Transcript: Couch Talk with Shoaib Naveed, PSL

Couch Talk 184 (Play)

Guest:  Shoaib Naveed, Project Manager, PSL

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. The guest today is Shoaib Naveed, who is the project manager of the Pakistan Super League – PSL. We discuss his story from being a blogger to running the PSL, the organisational difficulties in conceptualising and organising PSL, and the pros and cons of it and a look at its future amongst other things.

Welcome to the show, Shoaib!

Shoaib Naveed (SN)– Thanks, Subash, thank you so much for having me.

SJ– Thank you so much! It is my pleasure.

First off, congrats on realising a personal dream. Tell us briefly about your journey of becoming PSL’s project manager from a student-blogger that you were?

SN– It is actually quite a long story. When I last came on your podcast, I was blogging for PakPassion and Dawn. This was after I’d worked a little while after graduating from college in the USA. I was working in the US, and I quit that job. I randomly went to Sri Lanka where I kind of sneaked into the press box. That was my first experience of interacting with cricketers live [in 2011]. That was such a great experience that I wanted to pursue the cricket dream further. That led me to New Zealand, where I interned with the New Zealand Cricket Players’ Association. I was also coaching junior cricket in a club in Auckland. From there, I covered the 2011-12 India-Australia series. I was writing and covering for Dawn at that time.

My student loans were piling up. Like a sane person, I decided to take on more student loans and enrolled in a Master’s program at Melbourne, in Griffith University, because the dream was always to do something related to cricket. Specifically – Pakistan cricket, but really, getting into cricket administration. Which is why I chose Australia. After the first semester, I didn’t enjoy the course much and realised that what they were teaching was mostly what the US is doing. When it comes to sports business and sports management, the US is light years ahead of everybody else. Since I had studied there and was living in the US already, I thought why am I studying [in Australia] when I could be getting much better education back home. I transferred the program to Georgetown University [in Washington DC]. This was two and half years ago. That really was my entry into the world of commercial sports and getting experience in franchise sports. I was working for the NFL Players’ Association…

SJ– You get a degree in Sports Management, you interned with the National Football League (NFL) and in the degree, you wrote your thesis, which turned into a position paper for the (Pakistan Cricket Board) PCB in terms of setting up the PSL. Could you talk about the position paper?

SN– Basically, the Master’s program at Georgetown was really a great experience because they had a very strong practical component to it. i was working full time for the NFL Players’ Association and for Monumental Sports Entertainment, which owns both the both the NBA side in Washington – the Washington Wizards and their Ice Hockey side – the Washington Capitals. I worked in the licensing and development department and the sponsorship department. I got a good feel of how the commercial side of things work in American sports. At the same time, we also had to, in the last semester, work on our thesis. Even though I was working in American sports, the dream was always to get into cricket. being a very die-hard Pakistan cricket fan, I chose PSL at that time, because that was a project that at that time had been tried two times and it hadn’t come to fruition. The cricket world has been slowly shifting to franchise sports and T20 leagues. It was a no brainer that Pakistan was a country that should have a league of its own, but for various reasons, it hasn’t been able to so far. Which is why I wrote my position paper. You might have gone through it, it is quite different from what had actually transpired. I would like to believe that the position paper is something the PSL build towards.

SJ– Lets pick up the story from where you make the sales pitch to the PCB about PSL, your vision of it. obviously, it has gone through and transpired to be something else, something different from what you visualised it to be. Can we talk about that – the problems, the things that you had to deal with at first, trying to get your foot into the door at the PCB and convincing them? As we have since in the last few years that the PCB has been around, it is tough handling PCB and the changes within there.

SN– Getting into the PCB was actually not the hard part. I was determined. Once I was doing the thesis, I was determined that I have to work towards this. So, before I had completed the thesis project, I visited Pakistan and met with Mr. Salman Sarwar Butt who eventually became the project director. I’d interviewed Subhan Ahmed, who is the COO. Then, through my Pace Is Pace Yaar (PiPY) friend – I got into touch with Mr. Najam Sethi. I just had phone conversation with him and told him about myself, how I had been working on the project.

SJ– How long ago was this?

SN– This was 2014, August or September. I just had the conversation, telling him that I would be interested in working. I also approached Mr. Shahryar Khan through a mutual friend who was at LUMS, Shahryar Khan also teaches at LUMS. I passed on my thesis project to them. I guess they realised that I have some sort of experience in the field and academic experience on this. They were pretty open to the idea of me coming in, but it was up to me because I was also at that time offered a job at the NFL Players’ Association. So, that was a difficult decision to make. It was a big risk to take.

SJ– One was guaranteed and the other, you never know.

SN– Yeah. It wasn’t like you were guaranteed a job, but it was like “come over and we will see”. NFL, is the NFL. Since graduating from college, to the end of my Master’s program, it had been 5 years and I was working towards this goal of working in cricket and towards Pakistan cricket. The opportunity was knocking, and I took that leap of faith and came to Pakistan. As it turned out, i met with Mr. Sethi and Mr. Shahryar Khan and the people in the PCB working in the marketing department quite quickly as soon as I came to Pakistan. Within weeks, I was working within the PCB.

SJ– Let’s talk about how the nuts and bolts of the PSL itself was set up. First of all, in terms of venues – where you are going to host it. In the position paper, you had suggested half the games in Pakistan and half the games in the UAE…

SN– Before that I would like to touch upon why the PSL had not come to fruition beforehand. It is not like the people within the PCB are at fault as the international cricket has not been in Pakistan for a long time. There is a natural development that has taken place in places like India. It is not just the players that suffer, but the whole industry – when cricket is not taking place. How to manage mega events – there are so many aspects. PCB is very strong when it comes to cricket operations because they have been holding series and hosting tours, whether it be in Pakistan or UAE, since whenever. Coming up and doing a mega event like the PSL is not something that they have experienced personnel in, which is why there was the hesitancy within the board also at that time. The major thing at that time was that the PCB should outsource the project to more experienced [operator]– which is the model that the Sri Lankan Premier League tried, and failed. The Caribbean Premier League has tried that and has been working for them, or at least till now. PCB wanted to do something similar. In my mind I was pretty set, and others like Mr. Salmat Sarwar Butt and and our marketing team Naila Bhatti– we had a strong sense that we should do this ourselves, because this is what is going to benefit Pakistan cricket more, if we do it ourselves, in the long term.

Just outsourcing it to a third party to run the whole thing might be easier, the short cut, but it wouldn’t serve the larger purpose – not just the commercial game but the growth of cricket as a business in this country and the grass root development that would eventually come in 5-10 years down the line. For all those aspects, it was important that the PCB did this tournament themselves. By that, I don’t mean everything is done by the PCB, you have to hire specific people -which is what we did eventually- to do the job, and other consultants were brought in and the management committee were brought in. The core team should be something that the PCB is running from the within instead of handing the rights to somebody else.

I’d like to credit Mr. Sethi here, because he was fine both ways. It took a bit of convincing but we brought on a pretty reputed company in Repucom to serve as global consultants on the project and they’ve worked with leagues across the world.

SJ– What was the timeline on this?

SN– When I came in, it was November 2014, when I joined PCB. January 2015 is when the PCB formed the committee to decide who to outsource the league to, which is not something I was in favour of. Certain meetings took place with Mr. Shahryar Khan and Mr. Butt, Mr. Sethi and all. The conversation started, to judge whether outsourcing was the best thing. I kept on pushing that we should reconsider it.

SJ– While this is going on, the main aspect of the league itself, is whether you were going to host all the games in Pakistan or all the games in the UAE, which you did eventually, or a split up of games. When was this decision made, what went into the decision making?

SN– There was a lot of to and fro on this. The first time, when the PSL was tried first – this was in 2011/12, and in 2012 when the project was trying to get launched – the PCB decided to keep it completely local. The thing was that the foreign players were extremely hesitant. By hesitant, they didn’t want to come at all. People don’t know this, and maybe we haven’t done great job of conveying. At that time, and also currently, we tried our best to get the foreign players to Pakistan. But none of the foreign players were even willing to play a single game in PAkistan. That has changed after this edition of PSL. Even when I talked to the players, or the commentators, there is this change in the mindset, where they might come for a game or two. But, no foreign player, no big star, would have meant that PSL would’ve been just like a Faisal Bank T20 tournament, something of that nature that is already going on.

SJ– You already have a domestic T20 competition, and if you are going to have a super league, it has to be much beyond that and you may need international player participation. Since they were not interested in playing a game in Pakistan, as you said, did that mean that the decision was made for you that you had to go outside of Pakistan to host the PSL?

SN– At the end of the day, as much as anything, the PSL and leagues like this are commercial products. It comes down to the financial model, and for it to make sense financially for the board because that is what the aim is, apart from all the other things that come with it. The broadcasters and the sponsors and all that money that comes in – they are not willing to open up their purses to the same extent just for the Pakistani players. It is actually the Chris Gayles, the Shane Watsons, the Kevin Pietersens that make the broadcasters and the sponsors go “This is a project worth supporting” and open their purses. The PCB will stand to gain financially, if not in the first, surely in the second or third editions. That is something that was of primary importance, which is why the foreign players were such a key aspect of it. As the timeline goes, you first try and convince foreign players to come to Pakistan.

Also, you have to convince your own security within Pakistan and all the agencies that we are capable of doing something like this. We had hosted Zimbabwe, and I was a part of the Zimbabwe tour as well when that took place – that was a massive exercise. The security that was given to Zimbabwe was mind blowing, insane. Lahore was shut down for a week, the main artery, that is where the Gadaffi Stadium is. That is one of the major city in the country, you can’t afford to do that for a month long tournament. The amount of money that goes into that sort of security is insane. Financially, it is not possible to sustain for the PCB. These are all factors that come into play. At that time, given the risk involved and the amount of coordination for how expansive an exercise the security for Zimbabwe was, the security agencies at that time were like, “Maybe we should reconsider doing the PSL in Pakistan for the first year.” There is always the risk.

Already one of the major problem with the PSL was that the brand you were building was from zero, you had to start from the negative, through zero and then taking into positive territory because it had failed twice. If you had held the tournament in Pakistan and God forbid something had happened, or in its build-up, that would mean the entire tournament again gets cancelled. That is not a risk the PCB could have taken or that the Pakistan cricket could have taken. You have come so close and then get the whole tournament closed because some incident that you have no control over took place and you are basically hurting the entire brand and burying it for eternity. All these factors play a huge role in it. At the end of the day, the league will reach its true potential when it comes to Pakistan. We are seeing the security situation improving over the past year, year and a half. it has become much better than it was before, the Zimbabwe tour was a testament to that. The interaction of the international players with our local players and how the PSL team have talked to the commentators during this tournament – there is this sense that it belongs in Pakistan and are willing to explore the option next year or the third year onwards.

SJ– There has been a proof of concept in two ways. One, PCB is able to hold a franchise based T20 competition, even though it was held in the UAE. Two, you could hold international players and matches with the Zimbabwe tour. You have to marry the two things. You will have to see whether it is financially viable to spend so much on the security and risking the future of not just PSL but the future of Pakistan cricket. I understand the players have said, but the players have expressed interest. The proof will be in the pudding, when you are moving to the goal. We will cross the bridge when we get there.

SN– A major factor now are the franchises. It is not just the PCB who are going to make the decision. There are these 5 big commercial entities that are now attached to the league and the sport in Pakistan. That, in the long run, is going to help. The interaction of the franchises and how they have been able to build themselves in just a matter of months is just amazing. They built their own relationships with their players, maybe they can do a better job with the PCB. The PCB has done a decent job with how they handled the international players. It was a major concern for us, about how the player payments were handled in the other leagues. We didn’t want any of those issues to come in the PSL, because that damages the brand. That is something that we kept in mind. If we keep the players happy, and we can be sure that the security situation improves, if we see more international tours taking place in Pakistan, which is a possibility in this year itself. There are talks going on that other teams might come. I don’t know if final decisions are being made on this, but a lot of talks are going on. It is marrying those two – we have got the foreign players, we have got Zimbabwe to tour as well. You know that you can hold this event. As soon as you can bring it back, the better it is for the league and for Pakistan cricket in general.

SJ– Of course.

Let’s talk about the league itself. You made the basic ground work – we are going to have this league, we are going to have 5 franchises, and it is going to be held in the UAE, etc. What were the problems that you had to deal with as a project manager? First, the scepticism within the board itself – they haven’t held a major event like this, as you mentioned. Two, within the Pakistani media itself.

The scepticism, it is probably healthy and may be unwarranted sometimes. Let’s talk about that.

SN– The scepticism with the board, I wouldn’t say it was unwarranted or wasn’t justified. You tried to launch this product twice and you failed. Now that I have gone through that entire journey – at the beginning if you asked me when I had freshly joined the PCB, I would have told you “Oh, no, they are making the wrong decision.” Having worked through the hurdles, and what complications have come through, you need some crazy people to work on the team to get this thing through. There were strong points about the PCB which they have handled extremely well. There were points that they were lacking in which were supplemented by the PSL T20 team – they were extremely strong in logistics and operational work, all the cricket related aspects to it because they have the experience. The PSL T20 team was able to supplement it in terms of the commercials, whatever the marketing that we were allowed to do given the restraints and cautious nature that were required, because at the end of the day we were a board that were not holding games at home, we were not playing India, there are legitimate financial concerns to keep the board afloat and in a profit – which was why you can’t go crazy with your spending for such a tournament. Plus, there is this massive scepticism around the league, and it’s a general thing within the country with anything new. Plus, it being a semi-government organisation, it is resistant to change. This massive negativity around anything that is new and trying to reach for something big was being engulfed with “That is not possible, what are you trying to do?”

The media, it kind of spurred you on, honestly, because the level and quality of sports media coverage is very low to put it harshly, in Pakistan, especially the electronic and TV media that covers sports. You had to block that off and use that as a spurring trigger to work harder and to achieve that goal. You said that you would do this league and the PSL team had to deliver. We worked day and night, for 24 hours a day for the past 6 months. It was a heck of a ride for the whole team. We eventually pulled through, and that is the most rewarding this for us.

SJ– Absolutely.

When it happened, the final was a sight to behold. You can see the benefits in terms of the players mingling with international superstars, current and former players. The (Sir) Vivian Richards story has been written a few times. The positives are many, easy to see. But, there are some criticisms as well. I want you to address that. One of the early criticism was that you are conducting it in Dubai and the Masters Champions League was running parallel to it and they had more visibility. There was an article on Cricinfo as well that highlighted that point. Why wasn’t there more push to make it more visible in Dubai?

SN– Basically, the board of governors of the PCB -when we tried get this project approved- provided a guideline that this should not be a loss making project for the PCB. That is a pretence that we were working on, and the financial model was based around that. That is not like completely unwanted because of the two things I told before – we are not holding tournaments at home, we are not playing India. The board has to toe the line in terms of how much it can spend on marketing. UAE is extremely expensive in terms of getting the marketing campaign out there, like the MCL was doing. We did not care for what the MCL was doing, because to us our product was strong and it was with current cricketers and Pakistan cricketers had been playing in the UAE since the late ‘70s. We have been there, this league has been awaited by the fans since the IPL was launched.

SJ– There are two aspects to the fan thing – one is following as a fan in Pakistan, which whether you are holding it in Pakistan or anywhere in the world, it doesn’t matter, you are going to get that as long as it is a Pakistani product. Second, the people in UAE itself – whom if you are not promoting enough, to people who work 6 days a week, and Dubai Cricket Stadium is not easily accessible. Were there apprehensions of local support?

SN– Absolutely. From the get go, we were never operating under ideal circumstances. When you are PSL operating in the UAE, you are not operating under ideal circumstances. Of course, there was this apprehension that “is anybody going to show up?” It is a city based franchise tournament. Some of the crowds on weekdays have been extremely disappointing, more so than even I would have imagined – and I was sceptical on the crowds on weekdays. The turnouts we got in Sharjah have been beyond my imagination. The finals in Dubai was great –the Peshawar Zalmi vs Quetta Gladiators game was too. That was a testament to the fact that Pakistan cricket is a brand of its own even though it is not built like that. It is just that it has the strength to lure its fans anywhere in the world. Why didn’t we spend that much has to be understood from where the spend comes in when you are creating a brand. The major part of it comes for the broadcasters. The Pakistani sports broadcasting space is not ideal. Even if you look at our deal, we were airing PSL on all of the thee Pakistan sports channels – PTV Sports, TEN Sports and Geo Super – all are local channels, and by leasing it from them and then selling their commercial air time bought from those channels to the media agency. This is an arrangement that I have not seen anywhere in the world, but these are the circumstances that we have to work with because of the broadcasting space not being mature in terms of how it is elsewhere in the USA or India where sports broadcasters are professional and the amount of money that they are able to generate for the sports body is much more.

The BCCI or Team India brand is built by Star Sports, the IPL brand is built by Sony. It is not built by the BCCI. The major spend comes in from the broadcasters and the sponsors, and this is something that is extremely new to Pakistan. Given our broadcasting arrangements, this is not something that is in PCB’s hand, it is a larger battle that needs to be fought in the long term for actual commercial strength to take hold in Pakistan. These are all things that people brush aside and don’t realise when they say “they should have been more exposure in terms of marketing, the PCB should have done more.” The thing is, it is not the governing body’s job to do that. The governing body’s job is to sell the rights to the broadcaster and they and sponsors make the brand.

SJ– Typically it is a broadcaster’s job to promote the league or whatever the product it is, but considering the uniqueness of this situation, you are already holding the PSL in the UAE, that is where I was wondering why…

SN– Whatever the PCB could afford, they spent in terms of marketing. The PCB couldn’t afford much given the circumstances the board is in, and the hope is the PSL will help in terms of that. Once this product has been launched and this first edition has happened and the franchises have come on board, now you can maybe from next year onwards see that you can afford a bit more spend on marketing. The franchises are going to come in. There was so much scepticism around in the league, in the media, the board, it was always a cautious approach. If you are going to end up spending so much and nothing happens, you have completely burnt the whole product again.

SJ– It is a fair thing to be sceptical as well. i understand what you are trying to achieve here, and you should be supported and be appreciative of all the efforts that you are putting in. at the same time, it is not unwarranted scepticism considering that it has failed twice to launch. The ground realities of how things work, not just in Pakistan but in the subcontinent itself, at some human personal level – a lot more safety first approach. It is not that farfetched to think…

SN– I agree with your general point, but the more specific nature of the criticism…if there is some sort of constructive thought-out criticism that you are facing, then you agree with it as well. Some of it was from some thought out quarters, but most of it was blankly just “This league cannot happen, MCL is a much better product.” Stuff like “MCL names are based on star signs, what have the PCB done?” My friend told me that he was watching a show and this was one of the things they were discussing. To me and to most people who are Pakistan fans, PSL is actually a no-brainer that it would be a success, that it would be watched by Pakistani fans. Cricket is a unifying force, it is a cliché but it is in this country. From the ratings that we are seeing, most of the country was tuned in and watching this. That is something that the entire team that was working on had clarity on from the start. If you get the PSL off the ground, it will be watched and enjoyed by the people. You just have to try to work as hard to cover all your bases and given the short amount of time that we had, I am personally surprised that we have been able to pull it off without major hiccup. That is credit to the entire team and the amount of work that we have been able to put in.

SJ– Let me ask you this as well. IPL as a brand, as tournament has been around since 2008. Finally, PSL has launched, and it is almost inevitable that there would be similarities on how the PSL is projected as a product. Why do you want to reinvent the wheel? If there is an existing model that works, you borrow some ideas from it. There were some obvious similarities that one couldn’t overlook. For example, your strategic time out, and even in the broadcasting side where you constantly cut to the owners celebrating in the dug-out and their cushy sofas right by the dug-out, the celebratory quotient, the eliminator for the playoffs, the desi dresses for the commentators, there were a lot of similarities. But still, it is still a Pakistani Super League. How do you walk the tight line where you have an existing model and you want to make it uniquely Pakistani?

SN– I don’t know if I can say borrow, but you can’t help say that a league like this is not just cricket but also entertainment, and that is how you are pitching it to the consumers as well. The shots to the owners and the celebrity interviews are going to happen. It is not something that you say you borrow from the IPL, it would have happened anyway. The commercial strategic time-out, the amount of money that a broadcaster is trying to get… As I told you, our broadcasting deal is extremely complicated, . The bids that we had got were nowhere close to keeping us sustainable from the local broadcasters.

SJ– You have cricket, it is Pakistan cricket – it is a no-brainer that you were going to be successful. Why were you then getting low-balled like that? Any inputs on that? Feel free to share them.

SN– It is just that there is a certain evolutionary process to sports broadcasting that has not occurred in the Pakistani market yet. A lot of that has to do with the state broadcaster and its strong hold on the market. Those sorts of controls have been broken in other markets such as India where the state broadcaster has come away from the market which creates a monopoly, which has subsided. There is thing called the National Broadcasting Act which was passed in 2007 in India which has led to that. It is an evolution that happens in broadcasting space in countries that we are yet to experience. if necessary, I would say that to actually commercialise – not just for PSL, but for sports in general and Pakistan cricket rights as well –

SJ– You need the uniquely Pakistani experience in the entertainment experience.

SN– So, I would have actually made it much more – there were so many improvements you could make that I haven’t spoken about yet. Just getting this organised and getting off the ground, you had to sell the franchises, bring on the sponsors, you had the whole broadcasting case to solve, there was so much. You wanted to assemble the PSL team first of all. You had to get it off the ground with February as the date. Daily, you are working against the target, starting with 6 months to do it. All these things are going to be improved upon now that we have a year more to plan it out. We tried certain things, we tried the truck –

SJ– The milestone truck – which I am a big fan of!

SN– Yeah! It became a huge success with the fans. We did the anda, it wasn’t supposed to be a duck, it was supposed to be an anda. I personally wanted to have more emphasis on music, because that is a very close thing to Pakistan and Pakistani people like a mix of music and cricket, which hopefully we will see from next season onwards. I think that is a natural fit. The franchises did a big job, you can see music taking a prominent position in terms of how the franchises are marketing themselves. Peshawar Zalmi has a whole album out and a lot of the songs are actually good. Lahore has two songs, Quetta has two songs, Islamabad has their own song, so does Karachi. All of them came up with sound tracks and did their own marketing. Kudos to them, I wasn’t expecting the amount of marketing they pulled off in the short time. The franchises were sold in mid-December. They had barely a month and a half to get everything organised. Most of them were just getting the whole cricketing team together, let alone their marketing team.

SJ– There was another mainstream criticism of the tournament itself in the fact that you had 5 franchises and you went through the entire tournament to eliminate one team, at which time the team that missed out – the Karachi Kings – could have went on to the playoffs with a losing record. I understand the product, but there should be a competitive side to things where it should be hard to get to the playoffs.

SN– Why were there 5 teams? You want to start small. The PCB, in the first edition you want to keep it manageable. The teams that were selected made sense in terms of how it was equally divided with each province getting its representation. Anything bigger than this wouldn’t have been able to fit in the time that was there. The time was just February. From Feb 4th to Feb 23rd was just what we had. There was no other sort. There was a battle that was going with the MCL, there was the New Zealand tour that was happening and then the Asia Cup. You just had this short window that you had to fit in. so, 5 teams are playing. We saw this as a final thing. The teams that qualified for the finals were the qualifiers for us. The playoffs are there because you need some amount of games that can give you commercial feasibility.

SJ– I understand that. What I am saying is, basically, you have 80% of the leagues going into the playoffs. In the NBA, for example, around 50% of the teams go into the playoffs.

SN– As per me, it is two teams making to the playoffs, that is how we look at it. If you just do the regular round and the top two qualifiers, the number of games that are happening is not enough for the media agency or the broadcasters is giving you enough money, sponsors are not giving you enough money and that is something that is the key to the financial model of the league.

SJ– My question is this – even if you want to have a certain number of games in the final knockout games, there must be some values to the games before them in the league. You were eliminating one team. Were there other options that you put on the table, where the top team goes to the final, 2 and 3 play each other and the qualifier goes to the finals and the best two teams play a best-of-3? A number of games that you can come up with many solutions, I am asking whether there were other options that were considered.

SN– Yes, there were. There was the regular semi-final option that was considered. Also, where the first team qualified and the 2nd and 3rd teams fight it out. It is just that there was a balance that needed to be brought in in terms of the number of games that were going to be played which made the financial model sustainable and bring that competitive level to it. I think it brought the completive level because we saw it as the first and second team are getting that extra chance where they play each other and go into the final. The eliminator format was the one we saw in the IPL as well. The strength of the league has been the cricket and the fact that were no games that were not competitive or non-consequential. That really helped us out, that was the power of both the format we had and the draft. The draft was extremely key in terms of cricket competitive throughout. The teams were of almost equal standard. You didn’t have the case of Karachi or Lahore being the more expensive teams and they were able to get the better players. It was based on a more equitable model through the drafts.

SJ– The PSL only recently ended, but has there been a talk going in the background about having more franchises, because cities like Lahore and Karachi can support more than one?

SN– There are a lot of other cities who will want a team and have the populations to deserve teams. The thing is, again, commercially, it comes to a point where it makes more sense to build the brand and then be able to derive commercial gain from it by selling those teams at a higher rate. That eventually helps the league and Pakistan cricket because the money is coming back in and then getting divided in the central pool and then goes to the PCB which can be spent on the domestic, first class cricket and on the grass root/ development of the game. But definitely the model right now is to refine what we have for the second year. In the third year, the addition of another team, and another the year after and maybe cap it at 8. But who knows where cricket is going to end?

SJ– That is true!

I want to ask you a couple of questions from our listeners. The first one is form Wahab Mirza – why didn’t you have any broadcasters in India? What was the problem there?

SN– The scepticism in the market against the PSL was so much we suffered a lot in terms of the amount of values that broadcasters were willing to give. There was disbelief in what PSL as a brand could be. The values that were being given by them… Sony was showing the MCL. Star Sports already had too much on their plate. The values given by the broadcasters were something that would have set a poor precedent for the PSL and would have resulted in setting the bar too low.

SJ– So you went in for a short term pain for a long term gain.

SN– Yes, exactly. You have to. And then we made sure that it was available online on Cricket Gateway. So, all of us tried extremely hard.

SJ– Considering the success that the PSL has been this year as a cricket entertainment product, do you see it being broadcast on regular channels in India?

SN– Already the global rights holder is, after the success of the season, has offers for next year onward.

SJ– Finally, a question from Clive (@vanillawallah) – the security situation is obviously out of your – PSL project manager – hands. But, where do you see the league in 4-5 years, where you said about adding more teams? Would you envision a situation where the PSL unfolds according to what you wrote in your thesis?

SN– I have a personal bias towards this, but I would like my thesis to kick in. I think that would make sense as well commercially, where if you spend so much time and effort in building a brand in a foreign country and there is a following for the league and there is a population that is willing to consume it, you should take advantage of it. Don’t think small, think big in terms of this. The PSL could potentially be the second biggest league after the IPL. If it is managed well and if the entire market is able to grow over the years, not just as sports but commercially, then the business will be able to grow, the franchises will be able to help and maybe other sports are going to come in various forms. Other commercial stake holders can grow in the next 4-5 years. If we can sustain 4 teams here and 2 teams abroad, think big and think global. If you spend so much time in building a brand in the UAE, why not make it into a global league? Maybe not just restrict it to just UAE, why not look at other markets like Sri Lanka or Bangladesh or all these other places. It all depends on where cricket goes from here, where the ICC is taking it. We are already seeing certain shifts happening within the ICC, with the Big Three and all that. I am sure you are following them closely. It depends on those things as well.

SJ– Alright. On that note, Shoaib, thank you so much for being on the show! And, hearty congratulations for making your dream come true!

SN– Thank you so much, Subash! The pleasure is all mine!

SJ– Thanks a lot!


Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman