The rise and fall of 'cash-rich’ T20 leagues

Bangladesh Cricket Board could suffer huge losses if Bangladesh Premier League franchisees continue to miss out on payment deadlines © AFP (Representational picture)

T20 leagues in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are prime examples of hunger for financial gains exploiting the format. Blindly following the IPL, the huge amount of money through franchise-based leagues has threatened its sustenance. The cancellation of Sri Lankan Premier League (SLPL) is just one of them. Abhijit Banare presents an analysis on survival of T20 leagues.
Back in the late 1990s in India, setting up business in the IT sector was enough for you to conveniently think about the fortunes you could earn in the subsequent months which was to further multiply in years to come. As more than a decade passed by very few managed to survive or were consumed by large multinationals. The 30-40 per cent growth had everyone attracted to it initially, but it all withered away, because the first sentence had a noticeable flaw. If the thought of earning fortunes came well before you actually delivered your services efficiently, then there’s certainly a lot to ponder upon.

The decision to cancel this year’s Sri Lankan Premier League (SLPL) is just the start of the crashing of a set-up based on flawed perceptions towards the economics of a T20 league.

When Lalit Modi along with Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) improvised on the lines of Indian Cricket League (ICL) to start the Indian Premier League (IPL) all other cricket boards adopted the wait-and-watch strategy to see where this format and idea was heading — the most convenient option at the time. Once the glamorous league achieved great success with the who’s who of world cricket and talented domestic players lightning up the already entertaining format, things turned drastically, not for cricket but the way it is portrayed. Apart from match reports on sports pages, IPL found its mention often on business papers and front pages of national dailies as well. One can go on and on debating whether flashing of million dollar placards is the right thing or not, but it did send out a message misinterpreted by cricket boards — T20 leagues as a doorway to earning a fortune.

Cricket boards especially those running to make ends meet saw this as a great opportunity to regain their footing to financial stability. To elaborate more, the profit for the board blinded them to oversee the reality whether the money involved in the game was actually equitable enough to sustain in the longer run. No it wasn’t. While the boards are making profit, the franchises are still struggling to find it a clear profitable investment.

The SLPL is a great example. The franchises — all Indian companies — defaulted on the annual payments which was spread across seven years for $30.49 million. And the payment duration was proposed to be increased to 15 years. 15 years? Lalit Modi can come up and execute more than three plans of organising lucrative tournaments in that period. Even the BCCI’s set-up looks till 2017. While Indian franchises are themselves in soup defaulting on their payments despite all the huge market, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were punching way above their weight.

In the meanwhile the Sri Lankan board happily pocketed a profit of $2.2 million and already contemplating a new system for next year to overcome the glitch this year. It won’t be a big surprise to see the boards who just a year ago couldn’t afford to pay for their players jumping into risk-taking league affair crumble drastically.
Why IPL is different?

The BCCI is no saint in organising IPL supposedly referred as ‘cash-rich T20 League’. It has been raking in the moolah from television broadcasting to selling every inch of ad space and it has managed to do so successfully. Yet the Indian glam-sham tournament enjoys certain natural advantage over others which differentiates itself from those who went about blindly copying the league. The ‘brand IPL’ includes Bollywood + cricket — a cocky mix which can attract audience from any corner of the country. The audience itself so huge that the returns for the board is so huge that even during off seasons like the one after the world cup win doesn’t deter it from moving ahead. The franchises though aren’t doing great but there is a scope for improvement. In comparison, an SLPL, BPL or Caribbean Premier League (CPL) comes nowhere close to achieving a similar quotient.

Surprisingly, T20 leagues are played in as many as 15 countries. The T20 structure in many other countries hasn’t crashed or finds itself in so much trouble as these leagues in sub-continent appear to be. The HRV Cup in New Zealand started in 2005-06 — earlier than IPL — has sustained. Even the Faysal Bank T20 in Pakistan has been around for nine years. In fact Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) appeared to be enthusiastic about launching the Pakistan Super League on the lines of the IPL replacing the nine-year old league. The greed for raking money has surely messed up the intentions of the board. This in turn has posed another problem that is the career of players who carved out their skills just to suit the format.
What happens next?

During his exile from the national team, Chris Gayle showed that an alternative option is out there by playing the T20 leagues. Undoubtedly one of the most valuable players in the format automatically served as a role-model for others to follow. As these leagues crumble, those so-called T20 specialists too will find it tough to sustain for longer time. Thus from a flawed economic model we have reached a stage where the career of players too is at stake.

T20 format is not a devil as it is made out to be. Test and ODI survived together; so can T20 in the longer run if the basic essence of the format is respected rather than over-exploit it for quick gains. Moreover, cricket boards around the world need to understand that the format is entertaining and if managed in small proportions can help them sustain in the longer run rather than make a one-time fortune and shut the shop.

(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)