Sports Editor Akshay Sawai talks of KKR’s changed strip bringing them better luck on the field. But from a merchandise point of view, the sportswear makers in IPL, and the teams themselves, have been rather low on sartorial inventiveness. Why are most team kits some shade of blue?
Lalit Modi, if you are listening, two opposing teams on the ground outfitted in the same colours makes for boring TV. Of the eight teams, only three in IPL3 won’t turn up in blue, and for different reasons.
Red is pouty Preity Zinta’s favourite colour, and Kings XI Punjab’s Arsenal-lookalike shirt also suits its principal sponsor, Emirates airline; Chennai Super King’s choice of canary yellow is, of course, dictated by the colour of team owner India Cements’ bestselling grey powder bag, Coromandel Super Strong; consumer research told the Daredevils to go for red and black; and a little bird from Vittal Mallya Road tells us Royal Challengers’ red and gold was recommended by a trusted astrologer.
It seems IPL is allergic to green, a very common hue in the sportswear business. Or perhaps Indian cricket fans don’t want to be reminded of Pakistan in any way.
Football, and for that matter, most ballgames have the tradition of home and away jerseys. Ergo, when Manchester United host Liverpool at Old Trafford, the Scousers sport grey or white to allow United its iconic red at home. Besides adding, well, some colour, and being spectator friendly, home and away clothing has a business logic as well. In 2006, Cricket Australia and its apparel sponsor realised that official merchandise sales were tapering because the team jersey of any vintage looked much the same—yellow with green lettering. So the Aussies shifted to bottle green with Adidas’ trademark three stripes in glitzy gold. Nike’s new Team India uniform, in a darker shade of blue, is motivated by a similar concern.
What’s the big deal, you ask. Consider this: Europe’s six biggest football teams generate revenues in excess of $1 billion every year selling replica shirts alone. On average, the English football fan, from Millwall to Macclesfield, spends the equivalent of Rs 3,200 a year on team shirts. Lalit Modi’s strong arm forced SET Max to double the TV rights fee in just the second year of IPL, but the long-term profitability of franchises may depend on their ability to sell overpriced home and away Puma jerseys to eight-year-old kids. Just ask David Beckham or Real Madrid.
As usual, the IPL (Indian Premier League) auction has suddenly made some cricket players very rich. This ability of the IPL makes the auction day the biggest in the lives of those players who are on the shopping list. It shows in the intensity of their nervousness. “I did have sweaty palms and was a little nervous to begin with,” said New Zealand’s Shane Bond, secured by the Kolkata Knight Riders for an undisclosed but huge price.
For many players from all over the world, the IPL auction is top priority, above even important fixtures in national colours. All year, they schmooze with those who can get them into the tournament. These include coaches, administrators and even influential journalists. The IPL has come to resemble Bollywood, a world coveted by thousands of fit and gifted young people. (It is coveted by Bollywood itself, as can be seen from the ownership of some teams).
This year the pounding of the hammer was symphony to the ears of Kieron Pollard (bought by Mumbai Indians for an undisclosed sum), Kemar Roach (Deccan Chargers, $720,000), Wayne Parnell (Delhi Daredevils, $610,000) and Shane Bond. Bowlers feel increasingly wronged in cricket, especially in the Twenty20 format. They are the unwanted daughters while the batsmen are the pampered sons. But justice has been done. Three of the above four are bowlers. Pollard is an all-rounder. Bowlers are crucial, no question. Every team owner wants a dude who can fire those babies at the batsman’s foot and choke the runs.
One battle has been won. But another begins. The big price tag brings extra pressure of expectation. Criticism is harsher when an expensive player fails. The same dollar figure that triggered Veuve Clicquot celebrations at home becomes a burden. But as mercenary as they are, athletes are also a proud race. Pollard, Roach, Parnell and Bond will do everything to ensure that they live up to their price.
Bond is 34 and, therefore, most likely of the four to handle wisely his big payday. Pollard too will keep things in control because this is not his first windfall. He won a million dollars when the Stanford Superstars, the team floated by the spurious businessman Allen Stanford, defeated England in a winner-takes-all T20 match in 2008. Parnell is young but he comes from South Africa, a sophisticated sports country where there would be enough qualified people to keep him focused on his game. That leaves Roach. The West Indian is only 21. He has been around only a couple of years. The West Indies Cricket Board is not always on friendly terms with the players. I hope he is able to deal with the sudden influx of wealth.
Last year, the top buys—Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen—were spectacular disappointments. Flintoff even got injured, hampering his future series in the England cap and thus upsetting the traditionalists. They huffed that Freddie had let his country down by getting injured in a competition that offered money but little else.
The two teams that won tiebreak bids for Pollard and Bond are the Mumbai Indians and the Kolkata Knight Riders, respectively. One is Sachin’s team, the other Shah Rukh’s. Yet, none has even reached the semifinals yet. Their spending on Pollard and Bond reflects their desperation to do well in the IPL. Do-well-in-the-IPL. Hey, that rhymes.