MLC) in the US and had announced plans to set up a franchise in the greater Los Angeles area.
In May, Knight Riders Group announced it had acquired the rights to own and operate the Abu Dhabi franchise and was planning to set up Abu Dhabi Knight Riders (ADKR) as part of the UAE’s flagship T20 league. The first edition of the UAE T20 league was originally scheduled to take place during January and February 2022, but it was rescheduled to take place from January 2023, with six teams competing. Two more IPL franchises — MI and DC (GMR Group) — also have teams in the UAE T20 league.
This globalisation is not one-way though. NBA player Chris Paul and NFL duo Larry Fitzgerald and Kelvin Beachum invested in the Rajasthan franchise earlier this year.