What a perfect Pakistan Super League could be like
Pakistan Super League (PSL) gets rolling in February next year. PSL promises to be a great Pakistani sporting spectacle, with competitive cricket and the entire sixes-for-fun (T20) aura. However, one may think that Qatar’s Doha is not the ideal venue for PSL, due to it’bs lack of knowledge on cricket.
PSL filling our stadia in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Peshawar would have been fascinating indeed. However, our misleading global image prevents the likes of Warners and Gayles from touring Pakistan.
Keeping reality in sight, which includes the unavailability of grounds in UAE in February, we would have to be content with Qatar for starters. Qatar held a somewhat successful women’s 50-over tri-series last year where the crowd responded fairly well. It also has a burgeoning population of immigrants from Pakistan and other South Asian countries, which would love to see a month long T20 party.
T20 cricket needs an experience to be built around it, which is of paramount importance. This experience comes from the entertainment value, the glitz and glamour, and the ability to engage the audience, that is present on and off the field – PSL needs to embody that very experience.
It should be the dawn of a new era, creating opportunities for Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), cricketers, sponsors, fans and the media to benefit from. PSL should not fade away like some of the other T20 leagues. Rather, it should be developed into a sustainable cricketing bonanza, whereby it also mirrors Pakistan’s positive image.
The Master’s Champions League should not steal the spotlight
The likes of Wasim Akram, Adam Gilchrist, Brian Lara and other legends would return from hibernation to take the cricket field in Master’s Champions League (MCL). PCB could not secure grounds in UAE, as they were already booked by the MCL for two weeks in early February. A ‘Wasim Akram versus Brian Lara’ duel would guarantee enormous global viewership and might push PSL in the background, which would impair PSL’s worth and perhaps even the viewership it manages to get.
The good news is that MCL won’t be a month-long affair. It would be wrapped up within two weeks of February. PSL could start as soon as the MCL ends, therefore avoiding any clash with it.
Grand opening and closing ceremonies
Be it a T20 league like Indian Premiere League (IPL) or an International Cricket Council (ICC) event, the opening ceremonies promise of what to expect from the tournament. Clumsily choreographed performances, bad hosting, and clichéd acts downgrade an event right from the word go, but a perfectly executed opening ceremony coupled with creative performances, portraying the culture of the host nation, helps start the show with a bang. The closing event should also leave an impact, making the crowd want more.
Successful ceremonies take months of practice and planning. Surely Najam Sethi, having artists in his family and being the spearhead of PSL, would know their significance. Contacting Arts Councils of Pakistan, along with famous directors, choreographers, artists and other big names to plan, prepare and execute the ceremonies should be on top of the list of the organisers.
Packing up the stadium
Natives of Qatar might not be interested or familiar with cricket, but it is a good opportunity for PCB to promote the game there and score some brownie points with ICC. No matter how competitive the game gets, matches played with grounds half empty don’t go well, with the perceptions of those who watch them from their homes.
With the Doha stadium having a capacity of 10,000 spectators and with the growing South Asian population there, filling the ground should not be an issue. However, PCB should not get carried away, and they should start marketing PSL in Qatar at least two months prior to the event. Be it door to door campaigning or simply by building hype through social media, PSL should make people anticipate it.
During the tournament, gimmicks like an ‘Over with a Star’, where a fan either gets to bat or bowl on one of the side pitches with a cricketer, or something like a ‘10 minutes expert’, where a fan gets to share the commentary box with someone like Ramiz Raja can be used.
Maintaining the Pakistani connection
While the emphasis should be on getting the Qataris to the stadium, PCB should not forget that the tournament is for Pakistanis – Pakistanis who are cricket-starved and have supported their team through thick and thin. An impression of alienation, even if unintentional, should be avoided at all costs and Pakistani fans should feel involved.
Maximum viewership in Pakistan would mean financial success for the sponsors, the company with TV rights and PCB and would mostly ensure a second season. Among other initiatives, PCB could rope in a sponsor to send a lucky winner from Pakistan in each of the matches, get a fan to watch a PSL match with a former cricketer on a big screen, or offer special discounted tour packages in collaboration with the sponsors and the Qatari officials.
International standard TV production values
The onus for providing high-quality TV transmission for the league would lie with the company which gets the TV rights. However, PCB could at least stipulate some conditions which would require the TV rights holder to guarantee transmission of international standards.
A few local commentators don’t sound appealing and are not able to stir interest, and using fake accents in the local T20 competition makes up for annoying viewing. PSL would be watched globally. Not only is it imperative to get hold of big players on the field, but getting good international commentators is equally important. The use of simple concepts like on-field microphones, through which players on the field and commentators interact and the use of latest production equipment are mandatory, even if they seem trivial. Proper programming schedule for pre and post-match sessions are a must. One thing IPL does really well with is its extra innings T20 starring Navjot Sidhu.
Even with all the marketing strategies PSL employs, it all boils down to the game itself. Lack of competitiveness, low scoring pitches, slow outfields, and lack of incentives for the local Pakistani talent may overshadow it. Emerging players should be given incentives, where maybe an emerging player, instead of getting a gold plated bat or cash prize, gets a county contract through PCB-England Cricket Board (ECB) collaboration. Teams should be balanced, three to four pitches should be prepared to bear the entire tournament and foreign coaches should mentor the local talent.
Like an entrepreneur, the team behind PSL should know that with proper financial planning, the main focus should be on growth, and profitability would eventually follow. PSL’s success doesn’t ride with PCB alone. Multinational corporations and local industrialists have to come forward with sponsorships and hopefully they will. Similarly, the Pakistani media has a role to build hype and promote the event, and if all the other stakeholders fulfil their responsibility, then the average Pakistani has to fulfil his responsibility by watching and supporting PSL.
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