The IPL confirmed recently that the Delhi Daredevils (DD) would play two of their eight home games in Raipur. Franchises do play a game or two away from the home stadium in their home city. Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) have played and will play games at Dharamshala while the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) will play two of their games in Ranchi. Dharamshala is 170 kilometers from Chandigarh. Ranchi is 250 kilometers from Kolkata. It is understandable that the franchises would want to expand their fan base and consumer base in these cities. Dharamshala and Ranchi are also in KXIP and KKR’s catchment areas respectively. However, asking DD to play in Raipur befuddles me. Raipur is closer to Hyderabad and Mumbai than it is to Delhi. The Feroze Shah Kotla is nearly 1300 kilometres away from Raipur. As far as I can see Raipur has also never hosted an international match or even a significant first class game. Here is the list of matches played in Raipur so far. This even violates one of the commandments in the hilariously loose list of criteria for IPL venues posted on the official IPL site.
Why would the IPL want to move two games from Delhi all the way to Raipur to a ground that has never hosted a first class game before? If the mission was to evangelize fans and spread the joy, cheer and pomp of DD cricket why not take it to Lucknow or Kanpur or Faridabad? Here is my theory – The GMR group that owns DD is sweetening the pot for local Raipur politicians so that GMR can get speedy clearances and move forward even quicker on the 1370 MW thermal power plant under construction in Raipur.
The plant is slated to be commissioned in 2014 and is currently moving slower than planned. The GMR groups gets its revenues from three main operations – infrastructure aka highway construction and toll, airports and power plants. Based on their most recent balance sheet, GMR has hit into serious headwinds on the infrastructure and airport fronts. They have pulled out of some planned highway projects including their biggest – (Ahmedabad-Kishangarh) and saw the Male airport project cancelled by the local government. They have publicly stated that they are lowering their bets on infrastructure projects and counting on slightly improved revenue from improved foot traffic and increased airport taxes at the New Delhi airport. These are not promising steps for a rosy future. The revenue streams that have kept GMR going seem to be drying out in the short-term and the power plant in Raipur may hold the key to bringing the company back in the black.
It seems very likely to me that by giving two IPL games to the Chattisgarh International Cricket stadium and providing associated revenue and entertainment to the local cricket association (which is highly likely run by local politicians like most associations in India), GMR is trying to get their projects moved quicker thru the construction pipeline. Based on all the research I have done, I will be very shocked if there are any other reasons for GMR and the IPL moving two games away from Delhi’s traditional home ground to Chattisgarh.
This sort of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” is not uncommon in professional sports and the franchise model. In the US, NBA cities are promised the chance to host all-star games and NFL teams are promised the chance to host Superbowls if they build new stadiums. Corporations and leagues like to extract their pound of flesh from local communities in return for just existing. But what GMR seems to be trying here is unique in that their cricketing wing is being asked to bear the costs of their infrastructure wing. The corporation is likely using the professional cricket team as another tentacle in their corporate battles. Loyal fans of the cricket team who live in and around Delhi and were hoping to see their team eight times in person are being compromised and cheated in order to sate the corporation’s stockholders.
Maybe this is the price to pay for the franchise model. Maybe RCB will play some games mid-air next season to get their owner’s airline business back on track. But from a cricketing and fan loyalty perspective, this is cruel and a violation of the bond between the fan and the team that the team will do everything it can to make the fan happy and to win games. By making team decisions on the basis of corporation needs, GMR is short-changing Delhi cricket fans and their chance at winning IPL-6. Unless GMR or DD come up with a different reason behind the move of two games, this is loud and very clear.
What do you think?