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Keshav Bansal, standing tall in the big league

In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, the Gujarat Lions owner spoke about life in the fast IPL lane, and off it.

Keshav Bansal is the youngest franchise owner in the IPL

Most 23-year-olds remember the time and effort spent in coaxing their parents for a brand new two-wheeler. Keshav Bansal had no such dreams – he craved for something bigger. And it took him all of 20 minutes to convince his father that he was ready to own an IPL team.

Now 25, he’s the owner of Gujarat Lions, one of two new franchises added to the IPL last year, and the Director of Intex, one of the largest smartphone manufacturers in India.

“I started working when I was 19, in my final year of college. Since then, there are certain things that my dad taught me and I kept following (them). God has been extremely kind,” he says.

“In today’s world, age is just a number. Look at Mark Zuckerberg or Selena Gomez, at 22-23 they have conquered the world with their social presence.”

Helped along by economists who explained the business for him, Bansal presented all the fundamentals of his plan for the following year to the board.

“It isn’t rocket science. We bought the IPL team to promote Brand Intex. There were certain costs and revenues, and we knew the kind of investments that would be involved.

“I had to take the entire board and father through what kind of value Brand Intex will get. It is about having clarity in what you want. People take time because they have confusion in their mind.”

Seeing his extensive knowledge of the trade and his passion for the sport, everyone backed Bansal's plan, saying “kuch na kuch kar hi lega woh” (he’ll surely end up doing something).

The young entrepreneur lives his life to the fullest, much like an Instagram travel blogger. When he is not busy reckoning costs and revenues, he relishes a game of squash and table tennis, or can be found scuba diving, skydiving and horse-riding (the last being his newfound love). 

The fitness freak that he is, Bansal squeezes in just one cheat day per week to pamper his taste buds. When he does so, he hogs on “chhole bhature” and “dal baati choorma”, the latter a local delicacy from his home state of Rajasthan, which he admits is “extremely unhealthy and full of calories!”. 

A self-proclaimed sports buff, Bansal, like every other kid growing up in India, used to follow cricket – specifically, Sachin Tendulkar’s meteoric rise – through his growing up years. He remains an admirer of Virender Sehwag, who is now his close friend. He has a special place in his heart for Mohammad Kaif’s enterprising batting and fielding, traits that have now helped him find a place in the Lions’ squad in the capacity of an assistant coach. 

Regardless of his penchant for the game, it was no mean task setting up the kind of fan base that the Lions have managed to garner in one season. Despite being assembled for a period of just two years, the team saw fans turn up in large numbers last year.

“It is like setting up a new business from scratch. Being an entrepreneur, we knew the challenges any new brand faces. It was a calculated risk. I myself knew the problems we are supposed to undergo. Since IPL is always a hot selling product, there are certain strengths that we can cross leverage. We did have to make an extra effort though,” Bansal says.

The Lions were captained by Suresh Raina in 2016

The fact that Gujarat has been a cricket crazy geographical region eased the process of setting up shop a little. Adding to the local flavour was Indian cricket team’s Ravindra Jadeja, who was bought by the team for a whopping Rs. 9.5 crore.

Apart from Jadeja, however, there aren’t many popular faces in Indian cricket from Gujarat’s own shores. The lack of local talent in the team didn’t stop the franchise from roping in gifted players from across the country.

And that is exactly what Gujarat did at this year’s IPL auction. Spectators for most part of the first session on the auction day, the Lions went on a buying spree in the second half, poaching five lesser known players back to back, and that too at nominal prices.

“If you look at Jadeja, Raina or Ishan Kishan, they are from Gujarat, UP and Bihar, respectively. Having domestic Indian talent adds value to your team; it doesn’t matter where he is from.”

The result? Gujarat Lions’ newest recruit Tejas Baroka is from Puducherry, Basil Thampy hails from Ernakulam, Nathu Singh was born in Jaipur and Akshdeep Nath’s hometown is Lucknow. 11 players were bought, 10 of them at their base price. After the auction concluded, the Lions still had Rs. 10.5 crore in their purse!

As Shah Rukh Khan’s character says in the Bollywood film Raees, “Gujarat ki hawa mein hi vyapaar hai, sahib” (even the air of Gujarat has business in it).

Yet, apart from a player’s ability, his marketability also makes up one of the important columns on his IPL resume. The T20 tournament, being a money spinner and an ever-booming business, needs to satiate the needs of the sponsors as well.

“It certainly drives the sponsors. If you look at it, apart from Jadeja and Raina, we didn’t really have big names from the Indian team. That is something of a bait for the sponsors; if there are big names, they really are excited and everything is a lot easier. But that is not the way a franchise should run personally. The idea should be about making the best team and running it in the best manner. All other things are secondary for us.”

That said, even in its 10th year, Brand IPL is running at full steam. According to Bansal, the tournament's sucess is down to the right amalgamation of quality and innovation. The glittering mix is too alluring for the fans to miss, with the world’s best talent being served along with heavy dollops of entertainment in the form of Bollywood.

“For any product to succeed, their product has to be strong itself. In the creative space, content is the king. IPL has such a high grade of content, with the world’s best talent coming together and providing great entertainment. It also keeps innovating and keeps doing fresh things each year. These are the two main factors that drive it.”

Add to this the Bollywood factor, and “there is little more of entertainment that attracts more people”.

There were hardly any debut jitters for Gujarat, who topped the points table last season. Despite being actively involved with the team, Bansal lets the franchise’s cricketing management rack their brains over what’s best for the team. 

“I would just want the best and the most appropriate team and back it whether losing or winning. Let the cricketing experts make their decisions.” he says.

Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, suspended from the IPL for two years, will return next year, which brings a question mark over the future of the Lions. Bansal, however, is undeterred; the upcoming IPL season holds more relevance than anything for him right now.

“It was a conscious decision to have Lions for two years; to understand the workings of the IPL and BCCI. We’ll think about how to take it forward and the next steps once the season finishes.”

By engaging with the youth while being a part of them, Bansal has become one of the faces of the new India. Possessing sharp analytical acumen and showing maturity way beyond his age, he is already inspiring budding entrepreneurs to chase their dreams.

The IPL’s youngest owner doesn’t forget to thank the Lions’ fans profusely for the love that they have showered on the team. 

“The way they turned up in massive numbers last time, we’d expect the same thing again. They have been very kind, and their blessings and love is all we need,” he finishes.

Also read: Gujarat Lions team 2017: Full list of players bought by GL

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