CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Twenty20 leagues around the world have the potential to eclipse international cricket as the shortest format of the game continues to attract new fans, according to multi-team owner Preity Zinta.
The Bollywood actress and businesswoman co-owns the Indian Premier League (IPL) side Kings XI Punjab and has now expanded her cricket empire to include the Stellenbosch Kings in South Africa’s newly-launched T20 Global League.
The Nov. 3-Dec. 16 tournament is the latest on a growing circuit that already includes series in India, Australia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Caribbean.
Zinta believes the growth of these leagues could surpass interest and investment in international cricket.
“The way the format is and the way the leagues are structured, I think in the near future you are going to see league cricket take over,” Zinta told reporters.
“If you look at other sports like football, of course the country sport is there and it is very important, but then it is the league sport that takes over at some point.”
The IPL signed a record five-year TV deal worth $2.55 billion earlier this month, five times more per season than the initial 10-year deal.
Zinta sees this as a sign that the popularity of the format is drawing in non-traditional cricket fans and she expects this trend to continue across all leagues.
”The T20 format is a very adaptable format for the world,“ she said. ”My husband is American and is a baseball fan, but after five years of IPL he is now a cricket fan also. It is a format that is very easily adaptable to different cultures.
”When the IPL was starting in India, a lot of people said, ‘why are you getting into it, it is already the number one sport in the country. It is so saturated, there is no growth, what is going to be different?'.
“But I said, ‘it’s the number one (sport), but I don’t watch it, many women don’t watch it, families don’t watch it. Just the hard-core cricket fans watch it’. We wanted one event that could have everything in it and everybody could watch.”
She says shorter attention spans these days from fans makes T20 cricket a favourite over five-day tests and the 50-over game.
”Content has become hand-held. People have the appetite to watch a T20 game because it is three hours, it’s a lot of action and it’s very athletic. It has evolved into cricket with a lot of entertainment value and speed.
“But there are still a lot more fans we can capture. It is an experience (to be at a game). It is definitely going to catch on more and more, and it has definitely not yet reached where it should be.”
Zinta’s purchase of the T20 Global League team follows that of two other IPL owners.
Actor Shah Rukh Khan, who possesses Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL and Trinbago Knight Riders in the Caribbean, now owns Cape Town Knight Riders in South Africa.
India’s GMR Group, who own the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, have also bought South African side the Jo‘burg Giants.
Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty