Delhi-based sports lawyer Desh Gaurav Sekhri chronicles the Indian Premier League’s (IPL’s) colourful eight-year journey in his book Not Out! This Twenty20 tournament, which held its inaugural edition in 2008, will kick off its ninth season later this week. Sekhri’s book provides an insight into the evolution of the tournament, diving deep into the controversies that have come to habitually surround the league, while looking ahead to its future.

In the chapter, “The IPL’s Future: Sink Or Swim", Sekhri underlines the reasons why the IPL has remained immensely popular despite the controversies surrounding it, and how problems arise reportedly due to a clash of commercial interests within the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Edited excerpts:

The board and the IPL enter the next phase in an extremely unfamiliar spot—that of an underdog. The BCCI–IPL is trying to solve the many puzzles and disruptions it has faced recently. The IPL is not the first sports league to face extreme controversy and challenges to its existence; it also won’t be the last. Perhaps it’s unique in that so much has happened to it in its first few years of operations that it feels as if it’s constantly battling one crisis after another. It is one of the few entities across industries, verticals or continents where its entire success or sustainability depends entirely on its own actions. Its own behaviour or laxity leading to omissions is what causes most of its headaches, and now, of course, there is external watchdogging happening at the highest echelons of justice. And despite everything, including the many criticisms of it and its owner/promoter—the board’s handling of it— the IPL’s future remains bright, and it controls its own destiny. As things stand, the IPL may not have reached the lofty heights predicted of it in 2008 and then 2010, but it remains immensely successful. In terms of TRPs, IPL 2015 actually increased its reach from IPL 2014, and attracted approximately 192 million viewers. Despite the overhaul in sponsorships and the changing of the guard as sponsors, at no point have the league or the franchises not had options, almost instantaneously. Live audiences at the stadiums remain consistent even if not outstanding.

The challenges to the IPL are self-imposed. All of that can be revised, and none of it actually takes away from the future success of the event.... How the league or individual teams emerge from the controversies they face determines their destiny and legacy. There are many things the IPL did correctly, right from the start. It had and in many respects still has the blueprint for creating an extremely successful sports event in India. They say imitation is the best possible flattery, and the IPL has been mimicked in India in every shape, size, form and sport. There is virtually no sport in India today that hasn’t had a ‘league’ model that imitates the IPL almost to the core. It goes to show the landscape-change that the IPL brought to sports in India. It wasn’t the first league in India—it’s merely the most well-known and in comparative terms, the most successful. It often doesn’t get the credit it deserves....

The recipe for the IPL’s success was intuitive and intrinsic. It was destined to do well and the recipe was ingenious at the time. In a seller’s market, the IPL was the perfect product to pitch and captivate. Perhaps it did everything in too much of a hurry and with not enough diligence, and then the trouble began. The trouble though is only as much as the BCCI lets it be. Through internal clashes, questionable overlap of commercial interest, and a fiercely private mind-set, the veil of impregnability dissipated, and when it rained it poured. It was hampered by the spot-fixing scandal and then the scandal became a huge controversy.

Taken individually, each of the issues could easily have been handled at the time, and to be fair to the board and the IPL governing council, quite a few of the issues were unavoidable even if the governance mechanism had been flawless....

The IPL has successfully popularized T20 cricket across the world, and has been the first to commercialize sports in India....

The coming year or two will be extremely difficult for the IPL. On-field, it has to maintain consistency despite the off-field turbulence it is facing due to the conflict between the sponsorship requirements of eight teams, and the inability to rustle up eight able teams for the two upcoming seasons. The board will need to focus on its flagship property while at the same time work tirelessly to alter the public’s perception, pre-empt the court and the Justice Lodha Committee, and modernize the way cricket is administered in today’s day and age. For the IPL, the board must ensure that it remains scandal free and retains control over the various elements that threaten to disrupt it.

The next few years will tell us if the first-in-time IPL turns it around and builds upon a golden opportunity. The IPL has never believed in half measures—now would not be a good time to reverse that trend.

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