April 2008 was an interesting time. The world's economy was imploding. A young Senator Barack Obama battled Washington heavyweight and former first lady Hilary Clinton in the Democratic primary and Tata Motors had acquired Jaguar and Land Rover a month before.
There was also 18 April 2008. Not a date that most of us would remember, but history will note it as the most significant date in Indian sports. It was the day of the first match of the Indian Premier League.
Blasphemous statement? Not even close. It is truer than you can imagine.
As it approaches its tenth birthday the impact of the IPL in its short run has been astounding.
The IPL inspired two badminton leagues, a tennis league, a football league, a golf league, a hockey league, a futsal league, a wrestling league and of course a kabaddi league.
The league has been tainted with many labels and criticised accordingly. The cheerleaders, parties and the unceremonious ouster of the league's chief architect Lalit Modi. Then there was the ugly match fixing and consequential banning of teams and the league has constantly faced general criticism of the shorter format by antiquated stuffed shirts.
Look beyond these labels, though, and the impact of the now ten-year old league is far reaching.
Prior to the IPL, India was a sports nation with no direction. Sports were played quietly. No one knew anything about any sport other than international Cricket and frankly no one cared. It all changed on 18 April 2008.
The IPL Effect
The IPL Effect begun soon after the first season. With a successful model and money to be made an opportunity arose and the country jumped all over it.
The IPL inspired two badminton leagues, a tennis league, a football league, a golf league, a hockey league, a futsal league, a wrestling league and of course the shining star of them all—a kabaddi league. Other league ideas that have been floated but not yet executed include a snooker/billiard/pool league, an archery league, a squash league, a table tennis league and a bowling league. I have no doubt that I have missed out a few names in the list but you get the drift.
Some of these did not succeed and the jury is still out on others but the IPL Effect started a movement of organised sport that India had never before seen.
The first impact of these leagues was on the athletes. Who can deny how the lives of kabaddi players changed since the inception of the Pro Kabaddi League? In sports like badminton young players are given the opportunity to play against the world's best. The ISL is covered on national TV every evening during the season. In a country where only medicine and engineering were acceptable pathways for the youth, sports and sports-related fields are now seen as viable career options.
The second impact happened in the media, because you can't be successful in sports unless it is on television. If you include HD and non-HD channels there are now 21 sports channels in the country. You may say I am connecting dots that I shouldn't by linking the number of channels to the IPL—but the link is undeniable.
[W]hen organised sport is in place, seasons are defined, players' and owners' associations are strong, the country will look back and realise it all started on 18 April 2008.
Star Sports does not see themselves as a broadcaster but rather the developer of sports in India. They saw the opportunity and have invested in multiple properties to develop various leagues. After seeing the success of their IPL broadcast, Sony followed suit and with a new tie up with ESPN, they will be a driving force in sports development. None of this would have been envisioned had the "league mania" fuelled by the IPL not taken place.
The third and most important impact of course was on the individual sports itself. The investment in every sport that has a league in terms of money, infrastructure, player development, coaching, broadcasting, sponsorship and overall development is record breaking. That for you is the IPL Effect.
Critics will argue that barring the Kabaddi League no other sports league is yet a successful product. But sports development is not for the short-sighted. The English Premier League, which was formerly known as Football League First Division, has been around since 1888. The NFL had its first season in 1920 under the name of the American Professional Football Conference. In a world that is governed by instant gratification, critics are caught in a myopic state of mind.
A sports revolution takes time, patience and multiple failures before an established order can be created; even then, change and improvements never stop. We are a few decades away from reaching there, but we are on our way. Fifty years from now when organised sport is in place, seasons are defined, players' and owners' associations are strong, the country will look back and realise it all started on 18 April 2008.
Happy10th birthday Indian Premier League. We thank you for the IPL Effect.