Page last updated at 02:14 GMT, Friday, 18 April 2008 03:14 UK

Indian Premier League changes cricket

By Neil Heathcote
India Business Report, Mumbai

Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar
Batting for bucks: cricket is increasingly about money

As the Bangalore Royal Challengers square off against the Kolkata Knight Riders in Bangalore this Friday night, there's a lot more than prestige at stake.

If it succeeds, the newly-formed Indian Premier League (IPL) will place cricket in India firmly at the centre of a multimillion dollar business.

India's economic boom has created a new middle class that wants to be entertained and has money to spend.

India's new corporate elite is keen to oblige.

Talent pays

Even before a single ball has been bowled, there are already some winners.

Sundar Raman, IPL's chief operating officer
It's attracted interest from very many different parties
Sundar Raman, IPL's chief operating officer

Players have seen their pay soar, as rival teams outbid each other to win the best talent.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of India's one-day team, finds himself $1.5m (750,000) richer thanks to the Chennai Super Kings.

Young up-and-coming players like Abhishek Nayar now see the IPL as a way to make their mark.

"It's almost like a shortcut to get into the Indian team," he says.

"If you do well, you obviously have the talent to go on and play for India."

Vast sums

The Board of Control for Cricket in India, which set up the IPL, has also scored some early hits.

Corporate sponsors are lining up to promote their brands to an audience of a billion consumers.

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Behind-the-scenes at Bangalore

"It's attracted interest from very many different parties," says IPL's chief operating officer, Sundar Raman, pointing to how Kingfisher, Hero Honda and Pepsico have all come onboard.

"The ones who are key stakeholders in the business of cricket in India," he explains.

Television rights for the league have been sold for $1bn. The auction of the 8 rival teams raised a further $723m.

Scramble for the best

With that kind of money on the table, India has at a stroke transformed itself into the financial giant of global cricket.

R Balachandram, Mumbai Indians
This is not a business that's going to be made or unmade in one year
R Balachandram, Mumbai Indians

But if the IPL has been tough in negotiating deals, it is the teams themselves that are now under most pressure to bring in the cash.

The new team owners are a curious mix of construction and media companies, power and entertainment firms.

They are Boom India's new elite - the people making enough profits in the new economy to take a sizeable bet on the future of cricket.

Bollywood stars Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zinta are up against drinks tycoon Vijay Mallya and industrial kingpin Mukesh Ambani.

The Deccan Chronicle newspaper is behind the Hyderabad team, while Delhi went to an airport developer and Chennai to India Cements.

They have already bid millions to sign up their players.

Long haul

So how are they planning to recoup their money?

They too are looking to sign up sponsors, strike franchising deals and maximise ticket sales.

But despite all the hoopla, success is far from guaranteed.

R Balachandram, who manages the costliest of the eight teams auctioned, the Mumbai Indians, insists that the whole project will be financially viable.

But it'll take time.

"This is not a business that's going to be made or unmade in one year," he says.

"We, as Reliance, are in it for the long haul. That's the most important thing."

New rivals

At the end of the day, the critical question is; how many people will actually watch?

Abhishek Nayar, professional cricket player
It's almost like a shortcut to get into the Indian team
Abhishek Nayar, professional cricket player

India may be a nation of cricket lovers, but it has no real tradition of city teams battling each other.

That local team spirit will have to be built from scratch over the weeks ahead.

The IPL itself is philosophical.

India is home to a billion people, it points out, and they are wealthier now than they have ever been.

"We believe that cricket will increase in value and the Indian premier league will accelerate that process," says Raman.

"Will we reach the heights of football? We'd certainly like to not only reach there, but probably better it."

India Business Report is broadcast repeatedly every Sunday on BBC World.

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