Ever since its inception in 2009, the Champions League T20 has always lived in the shadow of its big brother, the IPL. Instead of earning rich dividends for the BCCI and its Australian and South African counterparts, the league backfired stupendously with dwindling interests and lesser revenues every passing year. By 2014, having had enough, the BCCI decided to scrap the tournament altogether citing financial reasons.
An alternative was put forward but owing to the legal predicament that the BCCI found itself in following the match fixing scandal, the plan never fully materialized at that time. Now with the cleaning up in progress, the Board is considering a mini version of its immensely successful venture sometime in September.
Contrary to what may seem injudicious given the packed Indian cricket calendar, the September slot is actually a well thought-out one. Most Test-playing nations do not have a fixture scheduled around that time with the exception of Australia whose Sri Lanka tour ends on 9 September and they would probably begin a one-day tour of South Africa later that month. Not only does this guarantee player availability, but also ensures that viewers aren’t forced to choose between international cricket and a domestic league.
MASSIVE TURNOUTS AT STADIUM
This is where the United Arab Emirates stands out as a lucrative venue. Attracting the crowd has never been a problem for the UAE. In a country that boasts of a massive subcontinent population, the grounds have witnessed unexpectedly huge turnouts on previous occasions.
More than 250,000 people attended the UAE leg of the IPL in 2014 – a figure which when spread over 20 matches translates to an average of 12,500 a game per venue. Such had been the demand at one point of time that the organizers were compelled to send out advisories asking fans not to gather near the stadium unless they were already in possession of tickets.
With increased stadium capacities and a larger population following cricket in comparison to other venues like the United States, the UAE offers an alternative like no other. Increased head count inside the stadium affirms the popularity of the IPL worldwide, while also establishing those stadia as places people want to be seen at, thereby beginning a ‘vicious cycle’ of ever-increasing viewership.
One of the more pertinent headaches that the BCCI has to deal with while scheduling the mini-IPL abroad is that time difference. The 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. slots have turned out to be ideal for attracting the highest possible television viewership in the subcontinent. Therefore, compromising with that will be unfeasible, impracticable and an overall bad move. However, maintaining the time slots, in turn, puts undue pressure on the crowd at different venues.
This conflict arose during the two years when the IPL was held in South Africa with the BCCI ultimately resorting to a compromise. No wonder, only 56% of the tickets were paid for in South Africa as compared to a whopping 82% during the UAE leg of the IPL in 2014.
The UAE being only 1.5 hours ahead of the Indian subcontinent requires little compromise on part of the BCCI. It ensures a viable crowd at the grounds while preserving the TV viewership at its peak. In fact, according to officials, the TV viewership of the IPL did receive a boost in 2014, as did the website with amplified page views.
Further, the benefits of the Emirates being closer to the different cricketing nations add up when transfer of equipments and personnel are taken into consideration. Calling for overnight replacements for injured players aren’t unusual these days, and the UAE’s geographical position certainly makes it a more practical option than South Africa or the US.
TRIED AND TESTED VENUE
Experimenting with finances has never been the BCCI’s forte. So when the possible contenders for the abroad version of the IPL are put up on the board, the UAE leads others by an appreciable margin. It has served as the home for Pakistani cricket for the last few years with several Test-playing teams having travelled to the country.
In fact, the UAE has always been on the ICC’s radar since the Sharjah matches in the 1980s. The details regarding conditions and pitches are well known, which leaves the Board with significantly less number of things to fret over. If the success of hosting the Under-19 World Cup and the Pakistan Super League are anything to go by, the UAE remains the most assured venue on the list.
GLOBALIZATION AND THE MONEY FACTOR
One of the striking recommendations put forward by the Lodha Committee post IPL fiasco is to cut down on the number of advertisements shown during India’s matches. That, in essence, entails a financial disaster for the BCCI which depends on advertisements and sponsorships for a major fraction of the revenue.
However, the said recommendations do not extend to the IPL and it is understandable if the Board decides to make up for their loss by staging another tournament similar to its favorite cash cow. The IPL is the single most important domestic sporting tournament for the country in terms of financial returns, and even a few games with the top tier teams in a parallel version of shorter duration will generate colossal amounts of revenue.
Besides, the local profits are of no smaller value either. In 2014, each venue received $75,000 from the IPL for a single game matchday and $100,000 for a double-header day. For a country whose nagging presence outside the top international teams has been largely ignored for so long, the financial boost may just be the need of the hour to ensure better technology, infrastructure and exposure, all of which ultimately aids globalization of the sport.
Despite the 2014 venture, it may be fair to say that the UAE remains a rather untapped market with immense potential. If the ‘Cricket All-Stars’ series can do so well in a country where cricket generates little enthusiasm, imagine the impact it will have if the mini-IPL is staged at a venue as lucrative as this!
Back in the days of Sachin Tendulkar in his youth, a single stadium at Sharjah used to be the sole hub of cricketing activity in the Emirates. A lot has changed since, for now, the nation possesses as many as 10 cricket grounds including 3 Test venues and an ODI & T20 venue. Dubai, being the centre of construction industry, has single-handedly given birth to five venues in the last 12 years.
Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah are in driving distances of one another – a fact that makes the UAE ideal for a league of 4-5 teams. This also makes the impression of ‘home’ and ‘away’ matches a reality. The high spread of grounds further takes care of the logistical feasibility of practice and net sessions concerning different teams.
The Emirates enjoy the unique feat of being the only nation outside the Full Members list of the ICC to have hosted Test matches; such is its infrastructural superiority among others. And with the monetary side being taken care of by the standing economy of the country in addition to its IPL profits, the UAE emerges as a definite choice for hosting the mini-IPL. It now remains to be seen whether the BCCI ends up basing its decision on those lines as well.