Television

"With IPL you have the power of 10"

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Written By Thomas Abraham

Posted on 28 April 2008

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has got off to a solid start. The ratings have been positive and crowds have thronged the stadiums. For Sony the IPL marks their return to cricket. Set India CEO Kunal Dasgupta offers Thomas Abraham and Ashwin Pinto his views on what he expects IPL to do for the game, telecast channel Max, as well as the importance of sustaining the brand. Excerpts:

As a broadcaster what do you expect?

T20 is a made for television format. When India played a T20 match against Australia at the Wankhede stadium, ratings touched 20. I am looking for a rating of 4 or 5, which is possible, given that ICL, which has retired players, got 2.5. This is a good base for us to take off from.

The format will mean that besides country against country, one will also view it as being team versus team. This is what exists in other sports like soccer, hockey, and baseball.

IPL is being pushed as being the ultimate in reality television. In that case how do you get that competitive environment?

The prize money (Rs 48 million goes to the winner) will ensure this. This is much more than you get for playing for the country and so the players will go all out. The matches will be hard fought. Here all the teams are evenly balanced and so you do not know the result. It will be unpredictable and matches will go down the wire. All teams have a good mix of batsmen, bowlers and youth.

What are you hoping for in the first year as the telecast partner?

Ideally I would want the IPL to be a successful brand that has a long term play. After June, I will continue to do promotions to keep the team brands alive. This was one of the conditions on which we bid.

We will do shows around the IPL. You could see teams (franchises) practicing and discussing strategies for the next season.

'The trick for us is not getting ratings for the first season. The challenge is to sustain the excitement after that'



 

But wouldn't an ideal situation be for a franchise to build a brand without the big names who might be on national duty?

This might happen. Apart from April-May, you cannot have another period where all the stars are available. What will happen is that once the league is built the new players who are playing will become the core. You can then have matches in different parts of the world to popularise the game there using these new players.

The trick for us is not getting ratings for the first season. This will happen as a matter of course because of the way the IPL has been hyped. The challenge is to sustain the excitement after that and it is here where we will have to take a leaf out of the book of the EPL. Teams have marketed themselves and have thus become iconic brands.

So Mallya for instance, will use the Royal Challenger brand name to go out there and create opportunities for exhibition matches. They can do charity work in Bangalore and build a fan base. Each franchise will have its own website where clips will be available. They can create merchandise.

Sony will pitch in through magazine shows. Otherwise it will just be a flash in the pan. As we come closer to the next season you will see transfers and there will be speculation.

New heroes will be born. It is possible that the likes of current heroes like Glenn McGrath, Kumble, and Saurav will not play beyond two seasons. Once that happens, then the brand will live outside the big names.

One of the aims is to broaden the viewer base is to get in more children, women, But for that you have to create marketing that speaks to those demographics. What is Sony planning?

One of the major attractions will be the presence of big Bollywood stars. Akshay Kumar will perform for Delhi. SRK will perform for Kolkata You will see proper Bollywood entertainment.

We have even tweaked the timings of some of the matches to accommodate our entertainment specials. One match was supposed to start at 4 pm but we have pushed it back to 5:30 pm. We will even have stand up comedy for Extraaa Innings. On air we have gone in for fresh faces. We did not want Mandira (Bedi) for this. She is more suited for ODI cricket. I want 20-year-olds in T20. We also did not want Kapil Dev, Gavaskar. We wanted anchors who represent today's kids. With the ICC World Cup we broke the mould and brought in females. Now we are breaking the mould back

What is the distribution upside from IPL?

This is a question mark. We are supposed to have a dip but we will retain the same level. There is no minimum guarantee now. Had Ten Sports still been present it would have been difficult to determine the value of IPL. Our team is happy as they are closing deals for the year and it is one of the distribution cornerstones.

At $ 59 million in Year 1 and an average of $ 61 million over five years, IPL was literally sold at floor price. Wasn't that a great deal?

It was. Most of the payout ($ 612 million) is from the next five years. ESPN's bid was $150 million for the first five years. They had put in conditions that the top players should be there. We did not put in any conditions.

Anyway, the way it has turned out, all the top players are taking part.

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