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What the CLT20 can learn from its football counterpart


Ramnaresh Sarwan bats in front of empty stands in the Champions League T20 in 2010

Ramnaresh Sarwan bats in front of empty stands in the Champions League T20 in 2010

The 2013 edition of the Champions League T20 is almost here, and some of the top domestic cricket teams and players will be participating in the multi-million dollar league. The event organisers and broadcasters are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to create buzz around the event. However, the reception has still been lukewarm, with public interest being even lesser than that was seen during the Indian Premier League, the Big Bash and some other domestic leagues.

The Champions League T20 (CLT20) organizers would do well to look at the evolution of the UEFA Champions League to pick up some pointers on how to make the event more popular. Footballers and football fans place far more importance on lucrative leagues than their cricket counterparts, for whom international cricket is of utmost importance.

The real problem with CLT20 is due to the gap in seriousness between international cricket and the league. Money is not an issue in both cricket and football leagues. But while the Champions League in football can be considered to be serious business, the same can’t be said about its cricket equivalent. The jury is still out on the debate whether the teams consider cricket’s supposed pinnacle event for league-based format as their priority.

Arjen Robben described his winner in the 2013 Champions League final as his top moment in football. Considering that Robben has participated in the football World Cup final, that statement gains a lot of significance. A great footballer would have considerable portion of his reputation from his performances in the Champions League. Teams plan their seasons and team tactics to maximize their chances of doing well in the competition. If someone wants to be regarded among the best in the business, he needs to have made impact in Europe.

On the contrary, players competing in CLT20 would hardly be considering the event as the most precious trophy in sport. A success in CLT20 would be nothing more than a footnote in a player’s profile, and usually an epilogue in the older players’ careers who have already built their reputations with their performances in international cricket.

The UEFA Champions League is big money business, and teams like Liverpool and Leeds United in the past have suffered financially due to absence from the competition. There is a huge monetary incentive for teams to qualify for the event, and to progress as far as possible to maximize the earnings. In doing so, the UEFA Champions League has managed to raise the standard of football, and can’t be considered as a cynical money-making tool that would exploit football as a circus act. The event is a fantastic competition in which the best players play their best games, and it generates a nice by-product, in the form of money for the participating teams.

The same can’t be said about the cricket event. Qualifying for the CLT20 is usually considered as an additional bonus for the teams who are usually content with winning the domestic leagues. Not many tears are likely to be shed in Kolkata and Bangalore, because of the non-participation of their local teams in the “grand event”.

Another key difference is the response and reception from the crowds. The CLT20 clashes have usually seen empty stands even when the home teams have been playing. Compare this to the football version where the tickets are sold out much in advance. Even though cricket is considered a religion in India, a competition to determine the “champions of champions” has hardly found any takers. Clearly the cricket event’s organizers have much to ponder over how to sell the event to the common man.

The growth of football as a business has been positively reflected in the increment in the quality of the sport. The on-field spectacle keeps becoming more and more impressive every year. Unlike cricket, where money in the sport has made it vulnerable to corruption, football can be considered as an example of professional evolution, with which the sport has gained immensely.

At the moment, there can be no comparison between the showcase events of league format in football and cricket. The CLT20 was conceptualized on the lines on the UEFA Champions League, and to make the former as popular as the latter, the organizers must take note of how the football event transformed itself into a commercial and sporting success and try to incorporate the same in the cricket event as well.

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