The IPL and the Benefits of Competition

I was gloriously and completely wrong about the IPL, and I couldn’t be happier about being wrong. So happy, in fact, that I can’t stop talking about how wrong I was (see here, here and here). It has been nothing but beneficial for Indian cricket, and I would argue this holds true for world cricket at large.

It’s one thing to say this in 2022 with the benefit of hindsight, and it is quite another to have said it in March 2008! Here’s Amit Varma from what seems like ages ago:

The problem with cricket in most cricket-playing countries, certainly in India, is that the cricket market is what economists call a monopsony. A monopsony is a market in which there is only one buyer for a particular class of goods and services. Until now, a young Indian cricketer who wanted to play at the highest level could only sell his services to the BCCI. If it treated him badly and did not give him his due rewards, he had no other options open to him.

https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/opportunity-choice-and-the-ipl-342143

I’ve quoted from this piece before, and I would strongly urge you to go read it again. I always do this, of course, but the reason I’m doing so in this particular case is because it is always a pleasure to read a piece that uses economic theory to make predictions that turn out to be spot on.

Here’s Ian Chappell in a more recent piece:

Apart from the massive financial boost and enormous increase in fan interest, India’s biggest gain from a highly productive IPL competition has been the huge improvement in playing depth.
About 20 years ago, India’s overseas reputation was an improving one, especially under the captaincy reign of a competitive Sourav Ganguly but the pace of that ascent gradually increased when the IPL began 15 seasons back, in 2008. The quietly thoughtful MS Dhoni – who is still exerting an influence – built on Ganguly’s reputation, which was then improved upon by the highly competitive leadership of Virat Kohli.
The firmly established IPL is now seen as the most important part of India’s enviable depth in international cricket.

https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/ian-chappell-india-have-the-ipl-to-thank-for-their-formidable-international-depth-1313912

But what are the economic factors that have been at play in making the IPL such A Good Thing for cricket in general, and Indian cricket in particular?

Amit listed out the following factors:

  1. The BCCI stopped being a monopsony. Ten(as of this year) franchises bidding for a player, with a reasonably well established feeder system is a very different proposition to depending upon the whims and fancies of a deeply flawed selection system, and the results are there for all to see.
  2. The IPL is a competition that is about the money, and is about the bottom-line, and this is a good thing. Something that I should have known, but was too besotted with my love of test cricket to see. It forces players to be selected on merit, and also dropped on merit, and merit alone.
  3. The ecosystem for spotting, nurturing and promoting talent is only likely to get better over time was his prediction, and see this article about Kumar Kartikeya Singh, and this article about Tilak Varma, published this year on ESPNCricinfo. And if you’re hungry for more, see this on T N Natarajan, and this on Washington Sundar. Sports fans will see the struggle in these stories, but if you think about it from the point of view of an economist, you should credit the IPL for creating the ecosystem that enables the emergence of these players. And indeed, many more to come.

Ian Chappell is making the same points in his write-up as Amit Varma, but for Amit to have done this in 2008, and by using simple economic theory is remarkable. We would do well to absorb the lesson that I think can be learnt from this: don’t be blinded by distractions, and trust in economic theory to work well more often than not.

This is how Amit concluded his piece back then:

Having said that, the IPL could fail, for not every good idea is rewarded with smart execution. Maybe the franchises got carried away and bid too high (game theorists call it “the winner’s curse”). Maybe the games will not get high enough TRPs, as a cricket-loving public deluged with an overdose of cricket finds other ways to entertain itself. If it does flounder, it will be a pity, for its failure will be remembered and used to prevent other such experiments.
On the other hand, if the IPL succeeds, cricket historians may one day write about 2008 as the year that cricket discovered its future.

https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/opportunity-choice-and-the-ipl-342143

It is safe to say that it is the second paragraph that is applicable today, not the first.

And it wouldn’t be the worst idea to learn some of the principles of economics by studying the IPL!

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