Champions League T20 – a “useless” tournament resulting from a flawed concept

Blog by: Jaideep

Sydney Sixers's squad celebrates their victory over the Highveld Lions on October 28, 2012

Sydney Sixers’s squad celebrates their victory over the Highveld Lions on October 28, 2012

6, 2, 6, 6, 6, 6 – a new buzz-mohawked MS Dhoni tore into the Sunrisers bowling attack and finally, some life was injected into the 2013 edition of the Champions League T20.

The Champions League is on – both for football and cricket. While the Champions League of football garners interest from fans all round the world, the Champions League of cricket has, till now, only managed to earn the tag of being a “useless” tournament.

Seriously, no one really bothers about the Champions League T20. The four-year-old tournament, that brings all the best T20 teams from around the cricket world, has failed massively to generate any sort of interest among the cricket fans.

While the UEFA Champions League is one of the biggest football tournaments held every year, the CLT20 has been nothing more than a minor blip on the radar of international cricket.

For the football Champions League, the fans wait in anticipation, throughout Europe and beyond to watch their favourite clubs lock horns with the rest of Europe for supremacy, while the CLT20 is used by most teams as a season opener.

Even when played in India, the biggest cricket crazy nation in the world, the CLT20 has failed to draw in the large crowds which an IPL game does.

So what really has gone wrong with the CLT20?

Although its concept was originally based on the UEFA Champions League of football, it has its own unique problems.

Concept of franchise cricket

Firstly, the CLT20 is only a four-year-old infant and a tournament of this magnitude takes time to gather a loyal fan base.

They system is successful in football because at the club level, it has a wider reach than international football. For example, the Arsenal football club has a much bigger fan base than the England national football team and so, Arsenal, during the Champions League, has a bigger fan following than the English team playing international fixtures.

On the contrary, the Indian cricket team boasts of much larger following than the Mumbai Indians side, and therein lies the main problem with franchise cricket.

In cricket, the concept of franchises or clubs hasn’t really caught on till now. For the fans, cricket has mostly been about national passion and they are used to the national rivalries, having been fed on nation versus nation confrontations for years now.

So, the Ashes or the Gavaskar-Border trophy generates much more interest than two franchises from different nations.

Failure of T20 leagues

Caribbean Premier League: All colour, no substance

Caribbean Premier League: All colour, no substance

The introduction of the Indian Premier League was the dawn of a new era in T20 cricket and it led to the mushrooming of numerous domestic T20 tournaments around the world. It was important for these leagues to be in existence because the whole concept and the success of the CLT20 hinged on them.

However, the results haven’t been as expected. Although the IPL has been a huge hit, other leagues have failed to capture the imagination of the cricketing world.

The Sri Lankan Premier League failed to kick off, while the Big Bash League and the Caribbean League, which started off with a lot of pomp and show, created ripples but not a huge wave.

So, the CLT20 still remains dependent more on the success of the IPL teams than the likes of the Otago Volts and the Kandurata Maroons!

The participation of Indian players

Indian cricketers: The Biggest box-office grossers

Indian cricketers: The biggest box-office grossers

Whether the other cricket boards like it or not, India is the nerve centre of the cricketing world and although the de Villiers and the Gayles carry star power, the power of super stardom rests with the likes of the Kohlis, Dhonis, Rainas and of course, the Tendulkars.

Cricket, unlike football, is still more about the cricketers than the team itself. Take the example of the Mumbai Indians – one of the most followed IPL sides; people who do not belong to Mumbai also support them because it houses the biggest superstar in cricket, Sachin Tendulkar.

Virat Kohli has a similar effect on the Royal Challengers Bangalore fans, Sourav Ganguly’s exclusion from Kolkata Knight Riders turned Kolkata fans into Pune supporters while the charisma of MS Dhoni alone pulls the fans from all parts of India to paint them in canary yellow.

Add to that, the presence of the Bollywood stars. More than half of Kolkata supports the Knight Riders because of the starry presence of Shahrukh Khan while Shilpa Shetty and Preity Zinta boosts the support for their respective IPL franchises.

However, the Indian superstars do not go around the world turning out for different T20 outfits like a ten Doeschate or a Kieron Pollard. So, the leagues outside India lack the gloss of the IPL and hence fail to generate the hysteria that IPL does.

The scheduling of the CLT20

Yorkshire vs. Highveld Lions - Do we really care?

Yorkshire vs Highveld Lions – Do we really care?

However, the biggest problem of the CLT20 seems to be the scheduling of the tournament. While the UEFA Champions League constitutes a major chunk of the football calendar, the CLT20 is squeezed in around the month of September.

The inappropriate scheduling not only lowers the value of the league but there have been instances when certain franchises have sent in their not-so-strong sides as their bigger stars were away on national commitments.

For example, teams from England didn’t turn up for the 2010 edition as it clashed with their series against Pakistan and the county season. This year too, the CLT20 misses out on the county teams owing to their domestic championship, thus alienating a chunk of audience from one part of the cricket world.

The scheduling of the matches, during the tournament, also plays a huge role in the success of the tournament. The CLT20 pits two sides from different parts of the world in front of the audience of a third country, where the crowds hardly know their eleven players.

What do people in Ranchi have to do with a match that features Brisbane Heat and the Perth Scorchers? How do the organisers expect the crowds to throng the stadiums when unknown sides, with funny names, play a game?  How does one guarantee a full house in a match at Ahmedabad featuring Naushua Titans and Otago Volts?

In contrast, the UEFA Champions League scheduling lets the sides play each other on a home and away basis which encourages the home fans to back their sides and as a result, the stadiums are jam-packed. The sequence is followed throughout the  tournament with only the final being played at a neutral venue.

All said and done, it isn’t easy for cricket to follow the lead of their European counterpart. The entire concept of CLT20 is flawed because cricket focusses more on  international fixtures and the ICC has to maintain a pre-decided calendar.

So, cricket franchises travelling to and fro from one part of the globe to another, to play home and away games throughout the year, isn’t a very plausible scenario.

That’s why the CLT20 needs to find its own relevance and its own audience. Although the concept is borrowed along the lines of the popular UEFA Champions League, the blueprint of an European football tourney doesn’t really fit in the cricketing landscape.

The governing bodies need to sit together and figure out what exactly they want from the tournament and then have a plan to build its popularity through stages. The CLT20 is a very young tournament and it requires better marketing and acceptance in the cricketing world in order to survive.

Otherwise, it would be one of those “useless” T20 tournaments  that act as an audition for young cricketers around the world hoping to bag a lucrative IPL contract before it meets the fate of the Champions Trophy.

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