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Interview: Sundar Raman (CEO, IPL)

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In an interview, IPL’s CEO Sundar Raman spoke about how technology has really impacted the sport of cricket and how technology and IT has helped making IPL the kind of show that it is. This interaction was published in the Dataquest Magazine.

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DLF IPL has revolutionised the way the Cricket is watched and followed in India and the world

Without doubt, IPL is the biggest sports extravaganza in the globe with a turnover running in some Rs. 7000 crores. But not only as a cricketing innovation, IPL has also been embroiled in a host of controversies. At the very center of it all, is the CEO of DLF IPL, Sundar Raman. He was appointed last year to give a professional touch to the game, prior to this Raman had been associated with the WPP group for over a decade. 

Raman’s biggest challenge came when the game was abruptly shifted to South Africa due to election and political issues in India. It was a logistical nightmare, considering the short time frame. But Raman and his team have done their homework and thanks to investment and knowledge of IT solutions, they were able to ensure that all goes according to plan without a hitch. Caught up with the rigmarole of the upcoming event, Raman took some time out for an exclusive interaction with Dataquest, wherein he talks about how the game has been revolutionised by the 20-over innovation and how technology is helping it make a success. Excerpts.  

In IPL2, what will be the additions over the very successful IPL 1?

The inaugural season of the DLF Indian Premier League was a huge learning for the BCCI and our team. For starters it helped prove that India can sustain a franchise based model in Sports and quite profitably. But perhaps more important was the fact that we were able to help create a model that has helped grow the game at the grassroots level and significantly enhance the infrastructure across India through private participation. Drawing in the crowds through a mix of world-class action on the field and entertainment, were critical elements in the success of the IPL. That aside we made some unique additions to the quality of cricket played through innovations like the MCC Spirit of Cricket Charter, the Purple Cap for the Best Bowler and Orange Cap for the Best Batsmen.

In the second season, we have explored similar opportunities and avenues to create excitement for the fans and help improve the quality of on-field action. The five minute ‘strategy break’ is on such strategic innovation in the sundar-ramanlong line of innovations that the league has pioneered from the start. We did a calculation last year and 100 per cent matches went over an hour beyond their schedule time. It was just one delayed game after another and this inspite of the fact that we had enforced extremely high penalties. What we discovered then was that a majority of the time teams were ready to pay the money because the coaches and captains/players were consulting one another as the playing situations evolved on-field to fine tune their strategies. It is because of this discovery that we attempted to innovate with this new ‘strategy break’ at the end of 10 overs.

That aside we have identified areas of improvement around spectator comfort and the in-stadia experience, which we will rigorously implement in the upcoming Season 2009 in South Africa.

Then there will be the non-stop Cricket and Entertainment Carnival that we have planned throughout South Africa for the coming 36 days. No efforts are being spared to ensure that the fans in India and the Rainbow Nation are privy to a sporting spectacle the likes of which have never been experienced before. Season 2009 will be an expansive and grand celebration of cricket with a dash of Bollywood and local South African flavor added into the mix for good measure. More importantly, we are expecting strong support from our Indian fans, arriving in South Africa, to make their presence felt and display their solidarity towards their favorite teams. We believe that the kind of interest the DLF IPL has generated over the months and days—right from the time it was announced till today—will channelize into stadia’s across South Africa packed to capacities during the league. 

What would you term as the enhancements to the game brought about by IPL. A lot of purists are balk at the comparison made between traditional cricket matches to IPL ones?

The Twenty 20 format is new innovative, action packed and very entertaining, not to mention instantly gratifying as the game is over and done with in all of three hours! This game should by no means be compared with the traditional forms of the game like Test Cricket. After India’s success at the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup in South Africa, the game has undergone a sea change what with LIVE entertainment, bowl outs and what have you! With the DLF IPL we for the first time propagated the “My Team – My City” concept of fans – deviating from the national fan following which worshipped the Men in Blue.

The DLF Indian Premier League has always attempted to improve the quality of cricket played in the league with some unique additions like the MCC Spirit of Cricket Charter, the Purple Cap for the Best Bowler and Orange Cap for the Best Batsmen. The five minute ‘strategy break’ is a similar vein thus another innovative deviation from tradition this year which would see teams get an opportunity to consult and alter strategies after 10 overs to get their acts right. We have also dispensed with the Bowl Out and instead will have a One Over Winner takes all format – to add even more spice to the action! Thus in an essence we at the DLF IPL have always attempted to innovate and revolutionise the way the game is watched and followed in India and indeed the world.

How has technology helped in making IPL an extravaganza? In what ways is the technology being better used in comparison to traditional cricket matches, namely One-Day and Test Matches?

Technology has manifested itself in multiple ways to bring the sport closer to the fan. Be it online Blogs by sportsmen, Video Blogs, Live Online Interactions, to multiple camera angles on the field of play and players etc being miked up for LIVE chats with commentators. Technology has indeed come a long way since we listened to commentary of cricket matches on Radios. The Hawkeye and online Pulse Predicta game are other such amazing technology interfaces which are helping take the game to the next level. The DLF IPL is happy to be using all of this and more to bring the game closer to the viewer.

What is the mandate for the technology behind the IPL, do all the teams have the leeway to chose their own systems and work out their back-end. Is there a person who looks at it from a central manner, is there some sort of commonality of technology between the various teams?

The digital rights for each franchise rest with the franchise owners themselves. We have not put any stipulations of technology and allowed them to chose their own systems.

However, we have fully understood the importance of the internet in helping creating and sustain a global franchise like the DLF IPL and explored avenues to exploit the same right from the very start. Testimony to which was our association with companies like LiveCurrent and Netlinkblue for building an online destination for our fans in the form of the immensely popular www.iplt20.com. This signifies the first ever attempt to create a cricket-related content and commerce destination as the future cricket DestinationHub for cricket fans globally.

With www.IPLT20.Com becoming the official online destination for the DLF Indian Premier League, fans from around the world now have access to the entire season starting April 10. The site offer access to official league content including audio-visual, photographs, live scoreboards and summaries, match results, Fantasy Cricket, player interviews, profiles, schedules, statistics, ticketing and fan interaction through polls, contests and newsletters.

The site extends the stadium experience of a cricket match to the worldwide audience of cricket fans at large. The http://www.IPLT20.com website is highly interactive and includes everything a cricket fan would need to get their daily, hourly and minute-by-minute fix.

That aside, we have also taken some steps towards creating a Web 2.0 interface for the IPL working closely with some of the important social media networking sites to create enhanced interactivity for the fans.

Sports like Tennis and F1 always involve the help of external experts for instance like IBM, Accenture, etc. Are you also looking to working with such an expert on an overall level?

Yes, during the inaugural season of the DLF IPL we introduced an innovative online tool called Pulse. This innovation was from the inventors of the Hawk–Eye technology. Pulse is meant to engage the die-hard fans across thsundar-raman1e globe to share their views and enjoy the game with ball by ball updates that can create multiple scenarios predicting the end result of the game. Making the interactivity for the fans that much more interesting – from the inventors of Hawk-Eye, Pulse was launched last year to allow people with access to the internet to contribute and engage with the production. In real time, fans were able to express their opinions on all the keys issues and attempt to predict the outcome of the game based on multiple scenarios.

IPL has also broken new grounds in terms of taking the sport to the public, through use of Web 2.0 technology like interactive portals, youtube channels, etc. Your comment on the same and what lies ahead?

There is no doubt that any technology enabling a cricket follower to get scores faster and more reliably is going to be one of the hottest things in town. The launch of interactive tools on various sites has greatly contributed to the popularity of the game and has brought the game much more closer to the most ardent cricket fans.

Currently desktop clients are the rage as yearning cricket fans are offered numerous options to evaluate the game in the form of live score updates (without the need to click on any refresh buttons), manhattans, graphs, videos and much more on the desktop.

For the first time the DLF IPL is now working closely with some of the important social media networking sites to create enhanced interactivity for the fans. As we move on from here, we are hopeful that online cricket will become that much more intense and personal experience as technology advances.

How the new technical methods used in the game (Hawk’s Eye, Sniko Meter, etc) have benefited Cricket as a whole and big role do they play in tournaments like the IPL?

Technological improvements will continue to flow through the game as the sport progresses. Useful media tools such as Hawk-Eye, Snickometer and, more recently, Hotspot, have garnered in immense support and has been a huge help in directly influence on-field decision-making. Hawk-Eye as we know is the most advanced officiating tool used in cricket and is highly valued for its accuracy, reliability and practicality. The current experimental referrals that have been used in one-day cricket as well as in test are terrific inventions and will see equal measure during the DLF IPL’s Season 2009 in South Africa as the use of hawk-eye, hotspot, snickometer etc. are virtually infallible in validating the ruling made by the on-field umpire by referring it to the TV umpire.

The hotspot technology in particular has proven to be extremely useful, as was seen in the recent South Africa – India series. Hot Spot which is an infra-red imaging system was effectively used during the matches to check whether the ball struck the batsman, bat or pad and will also see immense popularity in the DLF IPL Season 2009.

Another technology recently developed will help our advertisers and sponsors with Audience Measurement Analytics Limited (aMap). aMap has launched this new variant to their existing tracking technology and the new upgrade with overnight ad monitoring, campaign evaluation and viewership tracking system will offer daily spot ratings, second-by second viewership data, and monitoring non-conventional spots like L-band, Aston bands and pop-ups on television. So technology is indeed going places.

While initially BCCI had been slow to move in the arena of tech driven sports, in fact, they did not even have a functional website before IPL, how has the mother body been affected by the uptake of technology?

The all new official home of Indian cricket on the web at www.bcci.tv now offer fans an enriched digital user experience featuring deferred streaming video and mobile content apart from a live scoreboard available online, official photographs, player interviews, profiles, schedules, statistics and fan interaction and newsletters. All of which should ensure that through one single online destination, Indian cricket fans now have the opportunity to interact with the action. The website will provide all these digital assets to Indian cricket fans globally thanks to Global Cricket Ventures a joint venture between Communicate.com Inc., dba Live Current Media Inc. (OTCBB: CMNN), a media company built around content and commerce destinations and netlinkblue, a multinational provider of end-to-end consulting, technology and outsourcing solutions for IT and business consulting services.

Online and mobile streaming video is fast becoming an increasingly popular medium as video-enabled mobile devices and faster broadband internet speeds enable a “second screen” experience for users to interact with live action any time, from any location that fits their needs. It was thus critical that we offer the discerning Indian cricket fan this unique experience albeit not LIVE. I am happy that this alliance between Global Cricket Ventures and BCCI will further significantly enrich the user experience for the Indian cricket fans around the world with a direct window to the on-field action through generation next technologies.

With the shift of the arena to South Africa, how much of a logistic nightmare was it and how did you cope with it?

The decision to shift the DLF IPL Season 2009 to South Africa was the advent of a huge logistical exercise and honestly speaking we initially believed it would be a massive challenge. However, with the help and co-operation of Cricket South Africa and Mr. Gerald Majola in particular – I must confess that it has proved to be quite easy inspite of the fact that we started from ground zero.

I guess all our preparations to host the league back home in India did pay-off to an extent – as we now look ready to host Season 2009 of the DLF IPL in a weeks time!! Currently we have approximately more than a thousand people working on this tournament and are working with some of the very best vendors in SA to ensure the success of the league.

Among all the teams, which is your favorite website?

My favourite website amongst all is www.IPLT20.com – the league official online destination on the web.

Personally, how has the journey been for you starting from WPP to IPL?

The journey from WPP to IPL has been an exhilarating one. It has been one which I have enjoyed and would simply not trade for anything else in the world!!

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Written by Shashwat D.C.

May 24, 2009 at 3:06 pm

One Response

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  1. Thanks for sharing this interesting interview.

    ipl live

    December 21, 2009 at 10:17 am


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