In on innovation | Sunday Observer

In on innovation

27 August, 2023

This is not a cricket article. It’s not about cricket but about a franchise. The Indian Premier League has added Indian rupees 11.5 billion to the Indian economy.

The league has made cricket the great entertainer that catalyses economic growth and creates jobs. The value of cricket as show-business began with Kerry Packer, the Australian who did the unthinkable at that time in the 70s and made cricket an entertainment-brand with the then novel fast-paced fifty over limited duration matches.

But those who thought this was the height of cricket as an audience magnet, hadn’t seen anything yet. The IPL was launched by the BCCI or the Board of Control for Cricket in India due to the formation of the ICL, a T20 league that was conceptualised by Zee TV over a TV-rights dispute. The Indian Board didn’t like the upstart cricket league and started one of its own in 2007 called the Indian Premier League, and the rest is history.

None of this means that the success of the IPL could be replicated anywhere else in the world including Sri Lanka at the same scale of the IPL.

India has the numbers to make the IPL franchise the biggest sporting league next to the American football league. The IPL comes ahead of British Premier League football, Major League Baseball and the NBA, the US basketball league, which will provide some sort of idea for the uninitiated about the popularity of the league and its success as a sports-entertainment franchise.


The one lesson to be learnt from the IPL is that there is no formula for the success of any new event, enterprise or new venture. Though the Indian Cricket Board says the Indian Premier League was in the making for a very long time and was in the pipeline and in conceptualisation stages for even longer, there is no doubt that it’s the rogue ICL that triggered the formation and initial success of the IPL in its current shape and form.

It means there is no blueprint or some heavenly alchemy of ideas for the success of a venture. The idea can have a rather prosaic genesis, as with the IPL which was in truth a move to block rogue competitors.

It doesn’t matter. If the idea is good, the execution would invariably be better. Successful Sri Lankan tea brands for instance saw conventional tea sales as being far too restrictive.

The pioneers of brands such as Dilma took an innovative but quiet approach to popularising tea as a beverage that could have the novel appeal of barista-brewed coffee, taking after popular Italian coffee culture.

None if this is to say that any other cricket Premier League can have the success of the IPL however, due to matters of scale.

With massive Indian audiences the IPL’s scale is gargantuan and undoubtedly the recipe for the runaway success is the numbers. But the question is not whether a local league can have the same levels of success as a massive Indian cricket league relying on multiple-crore audiences. The question is about how innovative we can be and in how many diverse fields of endeavour.


The IPL as stated earlier provides tens of hundreds of new jobs, and is a magnet for tourism. The Indian tourism numbers are off the charts during the IPL season. The big cities that host the games have got new stadia and along with infrastructure improvement, the quality of life of people has markedly changed for the better.

The UN General Assembly for peace and development carried out a survey and concluded that the economic value of IPL is US$ 3.2 billion.

It has become a magnet for foreign cash infusions with a British equity firm for instance buying one of the franchise teams.

Besides that the tournament created an entirely new fan-base for cricket which previously, even after Kerry Packer’s innovations, was not a keenly watched competitive sport.

But it’s a different story after the birth of the IPL and there is a billion strong audience for cricket today in the world with a full 90 percent of that fan base being from the Indian sub-continent!

Though all this potential was there untapped and unexploited previously, nobody thought a cricket franchise in India would attract foreign talent, and that Australians, West Indians and England’s cricketers alike would clamour to be bought in auction, to play for franchised teams based in India.

It was a matter of changing perceptions. India was certainly not known as a cricketing powerhouse, leave alone being the number one cricketing superpower in terms of making a top-drawer economic commodity out of cricket.

Just because we’ve now seen the conclusion of a rather successful LPL season doesn’t mean that we can or should try to match the Indians in terms of making money out of professional cricket leagues.

But the attitude behind the launching and subsequent success of the IPL could be a great example of the way we should be innovative in any field of endeavour.

There are also striking aspects of IPL cricket that should definitely be taken note of. One of them is the innovation that has happened within the sport in terms of how the rules of the game have been changed or should we say improvised, to suit the needs of a totally television-oriented tournament that’s both cricket and show-biz on steroids.

The particular league rules of the franchise introduced strategic time outs for instance, and has now allowed substitutions following the traditions of major league football.

Players can be substituted — for instance a bowler midway through an over — but the substituted player cannot play again for the duration of the game, even as a substitute fielder.


It takes some daring to introduce regular football rules to cricket, and the concept of substitutions and dugouts no doubt came from the desire to mimic the very popular practices of major league football.

That ‘prosaic’ Boards of Control for cricket can engineer such innovations in a non-contact sport as orthodox as cricket, is a measure of how the ‘game’ can be changed literally, to be a game-changer.

It’s not certain how long the popularity of the IPL would last, but why shouldn’t it? If English Premier League football has lasted through generations the thoroughly Asian Cricket Premier League would survive and thrive and provide more innovation and entertainment over the years.

We don’t have the crowds that the Indians do, but if we can be an IPL type innovator in a less crowd-intensive endevour that perhaps cricket, we should be. The IPL has been a lab of sorts for sports related innovation in business.

It has taken cricket to the far corners of the earth so to speak, and the sport is no longer considered boring, quaint and very English.

You could say, even, that the game is now considered Indian. It would certainly be even more Indian if player substitutions for instance, in the future, become the staple in international cricket.

Cricket purists may be against that, but then again, cricket purists were against the 70s innovations of Kerry Packer which are now considered kind of boring in themselves after the tremendous developments with the advent of T20 leagues in recent times.

The IPL has now become the gold-standard in innovation and from England to the Caribbean they are trying to ape the league’s success.

It’s a sign that the world has changed already. Innovation, in sport as in technology, doesn’t come from the so called advanced industrialised economies of the West any more. If it’s innovative enough absolutely anything could be a success no matter from where the trend begins.

Though it bears repetition that we do not have the advantage of economy of scale that the Indians do, we can choose to innovate where scale is not quite necessary.

The Indian IPL has made innovation more than a cliché and has made radical innovation the norm. It’s the way to go for emerging economies in the subcontinent.