Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bring Lalit Modi back! IPL-4 looking boring.....

Most people will agree that the IPL this year has been missing the zing that accompanied it in the previous editions. Many will suggest that it is because the IPL is coming close on the heels of the ICC World Cup. There is certainly an element of truth in this. But in my opinion, the IPL is failing to enthuse us as much this year because its creator and master-innovator Lalit Modi is missing from the action.

The true test of an innovator is not in making the first innovation but in sustaining the momentum of this initial innovation. That’s why a Steve Jobs is so highly regarded. Every year, he has the ability to surprise the world with further innovations. Whether it was the Ipod, or the Iphone or the Ipad, Steve Jobs has managed to keep innovating and keep adding to the excitement around Apple. That’s what Lalit Modi did with the first three editions of IPL. Not only did he start something unimaginably brilliant (the IPL-1).....something that is regarded as the biggest brand building ever undertaken by an Indian.....he also made sure that the IPL kept innovating all the time. That’s what this season’s IPL is missing. It is the same old fare of the last season. It’s interesting still, but its not new. Same old format of the game. Same stadiums. Same players. Same umpires. Same cheer leaders, same everything. While the stadiums are full, unfortunately the TV audiences have left the tamasha (we’ll know later today in the TAM reports).

Look at the drama that made IPL 2 so wonderful. The entire crisis of having to shift the venue out of India was converted into a great opportunity by Modi. As a professional manager, I have always admired the managerial skill sets of  Lalit Modi. When Chidambaram refused to provide security to IPL-2 in light of the elections that were happening at the same time, Lalit Modi took some critical and bold decisions. Though named “Indian” Premier League, he had no hesitation in shifting the games to South Africa. He had a tough job to do, the easiest of which was finding an alternative venue and convincing the South Africans to host the IPL. He had to convince team owners that while their gate collections would drop, the overall zing added by a tournament happening in South Africa would make up for the losses through better TV revenues. He had to convince the players to shift base from India to South Africa. He had to convince the ICC to give its go ahead. And he had to do all this in a very short time of a few weeks. Those dramatic moves made IPL-2 so worthwhile to watch.

IPL-3 moved further ahead. The tournament was back in India. The marketing campaign was brilliantly designed and built on the return of IPL to India. The concept of the strategic time-out was introduced. Like everything else, this was a brilliant innovation. On the face of it, it was meant for the players to freshen up. In reality, it added to the inventory that the TV channel could sell.....building even more revenues for the entire system. Then the mid-night parties where attendance of players was made compulsory. The entire aura around these parties and the gossip that originated from those parties added vastly to the masala that the IPL used. IPL was always part of the entertainment industry. It had always attracted the biggest stars to it. Now it was becoming truly entrenched by organizing on-ground parties liberally covered by the media. This was the genius of Lalit Modi!

In comparison, IPL-4 is drab fare. It’s a repeat of the IPL-3 in all its major constructs; in fact, by removing the parties, somehow it looks like a stripped down version of the original. It’s like an Iphone without a 3G sim card! The reason for this drab fare is not difficult to find. Lalit Modi had a flamboyant personality. He had the audacity and confidence to dream big. He understood what the country wanted in the form of cricket and entertainment and he was unabashed about mixing the two. The IPL was never about serious cricket. The 20:20 format itself is not about serious cricket (more later in a different post!). So he made IPL into an entertainment show.....from the starting ceremony (so much better than the ICC ceremony in Dhaka) to the presence of film stars, to the parties, to the controversies, to the concept of Modi-cam (a camera that would track and broadcast Modi!).....all this was a show of Modi’s personality. In contrast, the doyens of BCCI now.....Chirayu Amin for one; Shashank Manohar for another.....are boring, fuddy-duddy, grumpy, serious people. I am sure they hardly ever party in their personal lives!

Here’s the cardinal mistake they have made. They have tried to make IPL into serious cricket. They have thus confused the entire brand persona of IPL. They are “stuck between two stools”.....one of entertainment and the other of serious cricket. They don’t understand even the starting point of brand building. Brands are built more by “sacrificing” features than by “including” more of them. The more you sacrifice, the sharper the brand is. Forever, the brand IPL has been damaged by these fogies. IPL needs to bring Lalit Modi back!

Admittedly, Lalit Modi did terrible things. But then, it’s well known that Absolute power corrupts absolutely. There was need to rein Modi in.....I am sure his investors, his boring COO and his fastidious finance teams all rein Steve Jobs in.....but not at the expense of losing him. He could have been penalized for his various crimes. He could have been warned. But by removing him, BCCI has hurt itself and brand IPL the most.

I would urge Lalit Modi to start a rival to IPL. Maybe join hands with Subhash Chandra and revive the ICL. Keep it outside India. Add innovations. Modi is a rebel.....he should have no difficult in doing this. I am sure if he did this; he would be able to build another terrific brand......one that would again make India look so strong and brilliant.

The real truth is that IPL needs the wizardry of Lalit Modi to sustain. Needs his style and panache. IPL without Lalit Modi is like a caged tiger....great to look at, but hardly a patch on the real thing out there in the jungle!


  1. Agree! I have always admired Modi for building the brand IPL and without Modi, there is no zing in IPL. Without him to innovate and take IPL to the next level, it has ended up being just another cricket tournament with the addition of players tired and burned out after the World Cup.

  2. Yup agree 100%. IPL is looking boring this year w/o Modi.