First day, first show
Show them the money… And in the end, when the floodlights are dimmed, the actors (cricketers and actual ones) have bowed out and the pom-pom girls have finally gone to bed, that's all that's going to matter.
Behind all the air-kisses and the bonhomie and the glamour and the glitter of the inaugural Indian Premier League, are edgy chequebooks that have doled out sums never before seen in cricket. And, for all that the individuals/consortiums who have bought teams or rights to be associated with the IPL have deep pockets, they are not in it just because of the flash, they are also in it because of the cash.
Will the fan stay the course?
While no one expects the cash registers to start singing from the start, franchisees will expect IPL games to at least bring in the crowds. They will also then hope that the crowds come in again and again because the commercial success of any professional sports team inherently depends on its fan base and (even the start of) a real fan-team relationship.
Here, everything will really depend on your local fan embracing the concept of a local team that is made up of players who play against each other, often viciously, for the rest of the year. And whether notoriously rabid India fans are able to adjust to egging on Hayden or Symonds or whoever else. If the crowds stay away and there's not much interest, then there's a serious problem.
Will the game be livewire?
So will the people turn up in droves? They might at the start, because of the novelty of the event, the associated star value, the build-up to the IPL and the attraction of the unknown. The real test though, will be to see whether they keep coming once they've got used to the cheerleaders, to SRK or Preity Zinta dancing to their team theme songs and to assorted planned sidelights.
After that, it's about the cricket and quality of contests. About whether the cricketers, most of who will be tired after a non-stop season (and be rushing from plane to plane to cover 59 games in 44 days) can find the energy and enthusiasm to treat a Twenty20 slugfest for an artificially-created team with the same seriousness as they play for their state or country. You cheat a serious fan out of a serious contest and the concept's a goner.
Will the sideshows be sorted out?
And then, there are those growing rumblings of discontent. First, between the IPL/BCCI and some of its franchisees, unhappy at the lack of structure and organization and the negative publicity (especially the major outcry over media restrictions) already generated. Then between the franchisees and local state associations, many of who are (not unnaturally) feeling threatened by the rise of high-profile parallel local-level bodies and the fact that they have no control over them. And finally between player and player, each valued differently and knowing it.
There is no denying that the IPL is a dramatically different concept, one that has already changed the dynamics of the game. But will it be a success? We'll start finding out on Friday, with the first day, first show in Bangalore.