Keshav Bansal, the 26-year-young owner of Gujarat Lions, is perhaps in the best possible position to comment on the state of health of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Bansal, and his company Intex, a leading manufacturer of smartphones and IT accessories, last year successfully bought one of the two new franchises in the tournament – Pune Supergiants being the other – necessitated by the removal of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals.
The purchase came at a critical time for the IPL, perhaps the most successful commercial venture in the history of cricket. However, after eight years of unprecedented success, there was a general perception in the market that fatigue was setting in among the fans, not least because of the controversies that kept hounding the event.
However, Bansal, the youngest team owner in IPL, insists his experience with the tournament has only been positive. The team purchase was a well thought plan to promote Intex, where he is the Director of Marketing, and the return on investment in the first year itself has been fantastic. There has been a perceptible rise in sales and the customers have a better image and value of the brand.
It was clear from the beginning that Bansal could only own the franchise for two years. What will happen next year, in the 11th edition, is still uncertain. Chennai and Rajasthan are expected to return after serving their suspension.
However, there is also a possibility that the IPL may raise the number of teams to 10.
And even though there is no clarity in the situation right now given BCCI’s legal position, Bansal has no doubts that if given a chance, he would like his association with the IPL to be a long-term one.
“There is a line that is very often said about our country – cricket is truly a religion in India. I can say this is absolutely true because I have lived and experienced this life for more than a year,” said Bansal while on a recent visit to the UAE.
“Cricket in India is a no-brainer. For any brand to succeed, any association with cricket is bound to give a good return on investment. The population of India is nearly 1.2 billion, and about 350 million of them watched the IPL last year. “The tournament has achieved 25 per cent year-on-year growth every year. It’s just getting stronger and stronger.
“All this talk about saturation in IPL, it is complete humbug. There is nothing like that. Apart from the TV viewership, the digital viewership grew almost 40 per cent last year, and the IPL believes we still haven’t scratched the surface as far as digital is concerned.
“We are also buying on-air time this year to promote Intex. I know for sure that the official broadcasters had sold 80 per cent of their inventory by the end of February despite increasing their prices by 30 per cent compared to last year. They are charging nearly Rs6 lakh ($9,000) for 10-second spots.
“Next year, the telecast rights are up for grabs. I can guarantee that you will see some astonishing numbers there.
“We are really happy with the IPL. Everyone who has been associated with the IPL – whether it be the cricketers, the fans, the tour operators, the agencies doing the activations, the hotels, the brands, the security agencies – it’s been a win-win for everyone involved. It has contributed to the economy wherever it has gone and it has contributed to everyone’s life in a positive way. And I have no doubt it is going to be even more stronger in the coming years.
“Also, I have been very impressed as to how professionally the tournament is managed. Everyone has their own perceptions about the IPL, and to be honest, we were a bit apprehensive to at the beginning. But I have found out that the BCCI and IMG both work in extremely transparent and professional manner. We have had a very positive experience so far and our intention is to carry on if given a chance.”
Bansal added there were some significant numbers for Intex – the clearest indicator for him – on how the IPL has been good to them.
“I can talk of tangible numbers pre-demonetisation (the move by Government of India on November 8 last year to withdraw Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes which led to liquidity problems in the market), because post demonetisation, most businesses in India have been adversely affected, including ours,” said Bansal, a keen adventure sport enthusiast himself.
“But just to give you an idea of numbers, both in Gujarat and UP, where Kanpur is our second home ground, we had lots of marketing activations. In Gujarat, our sales jumped nearly 30 per cent in the first month of the IPL, and we experienced a 15-18 per cent growth in UP. These are amazing numbers.
“Overall, there has been far more intangible benefits to the brand.
“We have gained a lot of media value, the valuations of the company has increased dramatically because we are now seen as part of just eight coveted companies that own IPL teams. Looking at it from the consumer’s point of view, owning an IPL team is a big thing and indicates a lot of muscle power in the brand. It has benefited the brand and so yes, if we get a chance, we would like to continue.”
Going against the norm, Bansal purchased Gujarat Lions at a negative price in the unique IPL reverse bidding at the end of 2015.
The teams receive approximately Rs70 crores ($10m) from the central revenue pool, so the IPL started the bids at Rs40 crores ($5.8m), trying to find owners who were willing to cost them the least.
In the end, Intex brought Rajkot franchisee for minus Rs10 crores ($1.4m) and Pune was purchased for minus Rs16 crores ($2.3m).
It effectively meant that both franchisees were paying BCCI for owning the teams and not taking anything from the central pool.
Bansal claims there were no complex calculations involved while bidding. He was certain that the only way to secure the franchisee was to bid in negative.
“One thing was clear when we went for bidding – maths and calculations were not going to play a big role,” explained Bansal on how he arrived at the winning number.
“Because, as I said, cricket is a no-brainer in India to get involved with, we needed a bit of madness to win the bid. There were nearly 15 companies that collected the bid papers, so we knew we were in for a tough fight. So, we went for a negative bid of Rs10 crores. I was more than 90 per cent sure we would get one of the teams. But as you saw, Pune went to minus Rs16 crores.
“For us, it was a gap of almost Rs80 crores in revenue (compared to gaining Rs70 crores from the IPL central pool), and that is not something that maths would let you do. We wanted to get a team and we were prepared to make the numbers work after we got it. I think we have done that successfully.”
In its first year, the Lions did very well. The Suresh Raina-led team topped the table to qualify for the knock-out stage, where they lost both their qualifiers.
Bansal is proud of what his team achieved, but there is no ambiguity about their ambitions this year.
“Last season being our first season, it was actually a dream run to top the tables. There is no end to greed and I am sure every team owner wants his team to win. But for us, to come together as a team in the first year, with no past experience, we were extremely happy with the team performance,” said Bansal.
“Of course, we learned a lot from last year, which led to a change in strategy in the players’ auction this year and how we approached that.
“We specifically worked on the bowling department and made some changes.
“We are very excited about the new season. I spoke to Suresh (Raina) and a few other players and the goal is only one – to lift the cup this year.”