The challenges of a Premier League billing

Updated: 29 August 2012 15:08 IST

It's becoming quite obvious around the world that you have do more than just call your tournament Premier League to attract the kind of attention the Indian Premier League has.

The challenges of a Premier League billing

Colombo:

It takes Google 0.32 seconds to throw up about 5,360,000 results when you type in Tendulkar and hit search. From news to opinion to his Twitter feed, from photographs to things he said, it takes less than a third of a second to gain access to more information about Sachin Tendulkar than the average person can comfortably process. Of the millions of results, however, not one is that of Chandrakanth Tendulkar, a 51-year-old who played five matches for Goa, never bowling a ball and scoring only 90 runs from 10 innings with a highest of 38. That's obviously understandable, given what the other Tendulkar has achieved, and the kind of monstrous following he has developed over the years. After all, there's more to the manner in which information is stored than just the name.

Similarly, it's becoming quite obvious around the world that you have do more than just call your tournament Premier League to attract the kind of attention the Indian Premier League has. On Tuesday evening, I was at the R Premadasa Stadium - a venue that has undergone a dramatic transformation in all aspects save the playing surface - at the first semifinal of the Sri Lanka Premier League. Having been at five different editions of the IPL, and more than one Champions League, it was hard to resist the temptation of subconsciously comparing the two events. That, of course, is a blunder of epic proportions.

While the two leagues are built largely along similar lines, to expect one to be like the other is an exercise in futility.

For starters, the SLPL is in its infancy, having got off the ground in 2012 after a false start the previous year, while the IPL has grown, both in business terms and cricketing terms, over a period of five years. The IPL was not merely wholeheartedly supported in its first year, it was given a virtual steroid injection by Lalit Modi, who got the rich and the powerful to get right behind the league from its inception. The SLPL, admittedly much lower key, is yet to enjoy the same sort of groundswell of support.

The local media in Sri Lanka seem deeply sceptical about the event, and some of the island's leading cricketers, starting with Arjuna Ranatunga, now a politician, have been vociferous in their criticism of it. While the end of the 30-year civil war has given rise to genuine optimism about the future and proportionate government investment in infrastructure, the market in Sri Lanka is tiny compared to the earning power of cricket in India.

It's too early to tell whether the first edition of the SLPL provided returns on investment of the kind various stakeholders will be happy with, but it's only too obvious to everyone that Somerset Entertainment Ventures have worked as hard as is humanly possible to even get the tournament off the ground without major difficulties. In a few days' time, the organisers will have occasion to pause, look back and take stock of how things went. When they do so, they will be well advised to look closely at the IPL to see what factors enabled the tournament to succeed to the extent that it has.

While everyone talks about the glamour quotient and the huge sums of money involved, the long-term answer is actually something much simpler. The two factors that made all the difference to the IPL were that on one hand, the players bought into the concept wholeheartedly, and on the other, the competitive nature of the matches caught the imagination of the public at large.

By having a player auction, and taking salaries to previously unheard of levels, the IPL ensured that the players gave the tournament their all, both on the field and in promoting it whenever they spoke to the public through the media. To expect similar millions to be doled out in Sri Lanka is ridiculous, but the league will have to find a way to get all the players involved to genuinely back the tournament to the hilt. While it helps to have big-name players on the roster, it only harms the brand if some of the players don't really have their heart in it.

News of various cricketers dipping in and out of the SLPL, some leaving midway without a legitimate explanation, can't help anyone. If anything, the SLPL would do well to weed out those who are only on the island to make a fast buck. Building something genuine needs more commitment than that, and there are enough players around the globe for whom the IPL is not the be-all and end-all, who will add to an event rather than take away. SLPL teams need to identify these players as a priority.

The reason the IPL had such a high proportion of close matches and last-over finishes was that the teams were so evenly matched, at least in the early editions of the tournament where the concept of a salary cap for each team was protected zealously. While that has changed somewhat in recent times, with the introduction of opaque tie-breakers and other devices that give the richest an advantage, the IPL continues to be keenly contested. At the SLPL, the player draft system, in theory, levels the playing field, but whether this has worked in practice, only a detailed post-mortem will reveal.

At the end of the day, there is probably room for different markets to each have a league of their own, even if it's debatable whether there is a need for so many. For the SLPL, the challenge begins now, to find out exactly what they are, to discover their identity and what works for them, and focus only on those things when the second edition of the competition comes around.

You may be a Premier League in name, but for your game to live up to the title, it takes more than that. Just ask Chandrakanth Tendulkar.

Topics : Sri Lanka Cricket
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