The league of global T20 brands
Knight Riders are not a team; they are a brand. The competitions they play in are not matches or tournaments; they are products. Their function is not to only to provide entertainment, it is also to add value.
This is new-age sports speak and plenty of it was heard at South Africa's T20 Global League launch last Monday. If the average fan had been present - they weren't, because the event was held in London and was by invitation only - they would have been forgiven for wondering what the hell any of it meant.
Simply put, it is what sport is becoming. In some codes, it is what sport has already become. Cricket has been late to the evolutionary process that has taken what started as a recreational pastime and turned it into a corporate entity. Football is perhaps the best example of what the new model looks like: a monetised global club game.
Take Manchester City as an example. After being bought by UAE royalty, beefing up their squad with big names like Yaya Touré and Sergio Aguero and winning the English premiership, they created an opportunity for their owners to expand the brand. City Football Group is now a triad that includes teams in Melbourne and New York, who have a common identity and share common resources, which can also include personnel.
Knight Riders are a perfect comparison. They are the best-performing team, financially speaking, in the IPL and recorded a profit of US$2.14 million in the 2014-15 season. Around the same time, they expanded into the Caribbean Premier League, with the purchase of the Trinidad and Tobago franchise, which they renamed Trinbago Knight Riders. Now they also have a presence in South Africa with Cape Town Knight Riders, and they plan on following a City-style model of sharing expertise across their different teams.
"What we have tried to do in building our business and our brand in IPL and CPL and now the Global League is to have some level of commonality between teams - whether it's at the player level or at support-staff level," Venky Mysore, Knight Riders' CEO, said. "We had a support staff which works with us in KKR as well as in TKR and I am hoping that will be the case with the Global League as well. Jacques Kallis is the favourite son of South Africa and Cape Town and is our head coach at KKR and works with us at TKR as well, and I certainly expect he will work with us in CTKR as well. We have been able to achieve that to some extent. The assistant coach and analyst, they are all common but players - we will have to wait and see how it plays out."
With each league having its own draft and its own auctions, a brand like Knights Riders needs to "see if some of the stars align", as Mysore put it, to be able to have similar squads, although they haven't exactly managed it yet. "The reality of it is that Brendon McCullum is our marquee player for TKR and he played against us for Gujarat and smashed us all over the place in the IPL. And that's okay, It's just the way the leagues are set up. Each player is extremely professional to do the best they can for their respective teams. I don't know whether the alignment will ever be possible as a practical matter. You just have to go with what you can. What we do have, which we control a little bit, is to make sure the culture across our teams is reasonably common."
GMR Sports, owners of the Delhi Daredevils, who have bought the Johannesburg franchise of the T20 Global League, have similar ambitions and can see the value in keeping the playing personnel consistent across the various teams. "The idea is to keep as much continuity as we can because it helps create the brand. But we will provide for the coaches to see the talent and work with them throughout the year," Hemant Dua, CEO of GMR, said. "The IPL provided a very small platform where you couldn't really go out and build from, so if coaches work with Kagiso [Rabada] in Delhi and also in Johannesburg, they get to know him better and he gets to know them better. That's the direction we want to head in. That will work great for us."
The only way the idea of common squads will really work, especially for the likes of Knight Riders and GMR Sports, who are IPL owners at the outset, is if Indian players will also be allowed to play in other leagues. Currently the BCCI does not make its male players available for anything other than the IPL, but in time, Dua can see that changing.
"The more these leagues mushroom and become successful, the more cricket will eventually head in one direction. People will get wiser and there will be more free flotation of people around the world and then that will help us build on a core that can play in different formats around the world for us."
"They're trying to create brands, just like Coca-Cola started in America, Gucci in Italy, Yves St Laurent in France - now they are everywhere, they are synonymous globally with certain products," says sports economist Stefan Szymanski, who has consulted with the ICC, among other sports organisations. "One day, they would like a common brand in every country, even if the players, coaches, etc are different. This would then give them leverage in selling sponsorship and broadcast rights. It would also help them to standardise the product globally so that its appeal can be widened."
While Knight Riders and GMR both bought into South Africa's league because they have already seen how owning a T20 franchise in a big league can work, the PSL investors, Lahore Qalandars and Peshawar Zalmi, want to create greater awareness of their own brands. Neither of the PSL's owners were asked about the possibility of Pakistani talent having more playing opportunities in South Africa because of this league, but it seems a given.
CSA and the PCB have had a good relationship in the recent past - Pakistan filled a small gap in South Africa's calendar in 2013, when India dramatically shortened their tour - and CSA CEO Haroon Lorgat is keen on building on that. He spoke about a passion for cricket development that was "particular to the Pakistan owners", who, he said, are "doing some phenomenal development in their respective franchises in Pakistan" and who have "committed to bringing a lot of that to South Africa". Javed Afridi of the Peshawar franchise, who has also started the Zalmi Foundation, has already committed to assisting with projects for children in Benoni, where they have bought the franchise.
The other two foreign buyers in South Africa's league are from Dubai and Hong Kong, and they also saw the business opportunity. Ajay Sethi, from the UAE's Channel 2, is hopeful of broadcast opportunities, while Sushil Kumar, from City Sports in Hong Kong, who own a T20 Blitz team, City Kaitak, is after increased cricketing profile. Collectively, the six foreign parties own three-quarters of the South African league and have probably contributed most of its money.
Exactly how much these international investors have put in is not known because CSA has said the bidding amounts are confidential, even as an overall figure. The South China Morning Post reported that City Sports will spend US$100 million over ten years. That is around 1.3 billion South African Rand and it is unlikely any local companies would have been able to come close to that.
Only two South African businesses bought teams - in Pretoria and Stellenbosch - and CSA would not comment on how many South African companies expressed interest or put in bids. ESPNcricinfo has learned that CSA approached businessman Johann Rupert, the fourth richest person in Africa, according to Forbes magazine, owner of a Swiss-based luxury goods company, founder of the Laureus Foundation and developer of the Leopard Creek Golf Club, to invest in the Global T20 league but Rupert declined. All attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.
The end result is that the South African T20 Global League has more of a flavour of the latter part of its name than the former, and that sets it apart from other tournaments of a similar nature. It is impossible to ignore the obvious - that there is a strong Asian connection - an indication of where cricket's financial muscle is now being flexed. But there is also a strong connection to teams that already exist, which could be a sign of things to come.
It's not impossible to see a future where the same ten or so brands have teams in all the different leagues around the world and those teams have largely similar looks, feels and faces. In business terms, it's a way of establishing multinational corporations in cricket, and Lorgat does not see that as a bad thing.
"If you think of the globe as being a single village today, the different cultures one would have experienced in the past, a lot of that has changed," Lorgat said. "You find uniformity more now. It looks like a single village. So I think that's become more of a reality. You look at global corporate companies, they've got a single culture. They build their brand. They've got synergies between different continents, different offices. So I don't think it's different to any of the global corporates in the world. We're in a very singular kind of village now."
"All this is everything that traditionalists despise about the T20," Szymanski says. "But then, the whole issue is whether cricket should appeal to a narrow purist market or a larger but less particular body of consumers."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent