'From a business standpoint, IPL 2021 needed more forward planning'

Mohit Burman Dabur

MOHIT BURMAN, vice chairman of the $ 13.8 billion Indian multinational consumer goods company Dabur India Ltd, and at 46%, the largest stakeholder in KPH Dream Cricket Private Limited, the holding company that owns and operates Indian Premier League franchise Punjab Kings, has had his wish fulfilled as far as seeing IPL 2021 "completed". 

The Burman family scion had declared at the beginning of the year that the Punjab Kings' owners had recovered their investments “finally after a decade” and were "thankful to their sponsors and other partners who stood by them". 

Burman has invested in other sports as well, with considerably less success. He owned the Mumbai Magicians franchise that played in the Hockey India League from 2012 to 2014. Burman also put money behind the Pune Pistons franchise in the short lived Indian Badminton League, which lasted all of one season (the 2013 inaugural season). 

Burman's most recent foray into non-cricket sport was in motorsport where he and a consortium of high-profile investors came on board the short-lived X1 Racing League in June 2019. While this was his first league-level investment in sports, it has not been a happy one to say the least.

Speaking exclusively to SportzPower in a wide-ranging interaction on Sunday, May 31, a day after the BCCI confirmed that the remainder of IPL 2021 would be played in the UAE in September-October, Burman offers his view on IPL 2021, investing in international cricket leagues, as well as what it would take to put money behind non-cricket leagues.

Excerpts from the interaction:

What has been your key takeaway from IPL 2021 thus far? 
From a business standpoint, some more forward planning was required.

When IPL 2021 was suspended mid-way, seen from this perch at the time, between the IPL owner BCCI, the franchises, and host broadcaster Disney Star, it had appeared that net net, the teams would have come out of this in a pretty good space financially. Your comment. 
We would like to see the tournament completed and that will give us maximum satisfaction, having whetted the appetite of millions of cricket lovers the world over.

Now that the IPL completion is definitive rather than speculative, and while the bean counters will be crunching the numbers, can you now feel assured that your financial projections for this season will be achieved? 
It is too soon to make any such assessments. Our first priority is to sit down with our partners and ascertain whether their individual positions remain unchanged now that the tournament will complete its innings. I am fairly confident though that most of our partners will stay on. 

SportzPower has commented on this earlier and reports that have come out subsequently back this up. The decision to stick to the original schedule of taking the IPL bandwagon to Covid epicentres Delhi and Ahmedabad was always a recipe for disaster, not just from the safety aspect but the optics as well. More so considering the horrifying scenes that were unfolding in the two cities at the time. Why was there no pushback from the teams on what was clearly a bad judgment call? 
It is the BCCI’s prerogative to plan and decide on the venues and we believe that they do this keeping in mind the best interests of all concerned. As far as Delhi or any other city is concerned, it only got worse as the games progressed.

The fact remains that the BCCI and the IPL management were tone deaf and fell way short in how it delivered the IPL in the middle of a pandemic. But with the season suspended it was up to the individual franchises to stand up and want to be counted in their respective efforts with Covid care and sustenance. Could you offer some thoughts? 
We have actively involved ourselves with the onerous task of helping those affected. To begin with our players and the company have contributed to bringing in oxygen concentrators for free use both to individuals and hospitals. We have also devised a unique method to circulate these machines from one point to the other after it is sanitized so that it is used for the needy to the maximum extent possible.

Hopefully in the coming days, once the oxygen issues are settled, we will try and apply ourselves to help people get vaccinated.

Looking beyond Indian shores, last year KPH Dream Cricket, the holding company that owns and operates Punjab Kings, bought the St Lucia Zouks franchise of the Caribbean Premier League. You must have had some sort of a mission statement set out when the acquisition was made. Could you offer an idea of what that is? 
The IPL platform had given Punjab Kings exposure worldwide, especially in cricket loving nations. This salience had to be exploited and we were exploring opportunities to expand that. The idea was to take the brand forward and our research clearly indicated that CPL and the West Indies players had a lot of following in India. As you can see that some of the star players in IPL are from the Caribbean islands. 
Also the CPL has a lot of credibility and the West Indies cricket board has a stake in it.

So in some ways I must say that was the only option available. Going forward we will devise methods so as to build a symbiotic relationship between teams we acquire and own.

And what has been the report card after season 1 of your journey as a team owner in the CPL? 
We were extremely happy with the output and as you know it garnered the maximum viewership ever since it started 7 years back. In some ways involvement of Punjab Kings added to the interest levels back home and it was evident that our games had a better viewership. So we believe our investments paid off.

While on the subject of investments, I would assume that the ECB's The Hundred, which launches in July, and Times Group-promoted Major League Cricket, which lists Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Paytm founder Shekhar Sharma among its 20+ founding investors, and launches in 2022, would have made approaches for team ownership. Do you see both or either of these properties as being of any interest? And if so, why? 
As of now we can only say, we are waiting and watching. And we will make the right moves once we have a definitive plan.

You have built portfolios in more than one non-cricket franchise based sports property, none of which has been long term. Why was that?  
That question would be better directed at the people running professional leagues in this country. At least one of the leagues we have associated with as franchise owners have run into major disputes between the federation and their commercial partners.  

Wearing the hat (purely hypothetically) of an owner of a franchise based league outside of cricket, what are the bare minimum requirements that I would need to fulfil for my hypothetical tournament to pique your interest?
Clarity on the broadcast partner to begin with. If a broadcast agreement is in place, preferably for a minimum of three years, then we could proceed with examining whether investing in a team makes sense for us.     

Pulling you back into the IPL and Punjab Kings, 2022 will mark 15 years of your ownership in a team that is a part of world cricket's biggest and richest annual cricket jamboree. If you were to pull a highlight reel from the journey thus far, any particular memories that come to mind? 
You said it, when we began the journey we were skeptical if this will be popular, make money etc and look at where it has reached.

I think for any owner, what is paramount is winning the tournament. It was in 2014 that we nearly did that and I think those memories are vivid in my mind. Having said that, every year has had its share of highlights and those are moments that we cherish.