The football fiesta called Champions League that kicked off on Tuesday across Europe has a legion of devotees in India who hit the bed late on weeknights after catching the action live on TV. The same can't be said about its namesake in cricket, even though the game is said to be the opium of billion-plus India.
Champions League Twenty20, the third edition of which opens with qualifying matches in Hyderabad on Monday, is a high-stakes event owned by the cricket boards of India, Australia and South Africa. It's second on the list of most rewarding cricket competitions, offering a total prize purse of $6 million (Rs28.5 crore). It was topping the list until the International Cricket Council (ICC) doubled the World Cup riches to $10 million (Rs47.5 crore) this year.
CLT20 scores high on the peculiarity quotient also, considering the poor TV viewership figures in the first two years and the tepid response at the grounds when the first edition was held in India in 2009. The critics of this competition say with a fair amount of statistical justification that CLT20 and the Indian Premier League (IPL) adversely affect the India team, who have an incredibly busy international calendar.
This aspect is most pertinent this year with India walking wounded during the whitewash in England and the overkill of cricket, especially T20, taking its toll on MS Dhoni's men. Among the few still standing, the skipper needs rest, but has to play for the Chennai Super Kings, being the most marketable face of CLT20. He may be excused for missing the ODI series against England immediately after that, but there is no question of him skipping CLT20 and giving those sore fingers and the tired body some rest.
However, the stakeholders are unmoved. "TV ratings or attendance at the venues don't affect us. We are assured of the sum from the broadcasters and never run the risk of not benefiting from the event," said Niranjan Shah, a CLT20 governing council member. The Board gets 50% of the spoils.
The broadcasting rights holders are not worried either. "It has only been two years. We knew it would take 3-4 years to build it up and then we can make money in the last five years," said Sanjay Kailash, executive vice-president, ad sales and new media, ESPN Software India Pvt Ltd, which has bought the rights for around $700 million (Rs3328.5 crore) for 10 years. "We had a 20% growth between year one and year two. We expect it to be that much this time too."
Lack of fizz
Ad guru Prahlad Kakkar thinks lack of razzmatazz makes CLT20 an uninteresting product. "The rollicking thing with all the tamasha that Lalit (Modi, the former IPL chairman) brought to the IPL is missing. As a property, the CLT20 never managed that much of attention. I don't see anything different happening this year, after the beating the team got against the Brits. It's about timing and after the whitewash in England, everybody is a little sick of cricket at the moment."
People who organise marquee sports events in India attribute the lack of following of CLT20 to the emergence of a new audience. "People with buying power who matter in society are following European club football. They identify more with Manchester United or Barcelona than with IPL teams," said Bhaswar Goswami, executive director, Celebrity Management Group, which organised the Argentina-Venezuela friendly in Kolkata on September 2.
Show must go on
But CLT20 has been given a slot in the calendar of the ICC, which ensures this event doesn't clash with international fixtures involving national teams. Cricket's world governing body is not bothered ICC full members such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are not part of CLT20.
"The CLT20 has been included in the ICC FTP (future tours programme) at the request of the league organisers. Any competition involving domestic teams will not be organised by the ICC and so we will not have jurisdiction over who plays in it," said an ICC spokesman.
With the ball set to roll despite a heap of injuries, the onus is on organisers to avoid casualties, says former India 'keeper and chief selector, Kiran More. "CLT20 is not a bad concept, but it has to be handled properly. The BCCI has to ensure that India players get adequate rest."
He pointed to Australia, where national team players are not allowed to play in their T20 roadshow, the Big Bash, when international matches are on. "If Australia can protect the interest of their national team, why can't the BCCI do something similar? Till now, Indian cricket has not been helped by these T20 tournaments."
Former India opener and coach Lalchand Rajput felt it was a question of priorities. "There is too much cricket being played and one needs to take a closer look at it. There is a serious issue of player burnout and it has to be addressed."
Dealing in millions of dollars, how the BCCI addresses this issue is a million-dollar question.
Inputs from Dipak Ragav & N Ananthanarayanan