Thursday, March 11, 2010

Indian Premier League 2010: It's showtime as extravaganza targets record audience

Starting on Friday in Mumbai, where defending champions Deccan Chargers play Kolkata Knight Riders, we will see the first proper IPL, that is, an IPL planned for more than nine months and executed in its home country.
The hype in India will have reached fever pitch on Friday night by the time an hour-long opening ceremony is closed by Lionel Richie singing Dancing on the Ceiling.
Richie, the king of middle-of-the-road groove, is not the image you readily associate with the IPL, but once the opening ceremony is over we will be exposed to a tournament that has spent the past few weeks launching initiative after initiative to tap into new markets.
It was reported in India on Thursday that more than 100 brands now have associations with the IPL. Watching a match will be like walking down an aisle in Tesco, as players are used as sandwich boards. Teams even have their own official chewing gum partners.
Fans will be able to watch live on YouTube and tweet their thoughts with other viewers around the world. At the same time ITV will be returning to cricket for the first time since the 1970s. Then there were only three channels on the television. Now the IPL will be shown on freeview on ITV4. It's not just the cricket that has changed.
YouTube and the IPL will share advertising revenue from an untested broadcast model that will be monitored closely by almost every other major sports body in the world. On Friday YouTube will announce deals in Britain with Lebara and Brylcreem. The endorsements keep on rolling.
In India the focus will be more traditional, in a Twenty20 sense that is.
Gideon Haigh, an Australian cricket writer, said this week that Twenty20 was a "TV property masquerading as cricket". That will be proved emphatically by Indian television companies, particularly the Hindi-language channel Colors.
They talk of a "Super Bowl-style atmosphere" and have plans for an IPL Rockstar reality show and will screen the post-match parties (which, naturally, have their own sponsors). It is this balance between cricket and showbusiness that the IPL has trademarked.
It is why English cricketers spend their time in the IPL goggle-eyed, like schoolkids chasing autographs, when they see the lifestyle it offers.
Stepping into the unknown this year will be two English batsmen who have moulded their talents to be successful in Twenty20. It is a sign of his progress over the past year that Bangalore expects more from Eoin Morgan than from Kevin Pietersen, who joins the IPL after the Bangladesh tour at the end of March.
Michael Lumb is the other new English name. Picked up by Rajasthan Royals, Lumb impressed in their pre-season training camp in January and then slapped the England bowlers around in Abu Dhabi for the Lions.
Now the Hampshire batsman will stand in for Graeme Smith in the early matches when Rajasthan, the first IPL winners, start their campaign in Mumbai on Saturday.
"Being out there for the auction gave me a feel for the enormity of the IPL," Lumb said. "I wasn't aware before of how massive it is until I saw the auction and how many different television channels were showing it.
"Speaking to some of the other players they tell me stories of playing in front of 60,000 people and that you can't hear yourself talk. So yes it is going to be huge playing out here."
Will it be huge over here? There should be no problem accessing the tournament for the majority. It never really caught on when it was shown by Setanta. Then again, Setanta never really caught on either. ITV access will help and fans are more familiar now, in year three, with the teams than they were in 2008.
Modi's mantra is that "eyeballs equals success". He certainly has access to viewers. Now it's time to deliver something they want to see.
IPL Players to Watch
Royal Challengers
English interest: Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan. Star names: Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Cameron White, Jacques Kallis.
Chennai Super Kings
English interest: With Andrew Flintoff injured, there isn’t any. Star names: MS Dhoni, Matthew Hayden, Muttiah Muralitharan.
Deccan Chargers
English interest: None. Star names: Andrew Symonds, Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs.
Delhi Daredevils
English interest: If he gets a game, Paul Collingwood. Star names: Virender Sehwag, AB De Villiers, Dirk Nannes.
Kings XI Punjab
English interest: Ravi Bopara. Star names: Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Yuvraj Singh
Kolkata Knight Riders
English interest: Owais Shah. Star names: Sourav Ganguly, Chris Gayle, Brad Hodge
Mumbai Indians
English interest: Graham Napier Star names: Sachin Tendulkar,JP Duminy, Kieron Pollard
Rajasthan Royals
English interest: Dimitri Mascarenhas, Michael Lumb. Star names: Shane Warne, Shaun Tait, Graeme Smith.


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