The countdown to the Indian Premier League (IPL) has begun but, more than cricket, it is entertainment that will be the name of the game on the grounds where IPL matches are played.
All set to play: A file photo taken in Mohali shows actor Preity Zinta flanked by the players of Kings XI Punjab cricket team for the IPL T20 matches. To her left is team captain Yuvraj Singh.
The hype and the excitement of the past four months, ever since the league was announced by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in January, will reach its peak at the opening ceremony that begins about an hour before the coin is tossed between the inaugurating teams — actor Shah Rukh Khan’s Knight Riders and liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s Bangalore Royal Challengers.
Film stars, singers, dance performers, rappling artists, cheerleaders and base jumpers will take center stage to pull in eyeballs. Mallya alone is expected to spend about Rs5 crore on building entertainment frenzy on the grounds, while each of the other seven teams is likely to spend at least Rs2 crore for such activities.
“From sizzling dances, bubble acts, rappling artistes to stilt walkers and cheerleaders, we have left little in terms of entertainment for the opening ceremony,” said Amrit Thomas, executive vice-president, United Spirits Ltd. Living up to his flamboyant reputation, Mallya has signed Bollywood actor Katrina Kaif as the team’s brand ambassador who, along with other stars such as Shilpa Shetty, Zayed Khan and Kannada film industry’s leading actors Upendra and Ramya, is also likely to perform at the event. Also on tap, performances by popular Bollywood music composers Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa.
The most interesting of all, however, is the band of 14 Washington Redskin cheerleaders — the official and the longest running professional cheerleading organization of America’s National Football League — that will stand by the team during each match it plays in April.
The cheerleaders, known more for the oomph factor they bring than for their cheer, will also train an Indian cheerleading team to succeed them. “We are also considering turning the whole making-of-the-Indian-cheerleaders into a reality show soon. We are in talks with some television networks,” said Thomas.
Mallya, according to a person in the know, is paying each of these cheerleaders Rs12,000 per hour. While Thomas refused to divulge independent fee, he said: “We will spend more than Rs5 crore on our on-ground promotions.”
Not to be left behind, the other seven teams have also lined up performances and stunts to register their presence on the grounds. The Chennai team owned by India Cements Ltd, for instance, has signed famous cricketers Krishnamachari Srikanth and Tamil film stars Nayanthara and Vijay as brand ambassadors who will accompany the team wherever it plays. Besides, the company has engaged percussionist Sivamani and singers Hariharan and Shankar Mahadevan to perform on the grounds. “Sivamani will play the drums for as long as the match is on,” said Rakesh Singh, the marketing head of Chennai’s India Cements.
Mumbai and Delhi teams’ brand ambassadors Hrithik Roshan and Akshay Kumar will also perform on the grounds to set the tempo before their teams go to play. While both teams were not ready to disclose information on their strategy and figures, Yogesh Shetty, chief executive of Delhi Daredevils said the opening ceremony for Delhi “will be a gala affair.”
Hyderabad’s Deccan Chargers has taken a different route to enthrall the crowds. “We will have a base jumper jumping out of a helicopter into the stadium before our team marches on to the ground,” said Darshan M, sports marketing consultant for the team. “Unlike all the other teams, we haven’t signed any brand ambassadors. We believe in the strength of the game to pull in crowds,” he said.
Jaipur’s Rajasthan Royals will have famous Bollywood singer Ila Arun singing for the team before it steps on to the grounds. Mohali team could not be contacted but a person close to the team said apart from Preity Zinta’s own performance, the team could rope in actor Saif Ali Khan to perform for them.