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Incredibly, the IPL is turning ten. It just seems yesterday, when dazzled fans were dished out the breathlessly high-octane format, kitschy club names like Knight Riders and Super Kings, mixed teams with no connect with the cities they represented and, of course, high-kicking cheerleaders, hush hush after-parties, the gossip and then juicy, controversial blogs. This year, the IPL will be all grown-up, shedding thereby some its prom night high jinks.
The 2017 tournament will mark the end of a few things—the IPL’s 10-year contract with its broadcasting partner, Sony, its tie-up with IMG, the firm that organises the tournament, and also the deals with the franchisees will all come to a close. This will also be the last opportunity for players to turn out in their respective teams’ outfits, as they will all be thrown in a common pool for a mega auction next year. In a nutshell, a new IPL chapter will dawn from 2018—hopefully, a more transparent and exciting one too—a bigger and better competition.
This edition will also be a final chance for teams that have not won the IPL title—Royal Challengers Bangalore, Delhi Daredevils, Kings XI Punjab, Gujarat Lions, Rising Pune SuperGiants—to turn their fortunes around and claim the trophy. The 10th edition of cricket’s most lucrative tournament will be a fiercely-contested affair.
There is no BCCI president, no secretary, no IPL governing council and so no IPL chairman to oversee preparations this year.
The changes are many. The opening, for instance, will be a novelty. Deviating from the past practice of staging a grand, centralised opening ceremony, this time individual opening ceremonies will be organised at each of the eight venues, with a 10th year commemorative logo being prominently displayed. Each opening ceremony, to be held before the first home match of each franchise, will be 30 minutes long.
The opening razzmatazz will be truncated. The eight ceremonies will be of a smaller scale, sans Hollywood or Bollywood stars, says an official. “These eight ceremonies will be much smaller. They will be like the half-time entertainment at the US Super Bowl game, with very little of Bollywood,” he says. “All eight ceremonies should be unique and different from each other, having in common only the celebration of the 10th year.... It should be such that it drives people not only to want to attend it in person but for the whole of India to want to watch it on their TV screens/internet platforms,” the BCCI said in the Request For Proposal, while inviting bids for the ceremonies.
Due to the late start of the IPL preparations, many things, like the signing of contracts with vendors, have been pushed back this year. The BCCI is also riven with uncertainty due to the ongoing IPL betting-fixing case in the Supreme Court. Also, there is no BCCI president, no secretary, no IPL governing council, and thus no IPL chairman to oversee and control the preparations. This will be the first IPL—conceived and launched by Lalit Modi—during which no BCCI office-bearer will be involved, with little opportunity to hog the spotlight. The BCCI’s reins are currently in the hands of a Supreme Court-appointed four-member Committee of Administrators (CoA), while the BCCI CEO looks after day-to-day affairs and reports to the CoA. Due to the 2013 IPL betting-fixing case that led to the SC’s order to implement reforms in the BCCI, there is confusion all around—some genuine but largely made up by officials who are facing an exit from cricket administration for good.
Sony has already sounded the bugle—the hype on its channels has already started—catchy promos are whetting appetites. This season’s underlying theme is ‘10 Saal Aapke Naam’. This anthem, which follows predecessors ‘Ek India Happywala’ and ‘India Ka Tyohaar’, is devoted to IPL fans and salutes an eventful decade. The new anthem has retained the trademark tune of the previous anthems. “What would IPL be without its zealous and dedicated fans? Salute!!” says former Pakistan captain Rameez Raja, who has closely watched it as a TV commentator. Even though Sony raised advertisement rates for the 2017 IPL, all slots are sold out. “The response from advertisers is excellent. With about three weeks to go, we are fully sold out till the finals. Last year, we had a record viewership of 360 million; it is growing every year. That was the catalyst of this growth in advertisement rates,” says Sony Pictures Network president Rohit Gupta.
Actually, the build-up to the IPL coincides with the engrossing India-Australia Test series. Former Australia Test all-rounder Tom Moody, chief coach of champions SunRisers Hyderabad, swears by the IPL and says its international following will be even bigger this time. “There is no doubt the IPL is an extraordinary story; it has had an impact on our game far greater than anyone would have ever expected,” the twice World Cup winner tells Outlook from Australia. Moody should know—he has been involved in every IPL. From 2008 to 2010, he was chief coach of Kings XI Punjab, then turned to TV commentary, and now guides SunRisers Hyderabad.
Rameez Raja, who is extremely popular as a commentator, roots for the IPL too. “India took to IPL instantly. I have felt the buzz and passion of fans grow every year. It has had few lows with controversies, but this strong brand has been able to muscle its way through on the back of exciting cricket and its resplendent fans,” he says. In particular, Raja can’t forget the scenes he witnessed at the first IPL final in Mumbai in 2008. “For me, the everlasting memory and highlight of the IPL will always be the sight of hundreds of fans, mostly with families and kids, returning to Mumbai from Navi Mumbai after the IPL-I final, which was played at the DY Patil Stadium. It was pure love for the players and for this great sport,” he recalls.
Most of all, IPL is a byword for the lure of big bucks. Indeed, purists have never quite tired of pointing out its corrosive stain on cricketers. But it also provides Indian domestic cricketers a platform from where they could exhibit their talent globally. “A standout highlight is the dramatic improvement of domestic players. You can see it in the skills, physical fitness and game sense. This has provided India with greater depth to the domestic game, which will only continue to provide the national side with quality options!” says Moody.
After the 10th edition, there will be an auction for teams and players. The Mumbai team franchise fetched the highest price at the teams’ first auction, with Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance grabbing it for Rs 440.77 crore. The lowest bid was of Rs 263.91 crore, for the Rajasthan Royals. When the new auction takes place it would be clear how much weight individual brands can pull and what their current valuations are. Going by the popularity of T20 cricket everywhere, we have to brace ourselves for some dizzying skyscrapers.