Lalit Modi: How we made the IPL happen

Lalit Modi, chairman of the IPL, and Andrew Wildblood, Senior Vice President of IMG, the sports management company that helped make the IPL happen, sat down in Johannesburg with SPIN’s Nick Sadleir.

Lalit, you seem to have been at almost every IPL game this year…

Lalit Modi If there are two games on the same day in different cities, I leave the one game 20 minutes before it ends and I get to the other one twenty minutes after it starts.

Andrew Wildblood Lalit doesn’t have to suffer the indignity of commercial travel.

There must have been plenty of unknowns, shifting venue at such short notice…

LM Everyone told me it would be impossible. They said I was wasting time and money. I said, ‘Well, we are going to do this’.

AW Lalit called me at five in the morning one day and asked what the hell I was doing sleeping when there was work to be done. He said that the IPL couldn’t happen in India. I told him if we could do it in India, then we could do it anywhere!

He told me to meet him in Johannesburg the next day. So he came in his plane and I came down on a BA (flight).

LM We landed here, met the agencies, got Etienne de Villiers [until recently the head of the ATP tour] and Francios Pienaar [Saffer rugby legend, still very influential in SA sport and business] on the case. Etienne and Francois have been with me every single day for over two months – they moved out of their houses and into my hotel and have come with me everywhere.

You spent a lot of money advertising in SA…

AW Yes, Lalit uttered the immortal words – “I don’t want share of voice, I want all of voice.”

To pretty much sell out 59 games during the South African rugby season is good going….

LM The advertising agency gave us a budget of $3.5m. They said that was what they thought was appropriate and that it was probably the biggest advertising expenditure by any brand at any one particular time. Of course they expected us to cut it because all clients cut the budget. So I told them to multiply it by five. They told me I was wasting money on trying to fill the stadiums. I told them they should worry about the campaign and I will worry about filling the stadiums.

Andrew, when were you first involved in the business side of cricket? 

AW In 1989, when satellite broadcasters were first finding their feet.  I come from a generation whose only live football match in a year was the FA Cup final. In those days, sports revenues were driven by gate. The concern was that if you put everything on TV then you would diminish the value of the ticket revenues. We at IMG started to realise that the value could actually be in the television and not in the gate.

In 1990 England were touring the West Indies and the West Indies cricket board came to see us and said, “We are the most successful cricket team in the world, yet we are bust. What can we do?” When we told them that they could put this series on television they said they had approached the BBC who had said it was impossible – because the logistics of getting a production crew between the islands was too expensive. We said we could do it, sold the rights to Sky, and every ball was broadcast live.

So the IPL is not the first time you have turned cricket on its head…

AW I then went to India where a similar situation existed because their television infrastructure was not suitable to creating a level of coverage that was consumable internationally. They didn’t have the equipment or the people to do it at that time. So we took a huge quantum leap. But even in 1990 our broadcast in the West Indies was only filmed by seven cameras. Here we have at least 36 cameras in each game.

Throughout the 1990s we covered almost all the international cricket in the West Indies, India and Pakistan. We organised the Sahara Cup in Canada and the World Cup in Pakistan…

Has IPL been hurt by the global recession?

LM I would have said it is pretty recession proof.

AW I think a combination of uncertainty in world economics, Indian elections and the move to South Africa meant that we did not sign two other official partners. We had had some good conversations going on that started to die when the uncertainty came in as to whether this year’s event would happen or not.

What this guy (Modi) does unbelievably well, is to not let anything get in his way. One thing I have had to learn about Lalit is that differences in opinion are nothing personal – they are just for that moment. We get things done, move on and are then friends again. Without that energy, drive and commitment, and without the backup of IMG, then this wouldn’t happen.

LM I have the vision and I know what I want. And when it comes to implementing that, these guys (IMG) are the very best.

So, IMG runs the show?

LM Yes, they run the show.

How has the IPL transformed Indian cricket?


AW We realised that in order for the tournament to be respectable then we had to do something that benefited Indian cricket. So we implemented a minimum number of under-23 players, and a maximum number of foreign players, in each side. There must be at least seven Indian players in each team. That makes at least 56 Indians who otherwise would not be exposed to international cricket.

So it is unlikely that we will see the cap on international players increased from four, as called for by Kolkata’s John Buchanan?

LM No no, it’s not going up, it’s not going up!

AW People bully him about it all the time.

LM It’s not going up, it’s not going up! Not while I’m the commissioner. They can remove me and take it up, if they like.

It seems a lot of money is wasted on international stars that can’t get a game.

LM It is not wasted. Their experience counts for a lot. Look at Glenn McGrath sitting on the bench and giving pointers to Dirk Nannes…

AW The irony of it is that McGrath is coaching the guy who is keeping him out of the team! [Laughs]

What do you say to people who accuse you and T20 of killing off the old game?

LM If you do a survey around the stadium at an IPL match, you will find many people who have never watched a match before. They are getting a taste for the game, and many of them will graduate to Test cricket. They will then watch their stars performing in every version of the game. We are only increasing the base. The base is small and is quickly becoming bigger. Twenty20 is going tohave compounding effect on all parts of cricket.

Lalit, did you know that there was such a large and cricket-crazy Indian population in South Africa before this tournament?

LM No… But we do now!

Is it true that a senior television person in India told you that he had little interest in screening Test matches?

AW Yes, Kunal Dasgupta (then CEO Multi Screen Media, Sony) told me that and it was then that I realised that something had to be done about Test match cricket, to shake it up. But no one has ever done anything about it except the Australians, who took it from a 2,5 runs per over to a 4 runs per over game. That made it a lot more exciting and greatly increased the chance of getting a result.

Would you support night Test matches?

AW Funnily enough no – I think that would fundamentally change the brand. What I would support is: four day Tests with 100 eight ball overs a day, massively punitive fines if you don’t deliver your overs. There is a lot of stuff you can do without messing with the fundamentals of the game.

If you have eight-ball overs the amount of time you save is huge. An over is only six balls long because that is half a dozen. Don Bradman was a huge advocate of eight ball overs and who are we to argue with him?

Ali Bacher told me the other day that twenty five years ago he received a five page document from Bradman on why he supported eight ball overs and Bacher hugely regrets throwing it away.

This interview appeared in the June 2009 edition of Spin magazine.

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