IPL: T20 franchise contracts set to change cricket's global outlook

IPL: A fan of Kolkata Knight Riders ( KKR) wave the KKR Flag  in front of Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium during the IPL T-20 in Kolkata,India on April 05,2023.  (Photo by Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
IPL: A fan of Kolkata Knight Riders waves his KKR Flag in front of Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium. Photo: Getty

West Indian Andre Russell has been part of Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) franchise in the Indian Premier League (IPL) since 2014. The now 35-year-old has endured a couple of tough spells in recent seasons with knee injuries, but KKR have notably kept to his side.

“Where I was, a few years ago, KKR actually made things happen for me where they sent me to get proper treatments,” he said in an interview in April. “That's something special to me to be honest. No other franchise or even my country has ever really invested that much on me.”

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This is a player attraction which is likely to be ramped up with increasing regularity in the coming seasons. The likelihood of IPL franchises becoming the main employers of international cricketers rather than players’ national associations looms large following recent reports that multi-tournament, 12-month contracts have been tabled for some of the game’s elite short-form stars to play in sister franchises.

Of the 10 IPL franchises, eight own at least one team in other global leagues — teams in South Africa's SA20 league are all owned by IPL owners — while Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Capitals have global ties in T20 competitions in South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and the upcoming Major League Cricket T20 in the United States.

Chief minister of India's Punjab state Bhagwant Mann (C) and Preity Zinta (front, R), Co-owner of Punjab Kings' IPL team watch the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium in Dharamsala on May 19, 2023. (Photo by Money SHARMA / AFP) (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Chief minister of India's Punjab state Bhagwant Mann (C) and Preity Zinta, right, co-owner of Punjab Kings' IPL team watch the Indian Premier League 2023. Photo: Getty

"Traditionally, the best option for players was to have a central contract or state or provincial contract, to earn a living playing cricket," ICC chief executive Geoff Allardice told PTI in February. "Now there are more options you have got playing T20 leagues around the world."

Apart from India's domestic cricketers that is. While a Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) ruling currently stipulates that franchises can invest in other leagues, no Indian players can play outside of the IPL less it diminishes the cash-rich league's brand.

"It will be interesting to see how things play out between the BCCI and the Indian franchise owners in the years to come — as it seems like there could be a conflict brewing there," the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations' chief executive Tom Moffat has said.

The ban on Indian players competing in other global leagues is likely to be firmly up for discussion with IPL owners following the news that Saudi Arabia also aims to further its sporting reach, by setting up its own T20 competition and become the world’s richest T20 league in the process.

“Our aim is to create a sustainable industry for locals and expats living in the Kingdom and make Saudi Arabia a global cricketing destination," Prince Saud bin Mishal Al-Saud told Arab News in March. Saudi Arabia is also envisaging India to become its largest tourism source market by 2030.

Mumbai Indians team members stand in a bus as people capture the moment in their mobile phones during a reception accorded to them in Mumbai, India, Monday, May 13, 2019. Mumbai Indians won the Indian Premier League 2019 cricket title on Sunday defeating Chennai Super Kings by one run. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Mumbai Indians celebrate their IPL 2019 title win with thousands of fans. Photo: AP

With scouts across the world eyeing players for future auctions, coupled with the growing trend of multiple franchises, IPL owners — which range from Bollywood stars, Indian conglomerates and the league’s first overseas private equity firm — are set to reap the rewards in global brand recognition.

Hemant Dua, the former CEO of Delhi Daredevils, says: “So [let’s say] $50m (£40.1m) to $60m is your net profit after cost. That's a lot of money [for franchises]. So if you have to spend even five or 10 million in other leagues as losses, it's not a big deal. You're building a brand globally, and that helps.

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“They [IPL owners] might make losses initially, but eventually it will all turn into one big wheel, which can then be subscribed as shares on the market and there will be more money coming in and it becomes a cycle and it keeps growing. That's the future.”

Venky Mysore, the chief executive of Kolkata Knight Riders, first hinted last year that year-round contracts were being mooted, with recent reports of up to £5m being offered. He said: “If we were able to have ‘X’ number of contracted players, and were able to use them all in different leagues, I think that would be nirvana. Hopefully, someday it will happen.”

Royal Challengers Bangalore fielder Virat Kohli (L) celebrates the catch to dismiss Mumbai Indians batsman Sachin Tendulkar with teammates A B De Villiers (R) and Chrys Gayle (C) during the IPL Twenty20 cricket match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on May 14, 2012.   RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. MOBILE USE WITHIN NEWS PACKAGE.   AFP PHOTO/Manjunath KIRAN        (Photo credit should read Manjunath Kiran/AFP/GettyImages)
Virat Kohli, left, celebrates the catch to dismiss Mumbai Indians batsman Sachin Tendulkar with teammates AB De Villiers and Chrys Gayle in 2012. Photo: Getty

Currently, Australia’s Big Bash and England’s The Hundred competitions are free from private investment ownership, although the latter has seen interest from private equity firms and the IPL.

Kolkata Knight Riders first took ownership of an overseas franchise in 2015 when purchasing Trinbago Knight Riders in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) and now has four teams following last year’s investment in the UAE’s Abu Dhabi-based league.

“Of all the owners I know, he has the most vision,” Pete Russell, the CPL CEO, told the authors of Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution of the Shah Rukh Khan and Mysore led KKR franchise.

“Their whole thing is about building a global brand. If you're building a sports team and you have the opportunity to run it all year round then it makes perfect sense for commercial partners, staff and players. There's a huge amount of upside to it."

KOLKATA, INDIA - JUNE 3: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Kolkata Knight Riders owner Shah Rukh Khan and players holding the champions trophy during felicitation ceremony of the IPL champions Kolkata Knight Riders on June 3, 2014 in Kolkata, India. (Photo by Ashok Nath Dey/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Kolkata Knight Riders owner Shah Rukh Khan and players holding the champions trophy during felicitation ceremony of the IPL champions in 2014 in Kolkata. Photo: Getty Images

The scope of franchises leveraging brand promotion by utilising their own players across the globe is not only appealing for teams but also for promotion of the game as a whole. “Take Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli,” says an IPL expert close to Royal Challengers Bangalore. “A lot of their players came with certain brand loyalty which they have leveraged beautifully. It’s a maximum return on investment.”

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With Gujarat Titans winning in their first IPL season last year and the close nature of the play-off race in the marathon 52-day tournament for the 2023 edition, there is no stopping the buoyant T20 market in furthering its global reach.

“We did not want an equivalent of the EPL or LaLiga, where every year, you can predict that it’s one of two or five teams that is going to win, with a probability of over 90%,” Balu Nayar, IMG’s former MD who helped monetise the IPL, said last year.

“It’s clearly a victory of the sport, of talent and thinking, as well as the joyful randomness of pure sport and that promises continuing engagement with fans.”

One that is set to be replicated the world over in T20's growing stature.

Additional reporting by Lisa Dupuy in New Delhi

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