IPL Final: Visionaries rejoice as India's Twenty20 proves a massive hit
The inaugural Indian Premier League reaches its climax today. But it had long ago changed the face of cricket forever. Like it or loathe it (the former considerably outnumber the latter) the tournament is not only here to stay, it seems ready to grow and grow.
Its progenitors have been bowled over by the dramatic events, the sceptics apparently knocked for six. Live crowds and television audiences have both met targets, albeit with caveats.
The IPL has regularly had the biggest audience share on Indian cable television. Attendances approached capacity in almost every franchise. It has also been a hit on TV worldwide, including the UK, despite the lack of English players.
Andrew Wildblood, the senior vice-president of the International Management Group, who drove the IPL as a TV event, said: "I think it is ahead of expectation on every count. This event has held India transfixed for the last six weeks. It's been on every newspaper, front and back page, and every news programme. There has been no evidence of consumer fatigue."
IMG threw the kitchen sink at it to ensure success. It has been a logistical tour de force (47 rig moves compared to six, for instance, in the last World Cup). They spent £300,000 on a spare plane, which has sat unused in Nagpur for six weeks, in case the first broke down.
The most surprising element is that Indian crowds have taken to it. For the first time, fans have supported local teams in numbers. But it has not quite taken all before it, and ticket prices for the semi-finals and final in Bombay were slashed at the last minute – some from £118 to £11. This was officially billed as "due to huge public demand as a huge goodwill gesture". That a tournament constructed on the altar of big bucks should suddenly discover such beneficence would seem to have certain contradictions.
But supporters in Bombay, whose local team failed to progress, would have to pledge allegiance to teams from Jaipur, Mohali, Madras and Delhi. Not that this seemed to matter on Friday when Shane Warne's all-conquering Rajasthan Royals (Jaipur) barnstormed to today's final.
There is no doubting the wide appeal. Setanta, the satellite sports channel who have shown the IPL in the UK, had their expectations exceeded. "We're delighted, it has been fantastic," said the director of sport, Trevor East. "Audiences dropped a little after the start but we expect them to pick up this weekend, and when English players are part of the league, hopefully from next year, there will be additional interest. Our ratings have been every bit as good or better than other broadcasters televising cricket."
The figures are not shattering – sometimes as little as 25,000 – but Setanta recognise they have a five-year deal and have lured thousands of subscribers purely to gain access to the IPL. They will broadcast the Asia Cup from next week.
For Wildblood and the IPL's commissioner, Lalit Modi, it has been a triumph, because all cricketing countries want a slice of the action. "Even in India people who wouldn't normally come to the game are coming," said Wildblood. "That's got to be good for the game."
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