Mumbai: At the outset, let me make one thing clear: I am always with the team,” said Preity Zinta, co-promoter and chairperson of the board of directors at Kings XI Punjab. The actress added there were no changes in ownership of the Indian Premier League (IPL) team, contrary to “what you hear or read”.
Batting for success: Preity Zinta, co-promoter and chairperson of the board of Kings XI Punjab, thinks her team would break-even this year. Mike Hutchings / Reuters
“When I was only doing movies, I heard of link-ups with actors. Now in business, we are hearing that there is a full sellout and Hero Honda has been involved. The Munjals are wonderful people, we know them; there was never any such thing. We would love to have Hero Honda as sponsors, but there is no deal between us,” she said.
At her Bandra office, Zinta curled up on a sofa to talk about her team, which has already seen a change in captaincy—with Kumara Sangakkara replacing Yuvraj Singh—and will play at a new venue this season, Dharamshala. Edited excerpts:
How is season 3 critical, considering IPL is returning to India and there will be two more teams from next season?
We are broadening our horizons, like, for example, Dharamshala, another catchment area, will host two of our seven games. People in cosmopolitan cities are used to big events, but for places such as Chandigarh and Dharamshala, it would be nice for people to interact with cricketers. A lot of finances were cut off last year because of on-ground activation, which will come back this year. Revenues will change due to gate receipts. Security costs have tripled in three seasons.
I am not yet worried about revenue. It is talent, injuries, player fitness, availability—these are more of our concerns. Everything in IPL gets divided among eight teams. Next year, there will be lots of questions, lots of dhishum dhishum (read fighting). Many players will go back to the pool, make new strategies.
How lucrative has owning this team been?
I would think we would break-even this year. Personally, what happened so far is: people you have known for years, you cannot ask them to pay Rs2,800 for a T-shirt. You end up giving 10,000 or some such T-shirts to friends and family. This year, I have told people to buy their own T-shirts. As an actress I tell people to watch my movies, I don’t give them tickets.
Are there any plans to widen your brand image, like some other teams have?
We are interested, but more than branding, owning a club or a pub, was to have an academy. We had the Kings XI Punjab Cup, teams from smaller areas, play-offs and selections. This year, we picked talent that will play for our team. If you can perform in the IPL, you can play for the country. This has become like a TV reality show; you become popular and your life is set. Doors open for you.
Branding is not just seasonal; it’s off-season too. IPL is spending millions of dollars in branding; so the iron is hot, you can hit it as many times as you want.
How do you analyse last season and what are your plans for the current one?
Last year, we had several injuries—Jerome Taylor, Shaun Marsh, James Hopes did not show up, Brett Lee did not play 70% of the games, S. Sreesanth was out, (Mahela) Jayawardene was injured in the semis, Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh) cracked his finger, V.R.V. (Singh) had a back problem. Eight injured when you have 11 to play. I know how we went through it: It was traumatic.
Distributing luck: A file photo of Kings XI Punjab co-promoter Preity Zinta giving prasad to her teammates before the start of their match. PTI
Since we are new in the league, there is a lot of shuffling in every team. Yuvraj is our most valuable player. If he wants to just focus on his batting, eventually we win or lose as a team. There is no place for “I” in “we”.
With 94 matches next season, will there be spectator fatigue?
People never tire of cricket, like cinema. I like to watch movies of certain actors because there’s some credibility. IPL will be like that. But in a year or two, a whole deal has changed—the last two teams became the first two teams. As one team performs well, there will be more viewers for it. Punjab versus Kolkata Knight Riders gets the highest ratings after the opening match, semi-finals and final. It becomes about Shah Rukh Khan and Preity. The second largest number of Web hits came from Indians in the US, where it was early in the morning. Every sixth face in the world is an Indian. You have enough people to watch IPL. There are players from all over, so you have people from those countries watching. My neighbour watches five-day games as if it’s a Twenty20 match, and he says this is pure cricket. I just say, “whatever”.
One player you wish you could have in the team?
I am not a regular cricket viewer; I have never been. But I know Sachin (Tendulkar) and I love him. My all-time favourites would be Don Bradman and him.
Whatever memory of cricket I have, it’s been of Sachin hitting fours and sixes. Now when I meet him, he is so amazing. If he was arrogant or a loose cannon, one would say, “whatever”, but he is so humble, sweet, down to earth. What do you say about him?
Now my favourite is a free hit. I love it. I am learning so much about the game. There is so much entertainment than just mundane cricket. No films are releasing that time, or TV shows. It’s free on YouTube, so a lot of people will watch in offices because their boss is a jerk and would not let them get out. Mumbai can build roads during the IPL, as people are not out on the streets.
This is the third in a series of interviews of IPL team owners and executives. On Monday: Manoj Badale, chairman and co-founder of Rajasthan Royals.