Royal Challengers Bangalore are working on retaining Chris Gayle for the 2012 IPL even though his one-year term with them as an injury-replacement player has expired. Sidhartha Mallya, one of Bangalore's franchise directors and the owner's son, told ESPNcricinfo, "There are ways to keep Chris [Gayle]. We are obviously working on it and looking at every possible opportunity."
Gayle was the architect of a complete turnaround for Bangalore in 2011, arresting a four-match losing streak and setting up a record seven-match victory run that eventually led Bangalore to the final.
Under current IPL rules, contracts for replacement players only include a year's participation, on the premise that the injured player will be available the following season. New replacement players without three-year contracts - Gayle, for example - must go into an auction where all the franchises would be able to bid for them. Gayle's explosive performances with the bat - he was IPL2011's leading run scorer, and had a strike rate of 183.13 - are expected to trigger a bidding war should he be put into an auction.
Mallya, however, said the Bangalore franchise had been in touch with IPL management about the possibility of keeping Gayle, but would only know for certain after the Champions League Twenty20 in September whether they can hang on to him. The IPL, Mallya said, won't give out the guidelines until the Champions League is up. (Sundar Raman, the IPL's chief executive, did not respond to an email asking if the league was considering new guidelines).
Gayle, in 2011, also helped Bangalore's fans come to terms with the departures of Rahul Dravid and Ross Taylor, two favourites who were not retained by the franchise. "There was a lot of backlash but there was [also] a lot of backlash when Shah Rukh Khan didn't keep Sourav Ganguly," Mallya said. "Ross Taylor was a big favourite for Bangalore. The crowd loved him and we thought that would have an effect but when you have players like Chris Gayle and [AB] de Villiers, it was easy for the fans to get over that and they have taken to the new side very well."
Off the field, Mallya said he was not worried by the drop in television ratings this season because, he felt, there was naturally going to be a lag in the wake of India's successful World Cup campaign. He also felt that shuffling the players every few years while allowing teams to retain a four-man core was a good system. "Then it doesn't become like an English Premier League where only one or two teams will keep winning. It makes it (the IPL) even and it makes it open."
Mallya also said that he was satisfied with the amount of input franchises had in the running of the league, "We do get a voice. We are heard... After the season finished, Peter Griffiths of IMG came and spoke to us all. He took our feedback on the season. He was more than happy to listen to us about what our feelings were. Because at the end of the day they want to do what's best for the league, best for us and best for everyone moving forward. "
Bangalore were one of the first franchises to embrace social networking and reach out to fans through contests and competitions and now have more than 100,000 followers on their website and over 12,000 followers on Twitter. What they are still working out is how to get merchandising revenue on a firm footing given that such a short season makes it difficult to generate consistent sales. "I know it is difficult to sell premium jerseys because they are a lot of money," Mallya said. "It is replica jerseys and replica stuff. It is finding a balance of what people want and I think we are still in the process of finding that balance of what people want and going forward I am sure we will be able to give people what they desire."
One potential boost for Bangalore is the Champions League, which gives them a second tournament with which to create fan interest and excitement, as well as pad the bottom line. "It will be huge not only from a financial point of view but from a prestige point of view. I would love to win it. It is the best 10 teams in the world, domestic teams in the world, competing and it would be a great honour for us."