LPL can be a money-spinner and springboard for promoting national integration
Posted on January 9th, 2021

Rohan Abeygunawardena

Hats off to present office bearers of SLC led by President Shammi Silva and the Tournament Director Ravin Wickramaratne for successfully staging the first everLanka Premier League (LPL) cricket tournament. They should be specifically lauded because this tournament was held against all odds under trying circumstances. Apart from the threat from COVID19 epidemic there were usual Sri Lankan style opposition too. However young Minister of Sports Namal Rajapaksa supported the SLC to the hilt. 

Five teams named after various Sri Lankan cities played a total of 23 matches from 26 November to 16 December 2020. It was Jaffna Stallions who became the champs on December 16 finals against Galle Gladiators.

Interestingly, Jaffna Stallions (JS) is owned by a consortium consisting of Sri Lankans and Indians from all over the world including Australia, Canada, France, United Kingdom, and the USA. A cricket enthusiast and avid cyclist, Anandan Arnold is the Chief Executive Officer of JS. Arnold from Manipe, Jaffna and educated at St John’s College Jaffna left Sri Lanka when his studies were disrupted by the unrest preceding the outbreak of war in 1983. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant and became a Senior Partner at BBK Partnership Chartered Accountants in the United Kingdom. Since 2005, he has done yeoman service to the people in the North like rehabilitating hospitals and setting up BBK offices to provide employment mainly for underemployed educated youths from the North. He came forward to help SLC to stage the LPL.

Arnold is supported by Team Manager Ganeshan Vaheesan, who is also an Accountant by profession lived in UK and Saranga Wijeyarathna Director of Communications and Media of JS. Another important aspect is multi billionaire Rahul Sood, creator of Microsoft Ventures M12, coming forward as a co-owner. Quoted from Andrew Fidel Fernando’s article in ESPN cricinfo dated 12 December 2020 “Once I heard the vision that Arnold had, I was on board straightaway,” Sood said. “Using sport for reconciliation in a post-war setting, and giving young kids who literally grew up in a war to play at a high level – who wouldn’t want to get involved?”

With the success story of JS there will be renewed enthusiasm for cricket in Jaffna and other parts of Northern Province. SLC therefore can expect highly talented young cricketers from the North in the future to augment ‘’the Lions.’’ When so many of them start playing with the cricketers from the south in the same club or school the feeling of oneness, brotherhood and social unity under communities and society will automatically take place promoting national integration.

Let’s hope Arnold and his team will continue to promote cricket in the North.

Galle Gladiators is owned by Pakistan Businessman Nadeem Omar, who owns the Quetta Gladiators in Pakistan Super League. Omar has always had a passion for cricket and sports of all kinds, whether indoor or outdoor. As he stated after the finals, he is a lover of Sri Lanka and consider it as the most beautiful island in the world.

While Colombo Kings are owned by Dubai based Indian businessman, Dambulla Viikings are owned by Bollywood actor Sachiin J. Joshi.  Bollywood actor Sohail Khan and Abbas Muni co-owned the Kandy Tuskers. 

 According to the Tournament Director Wickramaratne Season 1 LPL had an unbelievable” viewership being broadcast to over 26 countries and a website published that 130 million viewers watched the final worldwide. Encouraged by the success SLC has already made arrangements with ICC to keep vacant July-August as the window for the LPL (Daily FT 22 December 2020).

Question is, can the LPL go forward without audience or spectators at the grounds to generate ticket revenue due to epidemic. A market research conducted by the ICC, cricket has over a billion fans globally with the Indian sub-continent alone constituting more than 90 per cent of them. This is the opportunity Sri Lanka Cricket should capitalize.

Cricket lovers are desperate to see competitions start again even if they are so-called ghost matches” played in empty stadiums without a crowd. The fans need entertainment in the comfort of their home in times of great stress, when their towns and villages are lockdown due to epidemic. Many people worldwide are now getting used to the concept of ‘entertainment at a push of a button’ with their TVs and digital media.  There are smartphone apps specifically designed for watching sports events remotely called ‘Virtual stadiums.’ 

Some may argue whether LPL can sustain when there is no on ground audience or spectators and no ticket revenue. But it has been proved at IPL that ticket revenue does not affect much the central revenue. Major part of the revenue is earned through sponsorship, advertisement and broadcasting rights.

With the success of LPL season 1, there will be a higher demand for the acquisition of sponsorship and broadcasting rights together with advertisement slots and improve the non-ticket revenue streams. However SLC must workout strategies to increase viewership.

A research study conducted by Lancaster University Management School in 2007 found that in soccer television viewers prefer close contests to more predictable contests by the fans inside the stadium. This is true in cricket league matches too as can be observed in the IPL (mother of all cricket league tournaments) matches over the years. Up to IPL 2020 as many as five matches concluded with super overs including one played over two super overs whereas in the first edition of LPL there were four super over matches. They are thrilling encounters enjoyed by cricket fan all over the world.

Indian Premier League (IPL) was inaugurated in 2008. Within a few years it became the most lucrative annual sporting event of BCCI.

Similarly LPL also can be turned into a money spinner for SLC if few more teams are introduced and attract more international Ícon’ cricketers especially from India. It also can be a springboard for promoting national integration and as a means of fostering social justice, equality, peace and stability for the Sri Lankans affected by 30 year war.

Rohan Abeygunawardena

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