The T20 league calendar is now a round-the-year reality. Players are picking and choosing formats and leagues, and are engaged in hard bargaining to get salaries they feel they deserve. New Zealand fast bowler Trent Boult became the latest to refuse a national contract on Wednesday.
Many IPL franchises have expanded their footprint into T20 leagues around the world. Kolkata Knight Riders lead the way, and will run teams in four leagues from 2023. KKR CEO Venky Mysore explains how the plan to project the Knight Riders brand round-the-year led to the expansion.
How much of your expansion was strategic or driven by Return of Investment?
It was important to build a model successfully at home and replicate it in other markets to keep alive the Knight Riders brand round the year and cultivate a fan base. We are fortunate to turn our vision into reality with the ILT20 (in the UAE) where we will play in January, IPL in March-May, MLC (Major League Cricket) in June-July in the US and the CPL (Caribbean Premier League ) in August-September. Acquiring is easier, the challenge is to build every business successfully.
You would have factored in non-availability of Indian players, unfavorable time zones…
It is well understood that Indian players won’t be available to other leagues. So, we had to evaluate opportunities keeping this in mind, the relative time zones, etc. Still, each opportunity has its advantage and potential. If you look at the prices at which IPL teams were first acquired in 2008, it seemed significant. Investors are now paying those types of prices for new leagues. Whether the new leagues monetise and grow at that level remains to be seen. But it can’t be judged based on what the market is today. You have to see what you can do with the product over a period.
How challenging is it to rope in international players in the UAE, US leagues?
It’s interesting because every league has foreign players. IPL has eight in the squad and we hear SA has seven out of 17 in the squad. If you look at ILT20 or MLC, the primary objective is to develop local talent of associate countries.
The ILT20 requires the squad of 18 to have 4 players from the UAE and two from Associates. And two must be in the eleven. That’s a start. The reality is 36 Associate country players across six franchises (33%) get to rub shoulders with international players, coaches over the duration of the league. I am sure if you give the UAE league 2-3 years there will be players from Associate countries who will catch the attention and be sought after because of the platform. Tim David from Singapore, who has become a million-and-a-half-dollar player, is an example.
Can’t all stakeholders come together to tackle the scheduling crunch with competing leagues?
You are right, but it is almost inevitable. I can’t see the calendar not clashing. We have been in CPL for eight years and there has not been a single year where there isn’t some form of clash. We have had to do without some players, but we manage. The player base is also dramatically increasing. There are plenty of highly skilled players.
Do you foresee some playing for the same franchise across leagues?
You try to move in that direction, but I don’t think it is practically possible. It’s not imperative for success. Also, a lot depends on the players. If you look at two of our constants across all the ventures, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell, they are very clear they would like to play for the Knight Riders franchise wherever it plays subject to their international commitments and rules of the league.
Some feel IPL franchises have begun to monopolize cricket leagues…
It’s just a phase. It’s only because people involved in IPL are a little bit more experienced and there is familiarity—therefore a level of confidence that we can do it elsewhere. It will change. If you look at the UAE league itself, there are 3 IPL owners and the others have no experience in cricket. But they know business and have already made some good decisions.
The franchise calendar is expanding and the international one is shrinking…
We all grew up enjoying Test cricket and continue to do. Having said that you have 10 teams—250 players getting an opportunity to an experience called IPL. So, whichever format it is, it is for the benefit of players. We have seen how hugely the cricket ecosystem benefits the country. Yes, there are some inconsistencies, some issues like player availability, but it is part of the growth process. Some rationality will come into it and it will all sort itself out. Some people may say the pendulum has swung too much one way, but it is always the case before normalcy is restored.