Television

'We have been profitable for the second year in succession' Manoj Badale - Rajasthan Royals chairman and co-owner

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 It has been a mixed bag for the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Rajasthan Royals over the last couple of years. Having come out on top in the first year, the franchise failed to reach the semi-finals after the venue for the second edition shifted to South Africa.

However, Rajasthan Royals made a profit for the second year in a row. It also got Shilpa Shetty and UK-based Raj Kundra to take 12 per cent stake in it for $16.8 million (Rs 820 million), valuing the franchise at around $140 million (Rs 6.83 billion), more than double the $67 million that the owners, Emerging Media, paid for it a little over a year ago.

Rajasthan Royals has been aiming to create a differentiated brand with focus on innovation, youth, the team ethos and the 'win from anywhere' mantra.

While priority is to play better cricket, the off-field focus is to reach out to its local and international fan base. Building a sustainable merchandising programme is also on the agenda.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto, Rajasthan Royals chairman and co-owner Manoj Badale denies that he has picked up a majority in the franchise and talks about its growth plans.

Excerpts:

There have been reports that you have picked up a majority stake in Rajasthan Royals. Is this true?

All these reports are inaccurate. There has been no change in the shareholding structure. We are fortunate to have investors based in the UK, India and Australia. This gives us a global perspective on the decisions we take as a company.

Do you think the IPL in South Africa helped in exposing the brand globally?

The move was a great opportunity for us as well as the IPL to expand the global audience and win a lot of new fans outside of India. We learnt a great deal about the international potential of 'Brand Rajasthan Royals'. We successfully experimented with our merchandise and the 'Royal Turban' and the 'Royal Mooch' (moustache) became synonymous with Rajasthan Royals and its fans at all the games.

Was it a logistic nightmare to shift base to a foreign land?

The move to South Africa gave us as well as the organisers only about three weeks to put together everything from scratch. But the vast majority of the work was undertaken by the IPL and IMG teams. Our work for the Rajasthan Royals was far less than theirs, although our initiatives in creating practice matches against the 2008 South African champions added to a busy workload.





The main challenges related to travel, merchandise and local marketing. We overcame these by working with local partners, and leveraging our sponsors wherever possible.

Is it true that Rajasthan Royals made a Rs 250 million profit?

We do not like to provide specific comments on our financials. However, we are happy to have been profitable for the second year in succession.

Rajasthan Royals had earlier stated that its goal was to breakeven in three years. Are you on track to better this?

Yes, we are! But we can't rest on past performance.

'I am not sure that any country can replicate the IPL. Matching the IPL is not a realistic one. There are too many things that are unique to India that make the IPL the success that it has become'

What activities are you planning to keep the brand alive?

We have already reached out to the UK. We played in front of 22,000 fans at Lord's against the 2008 English 20:20 champions Middlesex. We are exploring other alliances and strategic partnerships in different geographies across the world.





In India we do fan 'meets' and 'greets' as a regular exercise throughout the year. We also sponsor the Jaipur based T20 local league called the Royals Cup. The plan is to scale these into bigger events with more participation from sponsors and fans.

Do you have any licensing and merchandising plans for this year or are you waiting for next year?

Yes, we have many. We believe that licensing and merchandising is the most unexploited area for the team, and our focus is to continue to explore strong partnerships in this regard. We hope to create a long term and sustainable merchandising programme around the team.

Our licensing and merchandising programme continues to grow and Shilpa's presence is a huge benefit - with lots of great new ideas.

What are the key elements one needs to keep in mind when designing this?

It is important to pick a few categories that have potential in a developing market such as India. The temptation is always to do multiple deals. But we need to look for strategic partnerships with products and brands that share our brand values.

It is also important to execute well, once we have identified our focus areas. My hope is that we will see exciting partnerships in the areas of retail, apparel and gaming this year.

Shilpa Shetty and Raj Kundra have taken a 12 per cent equity stake in Rajasthan Royals. Will this help?

Through this investment, we feel that we got dual benefits at the price of one. Raj contributes business acumen and is a great addition to our board. With Shilpa's international status and media experience, we are gaining a real advocate for our team and enhancing RR's global brand.

It clearly expands the off-field options available to us. Overall our strategy will always be to prioritise the cricket. But off the field, we will expand our activities to reach out to our local and international fan base.

Is it true that deals can't solely rest on the on-field performance but also on the brand attributes?

We think that our brand values are extremely differentiated. We focus on innovation, youth, the team ethos, and the 'win from anywhere' mantra.

This is 'Brand Rajasthan Royals'. Our sponsors and merchandising partners have a lot to gain with that type of association. The brand needs to be built holistically and not just around on-field; it should also represent what its stands for, off-field.

How is Rajasthan Royals perceived as a brand?

What people tell me is that we are the IPL's most loved team. This is due to our brand of cricket, our team ethos, and our emphasis on youth. People like the underdogs, which seems to be a label that we are yet to shake. I think that we are also seen as a very internationally mobile franchise.

In-stadium hospitality will be an important revenue source going forward. Has Rajasthan Royals firmed up plans in this area?

We are constantly testing, and iterating our plans. There is lots of 'best practice' across the world from events across all sports.

However, the right in-stadium experience has to be customised for the IPL, which has its own unique characteristics - the brevity of the match, the relatively short period of time that fans are in-stadia (but not watching the game); and the mix of demographics in different parts of the stadia. As is the case for much of our business, there is no single 'silver bullet.'

How successful has the Rajasthan Royals been thus far in exploiting new media?


It is too early to talk about success, but we are pleased with our innovation and activity levels - the e-commerce platform works well. Our work on Facebook and Twitter has yielded positive results. Our mobile communities are also excellent.
What are the plans to take the reality show Cricket Star to another level this year?


We're talking to Indian and international production houses. Our ambitions with Cricket Star remain big and we are enthusiastically pursuing various broadcasting platforms.
While the objective of this show is to harness the power of raw talent concerns, have been expressed that budding cricketers will focus more on T20 as it is more lucrative and give short shrift to the other two formats. What is your take on this?


The objective is simply to unearth new cricketers. The economic reality of focussing on T20 is a choice that individuals need to make. Personally, I think that Test cricket still has a healthy future, if managed properly by the administrators.
What other entertainment-based sports formats is Emerging Media looking at?


Currently we are focussing on popular sports like cricket and soccer as we believe the market is still some time away from justifying early stage investment in other sports. We are looking at a soccer-based TV show. We will be able to share more details on this later. However, prospects for golf and tennis are promising.

The English Cricket board scrapped plans for P20. How difficult will it be for the other countries to do a league that is as financially successful as the IPL?

I am not sure that any country can replicate the IPL - nor do I think they should be trying to. Each country has to look at what is best for its fan base, what parts can be exported to India, and what parts can be borrowed from other tournaments.

Moreover, it is important to have realistic objectives - and matching the IPL is not a realistic one. There are too many things that are unique to India that make the IPL the success that it has become.

Emerging Media and the other IPL franchisee owners are looking to register their trademark in different countries to protect their IPR. What is your strategy in this regard?

This is part of the framework for our IP protection. If we, as part of the IPL, have global ambitions, then we need to protect our identity, even before we reach out to foreign markets.

All teams and the IPL are globally recognised brands. We are just ensuring that we're legally protected as well.

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