26th May 2017 :
If there is a survey on teams making the maximum impact in the Indian Premier League, the answer would invariably keep Rajasthan Royals on top. The franchise, which won the first edition of the tournament in 2008, has also been considered one of the major talent pools of Indian cricket.
But, caught in the spot-fixing controversy, Royals was out of fray for a couple of years. And as it makes a comeback to the IPL, the focus is back on the franchise again.
In a first-ever interview with the Indian media post the franchise's return, Rajasthan Royals' principal owner Manoj Badale makes it clear that the franchise is all set to bring about a few changes.
Speaking to Sportstar from London, Badale promises an exciting season for the fans. However, the suspense remains over whether the franchise would stick to its previous home base Jaipur or shift to Ahmedabad or Pune.
With the decks cleared for Rajasthan Royals, has the preparation for a comeback in the IPL already begun?
Yes, now that we are in communication with the BCCI. The preparations have begun.
As the franchise gears up for a return, what are the areas that you all are working on?
There are plenty of areas to work on. All stakeholders in the IPL need to remind themselves that we exist because of, and for, the fans. There are still great opportunities to improve the fan experience, both within stadia, and outside of match time. We have been thinking hard about that. Owners are simply shareholders and we are keen to develop greater separation between the shareholders and the professional management of the team - something we pioneered in the early years, but an area in which we need to develop further.
After the fans, the next most important stakeholders are the players and while we have always been a very popular franchise to play for, we can innovate further. Our origins as a franchise pre-date the IPL with our TV show - Cricket Star - which unearthed some great talent and we still have much to do in India to promote participation and include talent from all parts of the country, especially rural areas. We will be restarting this activity soon. Also, we need to renew some of our commercial partnerships and identify brand partners, who have a similarly long-term perspective on building deep fan loyalty. As you can see, there is much to do. There are many examples of successful returns to a league - Juventus being a topical one!
Though it remained a consistent performing side, Rajasthan Royals lost out on the credibility factor during the spot-fixing controversy. Now when it comes back, don't you think it will require a lot of image building as well?
There is no question that we have been a franchise which has attracted more than its fair share of controversy. That said, people forget that most of the controversy has not been created by the franchise, and it is the franchise that has had to bear the consequences. Within cricketing circles and within the IPL, our reputation and image remain excellent. Ultimately, we will be judged by the facts and our actions.
Interacting with scribes a few years back, you had stated that the franchise had unplanned expenses on legal issues, which often affected the coffers. When a new-look Rajasthan Royals returns, how would you like to change that?
Yes, of course (we would like to change that).
Do we see the old players and support staff - Rahul Dravid, Paddy Upton, John Gloster - returning to the side next season?
The return of players is outside of our control, as we will be subject to the rules of the player auction. It is too early to discuss support staff and it would be inappropriate to do so, given that many are currently performing with other franchises.
What about the home venue? Rajasthan Royals has been out of Jaipur for a while and things don't look rosy there either. In that case, will the franchise settle for a new venue, may be in Ahmedabad or Pune?
We have always made it clear that Jaipur is our home ground, but equally we have had to play almost as many 'home' games at other venues. Ahmedabad is a great venue, with a knowledgeable and passionate fan base. Having been out for two years, we are simply keen to play - irrespective of the venue.
But if it moves to a different city, won't the brand value be affected?
Playing at multiple home venues is something we have done in almost every season, so we consider it as an opportunity for brand development, rather than a negative.
Next season, it could be an open auction again. Would that help Royals?
It is imperative that the next iteration of the IPL creates a level playing field for all teams, otherwise the very credibility of the tournament is affected. We simply hope to be treated exactly the same way as every other team.
In the next season, what would Royals' approach be?
While I continue to be the principal owner, I suspect our approach will be similar to the past. We have always sought to recruit the best leadership, whether that be off the field, or on the field. We have always tried to innovate on and off the field - within and outside of India.
And we have always sought to identify and nurture new talent. If you look at the list of young Indian talents in the current tournament, many were introduced by the Royals - Jadeja, Samson, Nair, Hooda, Sran - to name just a few! It would also be nice to bring back the ever youthful Pravin Tambe!
Will there be new people involved in the management or how does it work for the new-look Royals?
New people will mean new ideas and fresh thinking and this has to be embraced as a positive. No one has a monopoly on innovation!