IPL showtime draws closer
It's show time, folks, on the cricket field.
The days of 'white-flannelled fools' are long over. Cricketers with rock star image have taken over the arena and nearly 100 international cricketers, commanding unheard of playing fees, have descended on India for the launch of the world's richest cricket league - the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The first of the 59 matches starts on Friday at Bangalore amid hoopla and unprecedented public attention in a cricket-crazy nation that is obsessed with the glories and disasters of the game.
The league will be a giddy cocktail of sport, entertainment and business and aims to take cricket to a level never been attempted before.
Nonetheless, it will be trial by fire for the Indian cricket board's intrepid vice-president, Lalit Modi, who conceived this league against universal scepticism.
The multimillion dollar Twenty20 tournament, sanctioned by the International Cricket Council (ICC), will feature eight city teams -- Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Jaipur, Chennai, Chandigarh and Hyderabad. There will in all be 59 matches on home and away basis, very similar to the football leagues in Europe.
"The real city centric rivalry between teams can pull the crowd to the IPL matches and players have to show genuine commitment towards their respective teams," said Modi.
"It's not going to happen overnight, it will take years; creating emotions and rivalry is a real challenge for us," he added.
The present ruling group in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has been advocating a marketable high-profile inter-city tournament for years, but they could not do much as it was in opposition. Once Zee Telefilms launched the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL), roping in World-Cup-winning India captain Kapil Dev, Lalit Modi and former Board president Inderjit Singh Bindra quickly conceived the IPL concept. Thus the IPL was born.
Modi, known as an aggressive marketing man, was the main brain behind the formation of the IPL and he flooded the cricketing world with dollars and lured all the top stars to be a part of this league. Bindra quietly worked to get ICC sanction for the mega event.
"We want the IPL to be one of the icon brands in the world and we are going to push everything that is required to achieve that," he said.
Modi, the IPL chairman and commissioner, started the cash flow by selling the TV rights to Sony-World Sports Group (WSG) for a whopping $1 billion.
Then came the auction for the team franchises, where Bollywood's rich and powerful and some of the biggest business tycoons lined up to buy the teams' rights for a 10 year-period.
Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries shelled out $111.9 million for Mumbai, liquor baron Vijay Mallya spent $106 million for Bangalore, Bollywood king Shah Rukh Khan got Kolkata for $75.09 million.
Eight teams were bought as dollars flowed like champagne.
This was followed by another first in auction - cricketers were bought and sold, reminding one of cattle fairs of yore.
The owners dug deep into their pockets to bid for 78 international stars. India's one-day skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni got the highest price tag, a whopping $1.5 million, and was bought by Chennai. Australia's Andrew Symonds was next in line and he went to Hyderabad for $1.35 million.
The entertainment quotient of the league got the celluloid touch. While Shah Rukh will shake a leg at his team Kolkata Knight Riders' matches, Akshay Kumar will show his stunts for the Delhi Daredevils, dancing superstar Hrithik Roshan will do his jig for the Mumbai Indians and Bollywood diva Preity Zinta will cheer for her team Kings XI Punjab.
To woo youngsters, the India Cements-backed Chennai Super Kings has also roped in two popular stars Vijay and Nayantara as its brand ambassadors.
"The whole concept of the IPL will be successful if people come to the stadium," said Rakesh Singh, marketing head, India Cements.
"So, we signed up the two most popular stars of youngsters. Vijay is the SRK of the south, if you want a comparison," he added.
But there is more to that, the show before the inaugural match Friday is also going to be a Bollywood-studded event. According to IPL sources, Katrina Kaif, who's now one of the top paid actresses of Bollywood after dishing out four hits last year, is set to perform. So is Zayed Khan, "who is popular with young folk".
The marketing honchos of the IPL have each spent already Rs.80-100 million in promoting their teams by designing team logos, tuning theme song and picking the right brand ambassador.
With millions already spent and more likely to be shelled out over the next couple of months, the IPL is an unparalleled gravy train.