Neutral match venues for expanded IPL? – cricket

With the BCCI announcing plans for an IPL expanded to 10 teams from 8 starting 2022, the league will feature many more matches. States without IPL teams have been requesting the BCCI for some time to allow them to host matches as neutral venues to generate revenue—with an expanded schedule, this may now become a reality. Ahmedabad’s newly reconstructed 1,10,000-capacity Motera stadium is seen as a favourite to be added to the IPL-hosting list, but the city is also tipped to be the home of one of the new IPL franchises. Other cities like Lucknow, Kochi and Visakhapatnam are in contention too.

“Once IPL becomes a 10-team league, franchises must be asked to play two of their home matches at a neutral venue,” Jaydev Shah, president of Saurashtra cricket association (SCA) proposed at the BCCI’s Annual Generam Meeting on Thursday.

“It’s the only way smaller centres who have spent crores on infrastructure get opportunity and experience. We were told the matter will be taken up by the IPL Governing Council,” Shah said.

The idea has many backers. The BCCI had recently raised infrastructure subsidy from R70 to R100 crore. Many state units have taken the offer; some, like the Baroda Cricket Association (BCA) are in the process of building new stadiums.

“We would be very happy if more state bodies get to host the IPL,” said a BCA official who did not wish to be named.

Hosting an IPL match is the most lucrative way to generate revenue in cricket—after the latest revision in staging fees, each state body gets R1 crore per match, R50 lakhs each from the home franchise and the BCCI. The hosts barely have to do anything; franchise operations and marketing teams take care of all arrangements.

Teams though, do not like neutral venues. The leading ones for example, like Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders have gradually built a loyal fan base in their cities and would not want to lose out on gate receipts (no matter who hosts a match, the gate receipts go to the franchises).

“It’s also a case of not wanting to lose out on home advantage of playing on familiar pitches. CSK’s spin to win strategy at home is well known,” said a former IPL official.

“We tried at Delhi Daredevils (DD) by taking matches to Raipur,” said former DC CEO, Hemant Dua. “It can be tried in a 10-team IPL, depending upon the format they decide on. But venues have to be closer to home. Mumbai may not mind travelling to Pune, but you don’t want to go down south, for example.”

But those like Saurashtra’s Shah, a former cricketer himself, reminds that spreading cricket to smaller venues is a mandate before the BCCI. “All the World Cup matches go to the big venues. The IPL matches go to the big venues. It’s necessary that smaller centres where fans are starved of quality cricket get to watch IPL now that we have international grounds in place,” he said.

As many as 20 cities have hosted 13 franchises over IPL’s 13-year history, but neutral venues have previously come into action only because a team’s home base was not available due to extraneous circumstances.

“When Kings X1 Punjab matches were held in Indore (in 2018, because of renovation work at Chandigarh airport), we could not meet the demand for tickets. It worked very well for the franchise,” said a Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association official who did not wish to be named.

Balancing interests of IPL franchises and state units has proved to be a tough task for BCCI; franchises often complain of being left out of the decision making. Recently, when the staging fees were raised and playoff prize money halved, all franchises had written a letter of dissent to the board.

Shifting some games to neutral venues will surely need careful negotiations with the teams.

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