The second phase of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 is all set to commence in a week. With the BCCI set to introduce two new franchises, it could be the last season with eight franchises. Fans will be excited about the possibility of two new cities getting the opportunity to feature in the biggest league in the world.
However, hold your horses right there! For once, imagine the players and their franchises all jumbled up one fine morning. Imagine half the side that you support seeming new to you. Or imagine Mumbai Indians playing Punjab Kings twice in the league stage, but Chennai Super Kings only once. Imagine players coming in and leaving in between the tournament frequently. Feels strange?
The introduction of additional franchises in the league could result in a whole lot of such changes, all of which may not be for the betterment of the league. Yes, there will be plenty of positives coming off it. There will be two new cities that will get the exposure, there will be additional revenue for the stakeholders and it will give opportunities to a lot more players. But does all of this outweigh the potential negative impacts that the new format brings on?
The primary objective of introducing new franchises to the league is to generate additional revenue. There will be more opportunities, especially with the broadcasting rights set to go into auction next year.
There will also be a franchise fee that the new teams will have to pay. But will the additional revenue thus generated provide further income to the existing franchises? Or will the addition to the denominator cut into their revenue? It is a matter that the IPL Governing Council and the IPL franchises will have to delve upon.
Even in keeping with the revenue part aside, there are plenty of other factors that weigh against the introduction of additional teams in the IPL. Let us look into the major reasons why new franchises in the IPL may not be a good idea, either for the franchises or for the viewers.
Lengthy IPL schedules affect Future Tour Programs (FTP), player availability and viewership
There are two options for the IPL Governing Council to schedule matches with ten teams in the league. The first option is to have a Round Robin format in which every team will play each other twice – one home, one away. Such a format will lead to a season lasting for 98 matches over at least two and a half months.
The other option is to segregate the teams into two groups like what happened in the 2011 season which had ten teams. Each team will play the four teams in their group twice. Then they will play four teams in the other group once and one remaining team twice. The whole scenario will have to go through a random pick before finalization.
Confused? No one can blame you if you are. The whole idea feels so bizarre and complicates what is already a complicated game. Does it make any sense for a side like Royal Challengers Bangalore to face Punjab Kings twice and Rajasthan Royals only once? Some teams are certainly going to be on the wrong side of the draw at the end of it. More importantly, how will you explain all this to an ordinary viewer or someone new to the game? After all, the spread of the game is also one of the mottos of the IPL.
Even if we get the format right, a window ranging from two to two and a half months for the IPL takes out a major chunk of the international calendar. It takes out more than one-fifth of the revenue generation opportunity from the other cricketing boards, which puts a lot of stress on them. On the contrary, if the players have international commitments during the IPL window, it would mean that certain franchises will be at an undue disadvantage due to the non-availability of players.
Moreover, every event, be it sporting or not, is influenced by the principle of diminishing marginal utility. Interest among viewers is generally at its peak during the start of the season. This comes down gradually as the season progresses and once again peaks during the knockout stages. If the tournament labors on for a lengthier time than the current 60-match model, it is bound to bring down the average viewership during the span of the league.
Mega-auction resulting in a completely new outfit for the franchises
Make no mistake, the mega-auction would have happened even if the decision on two additional franchises had not been taken. But the introduction of the two franchises has left no option for the organizers but to go for the mega-auction.
The concept of mega-auction will put both the new franchises as well as the fans in a tricky position. All existing franchises will have the option to retain four players from their existing squad. This means that the 32 best players in the league are out of reach of the new franchises as they go in to build their team from scratch. Both sides will come into the league as underdogs without a doubt.
From the fans’ point of view, loyalty is very much associated with the players as much as it is with the franchise. If you look at the franchises with the largest fan base like Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, one common factor you will find is a certain degree of stability of the players in the squad, a sense of continuity. Changing more than half the playing XI overnight is certainly not a subtle way of providing that feel to the viewers.
All IPL franchises will have the option to retain four players, but the mega-auction would mean that the core of the franchise could be entirely dissimilar from what we have seen so far. This is where the IPL Governing Council needs to adopt a similar transfer policy similar to that of the football leagues. The transfer window will give franchisees an option to buy or release players and will also ensure that the teams are stable. But this is not a viable option when you have to add franchises for a new season.
Possibility of diminishing quality of cricket on display
Ten teams in the IPL would mean that there will be a lot more players on display. It will provide an opportunity for a whole new set of both domestic as well as international talent. However, the quality of cricket on display may not be the same.
The current talent pool that we have is the cream of international cricket. It represents the best from the whole sample pool. Whatever level of dilution that may happen, it will lower the quality that the current pool brings into the picture.
Whether the quality on offer is a good trade-off for the opportunity for the talent pool is a matter of contention. If it was the only factor against the ten-team format, it won’t certainly hold well. But, as a factor among many others, this certainly holds some weight.
As an alternative to the factors discussed above, especially to counter the possibility of a reduction in the quality of cricket, introducing a two-tier system in the IPL may be the way to go forward.
A two-tier league may be the best way forward for the IPL
The two-tier system can bring in a lot of advantages to the IPL. The matches can go on simultaneously, which means that the overall span of the tournament will come down. With relegation and promotion coming into the picture, the matches will have more context even outside the purview of knockout qualification.
There will be plenty of opportunities for a bigger pool of players as well, which is one of the major positives for additional teams from a sporting angle. The difference in the quality of the teams will be much lesser within each tier, meaning the matches will be more competitive.
The experiment with ten teams in the IPL did not last long the previous time it was tried. There were plenty of reasons for the expulsion of two franchises, but the nightmares might still be haunting the stakeholders who went through the ordeal. We are not sure if the new ten-team format to be introduced in 2022 will be here to stay. However, it may not be the best thing to happen for the IPL, at least if it follows the earlier format.