Lalit Modi, now a pariah in Indian cricket, is regarded as the man who created the multi-billion-dollar Indian Premier League. In this excerpt from The Greatest Game on Earth? The Inside Story of the BCCI, Samanth Subramanian profiles Lalit Modi, the man behind the IPL:
[Lalit] Modi’s belief that he knew best was backed by a seemingly innate feel for business and marketing. “With business processes, he absolutely knows the nitty-gritty, and it’s not something you learn at MBA school. I’d put it down to things he’s learned at his father’s and grandfather’s knees,” said the ESPN executive. “If he’s talking TV rights, he’s bothered enough to find out how much the channel is selling it for, what they’re making as a per-spot rate, affiliate sales. That level of detailed work I don’t see in anybody who sells rights, let alone cricket administrators.” Recalling the $1.026 billion sale of the IPL’s television rights to a Sony-World Sport Group consortium—a deal crafted almost singlehandedly by Modi—Alam Srinivas, a business journalist who once reported upon the byzantine structures of the united Reliance empire, admitted that he had to read the contract three times before he really understood it. Modi wasn’t the first person to monetise Indian cricket; he was, however, the first to reckon its worth in billions of dollars rather than mere millions.
As his ambitions surged, Modi’s impatience got keener; Cherian remembers him as more laid-back in the mid-1990s, without the “sense of constant urgency there is today”. Modi had always wanted decisions made his way, but he also grew less prepared to explain why his way would work best. At a meeting of team owners in Bangkok in October 2008, Modi took the stage to announce that the IPL would be shot in hi-def video the following season. Immediately, recalled the Deccan Chargers official, ripples of discontent spread across the room; teams grumbled at the extra cost, and at how there were really so few hi-def televisions in India. “Modi got back on stage and said: ‘Listen folks, I didn’t ask you whether we should shoot in hi-def, I’m telling you we’re shooting in hi-def.’ With that, he concluded the meeting.”
Charu Sharma, the CEO of the Royal Challengers Bangalore team during the first IPL, referred to Modi’s “Hollywood” style of making decisions: “It would be: ‘Let’s walk while we talk. Somebody wants to do a set of parties around the IPL. You want to do it? This many million? Okay, do it.’ It looks great in the movies, but not so much in real life.” In emergencies—when a tournament had to be moved to another continent, for instance—Sharma admitted that Modi’s rapid decisions helped. “But what’s one of the allegations against him? That he decided everything without consulting the BCCI. That was the problem…”
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