Now, the IPL is to spread its wings, and the Champions League will surely follow. The United States is the favoured destination for some matches next year, and it’s the next logical step given that Lalit Modi took the franchise model from American sport. The south Asian and Caribbean population in the US should ensure that it’s no outrageous gamble either.
But for every step forward, Modi and the IPL appear to take one back. His announcement of the Champions League dates for this season, September 10 to 26, has caught the England and Wales Cricket Board cold. The two counties that qualify for the event from the Twenty20 Cup will have to choose between the bounty on offer in India, and the climactic stages of their domestic season.
The ECB claim they were not consulted, while Modi says that a tweak or two in their schedule would allow the teams to participate. “We would be very reluctant to change a schedule that was agreed between the ECB, broadcasters and the counties themselves,” says the ECB. Coming just months after IPL 2, when most of the franchises in South Africa were upset by the IPL requisitioning their hospitality suites, it’s just another example of the my-way-or-the-highway mindset that has won few admirers around the world.
The biggest reason for the bad press that the IPL gets can be traced to draconian restrictions imposed on media outlets when the competition started. Cricinfo, the last word as far as cricket’s concerned on the Internet, was denied access to games during the second season of IPL and there’s little sign of the bar being lifted this time.
Leagues and competitions trying to protect their ‘property’ is nothing new. The English Premier League tried to limit online usage heavily back in 2000-01, and the media responded by saying that they would just not use images showing sponsor names. Before the rugby World Cup in 2007, the organisers imposed all kinds of restrictions. At the official launch, the media event started with all the photographers laying their cameras on the ground and refusing to take pictures. The impasse was resolved in minutes.
A new product like the IPL needs all the goodwill and publicity it can get to succeed. Alienating other boards and media houses is not the way forward, especially if there are ambitions to crack the American market. “In North America, the attitude is that doors are open to anyone,” says Martin Williamson, managing editor of digital media for ESPN in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. “Certain agencies have restrictions for sure. For example, Sky Sports in the UK can’t bulldoze into a non-Sky event.
“But Modi cherry-picks who can and cannot cover his events, which amounts to censorship. If he tries to do that in the US, there would be massive resentment against someone trying to tell people how to act on their own patch.”
Modi and his advisors have already replicated a lot of the finer aspects of American sport. Hopefully, they will soon realise that running a league based on accepted capitalist principles while trying maintain a Soviet-style grip over the media is not the way to go. The NFL, Major League Baseball, and the NBA could tell them that.
*This is my Sunday Guardian column for February 14.