Zee to launch multi-media ICL campaign

Without ICC endorsement, ICL will not be as popular as IPL in other cricket-playing nations. (AFP)

After taking a beating by the Indian Premier League (IPL) Zee TV, a premier satellite broadcaster in India, is back in action to launch its Indian Cricket League (ICL) with the help of a high-voltage multi-media campaign to promote the event. The launch campaigns will begin from August-September of this year.

Zee, intending to boost its grip on the footprint in the region, plans to take ICL outside India, and the Gulf seems to be the potential venue for the matches to counter the heat generated by the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) launched by the BCCI.

It is believed Zee may finally zero in on Dubai or Sharjah as Taj Television, the holding company of Ten Sports that shows the matches, is based in Dubai. Zee owns a 50-per cent stake in Ten Sports.

Moreover, the prize money is expected to increase to make the Twenty20 matches more high-profiled to take on the IPL, which has led to an increase in the number of viewers for Sony's SET Max channel.

"The ICL is now very big on the agenda for the group. Several steps are being taken to increase the interest of viewers and advertisers when the tournament starts in September-October this year. Don't forget, we saw the big potential in the Twenty20 format much before anyone else did," Subhash Chandra, Chairman Zee Telefims Ltd, recently told Indian media.

However, in the face of competition from IPL, marketing and establishing ICL as a vibrant TV property does not seem an easy task. Cricket historian Dr Boria Majumdar said there are negative factors one needs to consider when talking about ICL. "It (ICL) is considered a rebel league and lacks official sanction, and will not have the hype, support and cache as the IPL. Without ICC endorsement, it will not be as popular in other cricket-playing countries. Secondly, as Zee owns ICL, other media houses will not back it with the same enthusiasm as they have done in the case of IPL. For example, while Zee will and does cover IPL, Sony will hardly give ICL space. Also, news channels will not want to antagonise the BCCI by going too far with supporting ICL. Lastly, sponsors, too, will want to back the next edition of IPL in the absence of official sanction for ICL," he said.

"IPL is a successful television property with consistent ratings of about four-five, similar to any popular show on a general entertainment channel. The initial tournaments of ICL got ratings of one-two. To attract the viewers to another Twenty20 tournament will be a tough challenge for the ICL team," said a senior media planner in India.

Despite all the talk about ICL lacking the same amount of support and fan-fare, its officials are upbeat about the upcoming game. "It is important for all involved or following the league to understand that in terms of product life cycle we are in the introductory stage. Like any other sporting product, the ICL will need time to build its support base," said Himanshu Modi, business head of ICL.

On the contrary, Majumdar thinks after IPL, ICL will be too much to keep cricket fans glued to the TV. "There will reach a point when even the IPL will have to innovate further. Once the novelty wears off, once people get a flavour of the entertainment-cricket package on offer, interest will dwindle," he said.