Shah Rukh Khan might claim he doesn’t have a head for business, but he’s smart enough to delegate. His right-hand man is Venky Mysore, a former insurance executive who is the CEO of Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment and the Knight Riders franchises. Mysore was instrumental in orchestrating the TT transformation from the Red Steel to the Knight Riders in 2015.
“When I took over Kolkata Knight Riders (I) started developing a vision on where we wanted that side of business to go. A big part of my vision was ‘can we globalise the franchise idea with what we already have with KKR in the Indian Premiere League?’” Mysore had told Newsday in a 2015 interview.
Now, ten years since KKR’s establishment, there are two other Knight Rider franchises — the Trinbago Knight Riders playing in the Caribbean Premier League and the Cape Town Knight Riders, who play for the South African Global T20 League.
The Kolkata Knight Riders were formed in 2008, one of the founding teams in the IPL, the first and biggest domestic T20 cricket league in the world. It’s 55 per cent owned by Khan’s Red Chillies and the minority shareholder is Jay Mehta of the Mehta Group, an Indian multinational.
“The idea behind Knight Riders when we started in India was to give more opportunities to kids, giving them a job that pays that also gets you on to becoming a sportsman at a national level,” Khan told Business Day. Khan, who once had ambitions of being a professional sportsman before an injury forced his shift to acting, said despite India’s 1.3 billion population, the country hasn’t really promoted sport to the level it should be. The group started with cricket, but if it gets the chance to expand to other sports, it will take the opportunity.
“I think our franchise is extremely successful in terms of performance. In terms of business we were very successful right from the beginning. We had very good sponsors and Kolkata is as cricket mad as the Caribbean and I think we are fortunate to get opportunities in the Caribbean,” he said.
KKR has won the IPL twice — in 2012 and 2014, while the TKR are defending champions. The team also won in 2015, but as Red Steel, before the name change.
The business in the Caribbean still has some way to go, Khan said — settling television rights, for example — but he is heartened to see that stadiums for CPL are full. It took about three or four years for that to happen in the IPL, he said, so the CPL, which started in 2013, seems right on track.
IPL is one of the biggest sporting properties in the world — the brand value is estimated to be US$5.3 billion. The CPL’s value is unclear — there have been reports that the tournament is still unprofitable, but as a growing commodity, that’s to be expected. The tournament’s organisers did, however, estimate that, at least for Trinidad, the impact on the economy last year was nearly US$24 million.
“It’s important to come to places and do business. The Caribbean has its own amazing charm. The way people do things, the music, the swagger. There is a huge attraction to how West Indians play cricket. I liken it to how Brazil plays football. They’re one of the most attractive teams to watch,” Khan said.
The first knight
There’s a lot more to running a cricket team than just the players and the game though, and for the TKR, the man who makes it work is Paul Skinner, the general manager.
“My role oversees Caribbean operations for TKR, so hotel and flight arrangements, payments, financial obligations to players and partners, and all the general arrangements for the team and their movement throughout the tournament, including staffing — basically the unsexy side of the game,” Skinner told Business Day. TKR has 18 players and nine support staff, including the team coach, the team manager, specialist coaches, physiotherapist and masseuse. Planning for a tournament like the CPL, which is about six weeks long, starts nearly six months before the first ball is bowled.
The franchise makes money from three main sources — ticketing revenue, sponsorship revenue and depending on the league, the franchisee share from central revenue within the league. There’s also merchandise and licensing sales.
Having a team name that spans multiple leagues, though, helps keep top of mind awareness for the brand throughout year, Skinner noted, and is one of the strategies that TKR will leverage for growth.
Asked how profitable was owning a team, as well as putting on a tournament like this, Skinner would only say that it’s a growing league and it's working towards stability. But, he said, it’s extremely expensive to put on games.
There are costs for flights and accommodation, transportation, venue rental, security, ticketing, equipment and staffing costs, Skinner noted.
“For us, its only our third year as TKR, so we are developing that model towards profitability. It’s pretty young. It takes time but it’s a global brand so there are benefits we can leverage,” he said, including learning from KKR’s IPL experience.
Fans are also important — probably the most important. “They are the reason we play. There’s no incentive to maintain a team if there was zero interest in the game and we want to thank them for their support,” Skinner said.
The tournament also has a huge economic impact on the Caribbean, an important boost during a recessionary slump for the region.
“I am not quite sure the quantum, the actual dollar account, but there’s a huge spend — food, hotels, transportation, vendors, staff, tourists — all those things are coming into the economy,” Skinner said. Then there are the intangibles. The matches are broadcast worldwide, so each featured host island gets three hours of media time at minimum to the entire world. Broadcasts showcase the culture and scenery of the islands. For TT, which hosts the final for the second consecutive year in addition to the TKR home matches, that means collectively there’s 20 hours of actual time where TT is featured internationally.
“You can’t pay for that kind of advertising,” Skinner said.