Mumbai: As one of the owners of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), actor Shah Rukh Khan unveiled the new team colours—purple and gold—on Tuesday night, he promised a fresh start and change in attitude ahead of the third season of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Right ideas: Jay Mehta says the team is not in a rush to expand, but wants to build gradually on fan base, strategy and performance. Kaushik Chakravorty / Mint
Controversies and problems within the team—including one over a “multiple captains” theory—left the team at the bottom of the league last year in South Africa. But the results have not dented the team’s image, and KKR remains one of the most popular teams among fans. Sourav Ganguly is back as captain and KKR has Dav Whatmore as its new coach this season.
As the team gets ready to play the opening match of IPL 2010 in Navi Mumbai on Friday against defending champions Deccan Chargers, co-owner Jay Mehta, who usually does not speak to the press about the team, said in an interview: “We have done our best, built this platform and given the team whatever we can. Now it’s up to them.”
How would you assess the last two seasons, in which your results have not been flattering?
We got it a little wrong in the first year in the auction. We were new and did not have the experience in choosing the kind of players that are required for T20. (Due to controversies) the team’s unity gets affected as some start aligning with others, not working and communicating together. It’s detrimental to the team.
I don’t know if we can get it completely right at the next auction. You can have your list of 10 and end up not getting any. That’s the beauty of this whole system—its unpredictability. This ensures you don’t have a Manchester United (football club), which wins every year. If Mumbai Indians (another IPL team) won every year, people would be bored.
What are your thoughts on the next season?
It is better now, with a good team, new players to make up for skills we lacked, and a lot of youngsters. T20 requires luck; you can lose and win on the last ball...
The addition of two more teams means there will be more competition for players, sponsors and fans. I am not too concerned on sharing of revenues. But it will mean more teams vying for the same sponsor base. We will negotiate for the next three years after this season while they (IPL) are mopping up all the money from the system!
KKR is considered the most valuable franchise brand and also the most successful.
We are the only franchise in the east; we cover a whole section of the country, which could potentially have seven teams just from that region. Also, we have Shah Rukh (Khan), who has pan-Indian support and is an absolute magnet for sponsors. There are three main factors for our support—Kolkata, Shah Rukh and Sourav. Some may like the logo, find it cool or the image the Knight Riders have. The way it’s all combined, people identify with it...
What would the addition of two more teams from season 4 mean for the existing franchises?
Everybody debated about two new teams—the fear was TV ratings would go down and spectator fatigue would set in. We will have three matches a day, which would be too much. It’s important for them to figure (out) how to extend the season rather than having that many number of days.
If you look at the EPL (English Premier League) and NFL (National Football League of the US), they are all seasonal with high ratings every year.
The following for IPL comes from the entire region—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka plus the NRI (non-resident Indian) population in various countries. Now people other than NRIs are also watching. You started expanding your viewership, which is important, so every few years they should move it out, make it global. Then those valuations will keep going up and up.
Does your team have plans for brand expansion, like the cafés planned by Delhi Daredevils?
We are not in a rush to do this (expand) but build gradually—on fan base first, strategy and performance. Our core business is the team and what’s around it. The franchise revenues or the bar/café is an extension that has to be done with the right image and concept... We have launched the Knight club, which is our fan club. Once that takes off, lots can be done with the members...
One player from all time you would like to have?
Vivian Richards. He would have been devastating with his incredible hand-eye coordination.
This is the seventh in a series of interviews of IPL team owners and executives. On Friday: Mumbai Indians.