It’s been around for ten years and, while fulfilling one aim of taking cricket – and star players – to Karnataka’s smaller towns, it has also had its brushes with controversy. Here’s a lowdown on the Karnataka Premier League

What is the KPL?

The KPL was the first state-run adaptation of the IPL format, and began in 2009. It was launched by current IPL chairman Brijesh Patel, who was then secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA). It is held in the second half of the year, typically lasts just over two weeks, but has been pushed to three weeks on occasion.

Is it a sanctioned league?

Yes, the KPL is BCCI approved. The league had permission from the BCCI under the condition that all players in the league would be from within Karnataka.

Does KPL have anti-corruption cover?

The BCCI’s anti-corruption unit was authorised to provide cover for the KPL only from the 2019 season. Last year (2018) the ACU officers were present at the KPL only in a supervisory capacity. The KPL had also hired the services of Ravi Sawani, former ICC ACU general manager as well as head of BCCI ACU, to provide the services.

Who participates?

The KPL began with eight teams, all owned as franchises by corporate houses who bid for them – just like in the IPL. For the last two seasons, it has been a seven-team tournament. For three seasons prior to that, an eighth, non-regional team, was included – it was called Rockstars and featured a squad made of actors, models, and insiders from the Kannada film and TV industries. The move was meant to attract local support when the league made a comeback after not being held between 2011-12 and 2013-14.

The money

Corporates had to bid to acquire franchises, and Bangalore Urban (one of the two Bengaluru teams on sale) attracted the highest bid at Rs 7.2 crore (approx. US$ 1 million) at the time. The Mangalore team was sold at Rs 4.2 crore (approx. US$ 610,000) and the other teams went for prices on either side of Rs 3.5 crore (approx. US$ 510,000).

The most expensive players in the first edition of the KPL auction were Robin Uthappa (Rs 3.5 lakh, approx. US$ 5000) and Stuart Binny (Rs 3.2 lakh, approx. US$ 4500). Those peaks have now doubled. Pavan Deshpande was the most expensive player in 2019, going for Rs 7.3 lakh (approx. US$ 10,300), while the highest bid in the tournament’s history was for Abhimanyu Mithun in 2018 – Rs 8.3 lakh (approx. US$ 11,700).

What is the attraction?

As one of the most successful domestic teams in the last decade, Karnataka has produced a number of India players – all of whom play in the KPL. Vinay Kumar, Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Karun Nair, Binny, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, and other popular names all play in this tournament. That makes the KPL a rather unique regional tournament.

What was the USP?

One of the points KSCA had outlined in its vision for the tournament was to take mainstream cricket to “mofussil” centres and open up avenues for players from other parts of the state. Apart from Bengaluru and Mysuru, the two major cities in Karnataka, regions like Mangaluru, Hubli, Bellary, Davangere, Bijapur, Malnad, and Belagavi have had representation in the KPL.

Has it worked?

On the marketing front, it has worked for the intended audience. Games in Mysuru and Hubli attract near-full houses every time the tournament moves to those centres. The tournament is more intensely followed outside of Bengaluru. According to a Broadcast Audience Research Council report quoted by the KPL, the average TV impressions of the league were up at 353.1 million across India during the 2018 edition. In 2017, this number was reported to be at 220.7 million. Star India currently broadcasts it in English and Kannada. Stalwarts like Dean Jones, Brad Hogg, Scott Styris and Brett Lee are part of the KPL’s broadcast.

It has also allowed several young players from outside Bengaluru – Ronit More, J Suchith to name two – establish themselves more emphatically in Karnataka’s pipeline of players. Players like KC Cariappa and Shivil Kaushik earned IPL contracts based on their KPL performances.

Is this the first controversy?

No, and that’s why there was a three-year break in the middle. During the inaugural edition, then RCB captain Anil Kumble and his long-term friend and colleague Javagal Srinath were vocal critics of the corporate model used by the KPL. In their view, the league and its opportunities made sense, but they had reservations about allowing outsiders into Karnataka cricket. Their argument was that the tournament could have been funded by KSCA itself.

Kumble and Srinath took charge of the KSCA in 2010 and they stopped the KPL after the 2010-11 edition. The tournament was revived in 2014 by Brijesh Patel, when he was reinstated as secretary after Kumble and Srinath stood down from their posts.

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