By Gavin Gibbon
Shaji Ul Mulk's vision for the shortened version does not include rivalling the established IPL - just yet
Shaji Ul Mulk, the billionaire businessman behind the Aldar Properties Abu Dhabi T10 league, hopes one day that his revolutionary format of the game can match the appeal garnered by the hugely popular Indian Premier League (IPL) – but he admitted he is not ready to go head-to-head with the competition just yet.
Now in its fourth year, the relatively new kid on the block, Abu Dhabi T10, has grown exponentially from its beginnings, boasting a global audience of over 200 million, with the league worth upwards of $50m – the owner of Mulk Holdings, Mulk, having invested more than $5m of his own fortune.
However, while the dates for this year’s event have already been announced – November 19 to 28 – these depend heavily on three key outcomes: the date of the 2020 T20 World Cup is slated to take place from October 18 to November 15 in Australia, just four days before the start of Abu Dhabi’s showcase tournament; while no new date has been announced for this year’s IPL, with the UAE even touted as a possible venue.
Mulk told Arabian Business: “If the World T20 is postponed to next year, this is great from our perspective as it opens up the whole calendar and makes international players available. But the IPL is happening, they’ve already announced that it will happen. The dates have not been announced and we’ll have to wait for this.
“Irrespective of whether the IPL is held here or anywhere else in the world, we simply cannot afford to clash with it, from the player registration and the commercial perspective, spectator interest, everything. It would simply dilute our own event.”
By comparison, albeit it has been running since 2008, the brand value of the IPL in 2019 was $6.7billion, according to Duff & Phelps; the 2019 tournament, won by Mumbai Indians in a thrilling finale against Chennai Super Kings, ran up over 330bn minutes of broadcasting time and logged 300m viewers into the streaming service over a span of 44 days.
Mulk and his team behind the eight-team, T10 event, face an anxious wait, with the end of July the cut-off point to cement dates. “For us, to be able to go ahead in November, we need to decide in July,” he said.
Of course, the elephant in the room as far as the viability of this year’s tournament is concerned, is a certain global pandemic – Covid-19 - which has already caused chaos across the sporting calendar, with football matches now played without fans, the Formula One Grand Prix schedule decimated, the Olympics delayed until 2021, and the international cricketing calendar itself, severely curtailed, among a myriad of postponed and cancelled events.
However, as the UAE’s main airlines get set to gradually return to the skies and the country prepares to welcome tourists back, after an extended period of lockdown-enforced movement restrictions, Mulk remains optimistic.
He said: “There’s a high hope that, a couple of months down the line, all that should be, if not back to normal, at least a controllable situation.”
The Indian entrepreneur, always one to keep an eye on any potential business opportunity, even went as far as to suggest there may be some benefits to the tournament as the world slowly gets back to some sort of normality following an unprecedented period of regress.
“Definitely we’re seeing an opportunity, where not much world class cricket is happening and T10 is happening, then the level and quality of the event will go up and up because we’ll have the participation of so many more world class players,” he said.
“From the commercial perspective also we could probably be in a better situation because a lot of the cricket sponsors haven’t had any cricket there so we feel we could be in an advantage there,” he added.
The tournament already boasts international stars such as Dwayne Bravo, Lasith Malinga, Shane Watson, Eoin Morgan, Hashim Amla, Adil Rashid and Yuvraj Singh.
It has come a long way from the initial concept, borne from Mulk watching a game of football with his son.
He explained: “We saw the passion and interaction of the crowd, the intensity of all the human emotions in that short span of time. We were discussing it and asked, why can’t cricket be more like football, just be a 90-minute game? So 90 minutes can only have 10 overs and that’s how the format came to be.”
It has since been adopted across India, Europe and the Caribbean, while at home in Abu Dhabi, last year’s tournament became the largest watched of the events on the UAE’s annual sporting calendar, said Mulk, who owns the trademark registration and the business concept IP on the T10.
Whether the current reigning champions Maratha Arabians will be taking to the field in November this year or on a reserve date in December or January remains to be seen, but Mulk has stressed it is a matter of when and not if the fourth edition of the Aldar Properties Abu Dhabi T10 will go ahead.
He said: “For us it’s not a matter of if we’ll do it, it’s more a matter of when we’ll do it, whether it’s going to be the original date on November 19 or December or January, I think that clarity we’ll hope to receive by the end of July.”