Ness Wadia says this year’s IPL 2021 will be the most watched

We’re all starved of good quality live sports, says Punjab Kings Co-owner Ness Wadia

At a time when major sporting events across the world are getting postponed or cancelled amid the raging coronavirus pandemic, the Indian Premier League – the world’s richest cricket league – is set to begin in the UAE on September 19. Apart from the impact of the global economic crisis, the sponsorship sum for the IPL also reduced by nearly half with its erstwhile title sponsor Vivo pulling out due to the India-China geopolitical tensions. This would have a bearing on the franchise teams’ earnings too. BusinessLine spoke to Ness Wadia, co-owner of Kings XI Punjab, one of the eight teams of the Dream11 Indian Premier League 2020, to understand how the team is managing the business aspects. Excerpts:

You have said that this would be the best IPL ever and the most-watched one. What makes you confident, despite the dampened sentiments due to Covid-19?

I think we are all starved of good quality live sports. The IPL is the biggest tournament in the world in terms of cricket. And I have no doubt at all that people are sitting at home, and there’s only a certain amount of news one wants to watch on Covid-19 or the other things that are going on. I think sports is something that brings the family together – a lot of the people who watch the IPL are young kids, middle-aged and elderly. So, it brings everyone together, and in my view, that’s the reason why I think it’s going to be the most watched, apart from the fact that a lot of people are waiting for it, frankly speaking. I mean, (let’s) put it this way, a lot more people are watching even the Caribbean Premier League.

This year, the sponsorship sum has come down by almost 50 per cent, and this will impact the teams’ earnings too. How is Punjab Kings working to meet these challenges?

I think we should be very happy that the IPL is happening. There are several big tournaments – take the Olympic Games and the Wimbledon – it either got postponed or it’s not even happening…So, I think, we should consider ourselves lucky that we are actually managing to have it with the diversity of eight teams and playing in three different venues every few days. I think, we should look at it half full, as opposed to half empty, in terms of the situation where we are happy and lucky that it’s actually happening.

As for the sponsorship deals, how many sponsors do you have on board this year?

I have no idea. I know it has been a more difficult premier than normal. I’m not involved in operations. So it’s not easy for me to answer that question, but it has been a tough year.

How are the preparations going on?

The preparation is going great. We have a new captain, we have a new head coach. We have a lot of experience in Anil Kumble, who has been there, done that. He has worked with the Indian team, he has worked across. So I think it’s a very good mix.

What about all the precautionary and safety measures necessitated by Covid-19?

I think we are all aware of the situation which exists in the world today…I think it’s a very tough situation for all cricketers, the staff and everyone to go through in isolation, and also then go and perform. I think it’s remarkable. Again, I feel really happy that a lot of them are just going about their business and really not complaining, just going forward, accepting the situation as it is.

Will these added measures and precautions that you have to take this year be a cause of strain to the finances?

As I said, I think the financials is one part, but definitely, the fact that it’s happening, I mean, look at the financial damage…to some of the big games whether it’s the Olympics, whether it’s Wimbledon – God knows how many deals have been stopped. We are just happy that it’s happening. I think it’s a good showstopper, Covid-stopper per se, to temporarily take our mind off things, which is important to me at least.

What are your expectations in terms of the revenue, as this is the first time the IPL is being held under these uncertain circumstances?

Again, I think one of the only ways we can improve our revenue is tomorrow by winning, that will help a little bit. But listen, in any business, you have good years and bad years. The first 10 years were very, very difficult. The last two years or so have been much better. And sometimes, you have ups and sometimes you have downs in any business. And this is obviously a down year, it could have been a lot worse, if it hadn’t happened.

You are looking to these positive aspects and how, despite it happening under uncertain circumstances, it’s going to be one of the most remembered…

… I think maybe lady luck will shine on us (Kings XI Punjab). And the boys are working hard and if lady luck shines a little bit and we manage to sort of have a situation where we win and we reach the semifinals and the playoffs – God knows, anything can happen. I think we are overdue to lift the trophy.

Will there be a revision in the bid price given that auctions were held much before the pandemic?

No, there can’t be any revision in the bid price. I don’t think that’s possible. Once you bid, you bid, and that’s it. And I also hear a lot of talk about auctions wanting to be postponed. I think that’s just ridiculous. We can’t keep postponing things. We have to have it and there’s no option to change the compensation to the players – that’s something which is cast in stone.

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