KARACHI: Alarm bells are ringing for the Pakistan Super League. But perhaps not loud enough for the Pakistan Cricket Board, which is still confident about the product it is selling. Analysts and those involved with the PSL, however, are thinking differently.
Until its last edition in January this year, Pakistan’s flagship T20 event was dubbed as the ‘second-best league in the world’ after the Indian Premier League.
Fast forward six months, before the turn of the season, the PSL has two more competitors challenging for the place behind IPL; UAE’s International League T20 and the yet-to-be-named T20 league backed by Cricket South Africa.
While these are just two new T20 leagues on the outside, what makes the competition complicated for the PSL is the fact that nine of the total 12 franchises of both the ILT20 and the CSA league are owned by owners of IPL teams.
“This rules out the PSL as the second-best league in the world at least in terms of money,” a top official of a PSL franchise told Dawn.
The ILT20 is set to offer its best players a whopping USD 450,000 while the CSA league’s recruits will earn up to USD 350,000.
The PSL on the other hand, will manage to pay a maximum compensation of USD 200,000 to the top players of the league.
According to a sports management expert associated with the local cricket industry, what makes it trickier for Pakistan’s flagship cricket event is the scheduling of the leagues in the future cycles.
Following the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup — which runs from October 16 to November 13 — the two-month Australian Big Bash League will kick off from December, after which the Bangladesh Premier League, the ILT20 and the South African League will be held almost simultaneously from mid-January to mid-February.
The PSL runs into action in the last week of February and finds itself sandwiched between the said leagues and the IPL, which is set to be held from March to May.
But PCB chief executive officer Faisal Hasnain believes the PSL can rely on factors other than just money to find itself as a relevant product in the increasingly competitive T20 leagues market.
“Firstly, our objective/vision is for the Pakistan Super League to continue to be a world-class league in its own right without comparisons with any other league,” Faisal told Dawn.
“We don’t look at any league as our competitor because we consider the quality of our cricket and our organizational ability and fan following to be second to none.”
There are fears of the PSL’s dates clashing with the ILT20 and the South African league as it eventually expands to eight teams from the 2025 season. The clash might decrease the PSL’s demand in the international market but may not affect its viewership locally.
“Our partners back our league and players due to their quality and the value that we offer and we are confident that they will remain with us regardless of the emergence of any other league in any part of the world,” Faisal said.
While the PSL “quality” due to the level playing field it is known to maintain batters and bowlers, may well keep it among the top leagues in the world, what cannot be ignored at the moment is the money its competitors are ready to splash on the players.
The placement of the PSL in the cricket calendar also makes it susceptible to losing its importance.
“The talk in the market says the players will look to rejuvenate themselves in the PSL window after the BBL, South Africa league and the ILT20,” the franchise official said.
According to the expert, compared to the UAE and South Africa, Pakistan is not a favorable destination for the players due to the air-tight security arrangements which gave minimum freedom to players to move around or find avenues to entertain themselves while being away from home .
“Players aren’t able to move around freely while in Pakistan and that could become a much bigger challenge now,” he said.
“In comparison, some of these other destinations are very attractive tourist destinations.”
With IPL owners penetrating the franchise T20 industry, recent reports have revealed that they are “open to offering” annual contracts to the most sought after players to tie them up for all the leagues their teams will feature in.
The PCB, according to the sports management expert, should do the same.
“One way to secure the PSL’s interest could be for the PCB to negotiate handsome longer-term contracts with some of the leading international players,” he said.
This could give the players a degree of security and comfort.
“PCB can invest in foreign player recruitment for the overall benefit of the PSL.”
Pakistan’s nose-diving economy triggered by the uncertain political climate and global recession, though, will pose a big challenge for the PCB to make a move as big as that.
While Faisal was confident that PSL’s global following and viewership figures will continue their upward trend and the tournament will earn more especially after securing record sponsorships and broadcast deals last year, the currency that fills the league’s central pool is the Pakistani rupee.
The payments that are made to the top foreign players — including the likes of Alex Hales, Jason Roy and Liam Livingstone — are in dollars, which makes it further complicated for the PSL to convince players to choose it over the other leagues.
In such an environment, ideally, the PCB is expected to take steps to save what it has built along with the main stakeholders — the franchises — in the last eight years.
Representatives of two different franchises expressed severe concerns over what they believed was a lack of urgency by the PCB.
“We’re waiting for PCB to actually sit down and discuss it with us, but it’s not chairman’s priority,” one of them told Dawn. “PCB needs to start contacting and signing players before it’s too late, before every big player signs for another league.”
The last time the PCB called the PSL’s governing council’s meeting was back in September 2021.
“There had been zero engagement by the PCB regarding the issue,” said a representative of the other franchise.
The official said the franchises expected the PCB to invest more in the PSL rather than creating a brand new product in the Pakistan Junior League — a franchise-based T20 tournament for under-19 players.
Faisal said the PCB looks at the PJL from a different lens.
“The Pakistan Junior League is a completely different concept and it is meant for the development of the game and should not necessarily be considered a commercial venture,” he said.
“The event will provide an opportunity for youngsters to showcase their talent and it is a part of the PCB’s pathway program to encourage talent to provide a platform for them to graduate to national level.”
While the sports management expert believed that T20 leagues were “the new reality in cricket that boards need to coexist with” and that the PCB should just accept it, Faisal stressed that international bilateral cricket is here to stay. The ICC’s Future Tours Program cycle for the 2024-2027 period will see T20 leagues take up a major chunk of the cricket calendar while a significant part of it will be occupied by the ICC events. This has raised questions about the future of international bilateral cricket.
“Each format of the game has its unique place within the cricketing structure and has added significantly to the spread of the game both commercially as well as in terms of innovation and this we believe is very good for the game,” said Faisal.
“In fact, we believe that the new fans attracted by the shorter formats of the game will be attracted to the longer formats and therefore bilateral cricket between nations is here to stay.”
Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2022