Friday, April 17, 2009

Runs for the money 'Cricketainment'

Rumours are abuzz that Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, George Michael and Snow Patrol have been roped in to up the glamour quotient at today's inaugural ceremony of the Indian Premier League in South Africa.

While we're still not sure if IPL chairman Lalit Modi is to be thanked for this bizarre line-up, it's no surprise that A-list entertainers are being spoken of in the same breath as cricket.

The Rs107.9 billion (Dh8bn) event, which kicks off today in Cape Town, continues to silence critics in its second season as 'cricketainment' reaches fever pitch. Bollywood stars, cheerleaders, multi-million dollar music videos and even a feature film are all heady ingredients that have transformed this gentlemanly game of cricket into a lucrative cash cow with its large spectator turnout.

Once just limited to fans of the sport, IPL's ever-growing glitz and glamour has even witnessed 70-year-old grandmothers hollering with the pom-pom brigade, clad in their favourite team's colours.

"That's the universal appeal of IPL," comes the response from Bollywood actress Preity Zinta, in a chat with Emirates Business. "Even with its mass support, cricket was always a sport for niche audience; these ingredients – as you call it – simply broaden the appeal to a wider fanbase."

Zinta, along with superstar Shah Rukh Khan and actress Juhi Chawla, were pioneering members of the Bollywood brigade that bit into the lion's share at IPL's very first player auction in 2007; many critics accuse them of dolling up cricket, which today stands at the precipice of losing its identity as a noble sport with cash-rich stars such as Celebrity Big Brother winner Shilpa Shetty buying their way into the game.

Zinta is part-owner and brand ambassador of Mohali team Kings XI Punjab, purchased for $76 million (Dh279m) and features star player and captain Yuvraj Singh (bought for $1.06m); while Khan, along with fellow actress Juhi Chawla and husband Jai Mehta, co-own the $75m Kolkata Knight Riders, featuring star player and captain Sourav Ganguly (bought for $1.09m).

Had the two stars simply limited their affairs to the business of sports, the marriage of cricket and entertainment would have taken many more years to give birth to cricketainment. In the buzz leading up to the onset of season one in 2008, both Zinta and Khan put their talents to the test by prancing around in music videos to rope in more ad money, revenue and fans.

While Zinta's was a mediocre effort that featured king of Punjabi pop Daler Mehndi, it was Khan's slick craftsmanship that steered composer duo Vishal-Shekhar's 2 Hot 2 Cool to the top of the album charts. The fact that King Khan, as the media calls him, was seen shaking a hip in his team's black and gold colours had female fans lining up at Knight Riders matches to catch a glimpse of their idol.

Clearly inspired by this moneymaking enterprise, Kingfisher Airlines chief and member of Indian parliament Vijay Mallya roped in Bollywood beauty Katrina Kaif as brand ambassador for his Bangalore Royal Challengers team.