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What exactly happened to the Champions League T20?

Champions League T20
by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

With a Cricinfo report suggesting that the India, England and Australia cricket boards are currently having “active conversations” to bring back Champions League T20, we look back at the journey of the a tournament that was supposed to mimic football’s UEFA Champions League.

It was the dream tournament – star-studded T20 teams from around the world converged in one place to play one competition – but the Champions League T20 ended shortly after it arrived. What exactly happened to the T20 event?

The early days

The conception of the IPL in 2007, a massive interest point and revenue generator, sparked the idea of another league that would involve the best T20 teams in the world. After discussions between the BCCI, CA, CSA and ECB, an eight-team, ten-day competition was announced in June 2008 (soon after the first IPL edition) and was named the Twenty20 Champions League.

With a £2.5m prize money and an inspired idea of having an international contest for domestic teams, the tournament garnered considerable interest ahead of its first season. Two teams each from the four founding bodies were set to participate in the 2008 edition before the Mumbai attacks in India that year postponed the tournament to 2009, which also included teams from Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies (and later Pakistan). With the ICL – a rebel tournament running at the same time – CLT20 organisers, led by the BCCI, barred any players from that competition to enter theirs.

Over the next five seasons, the tournament was held twice in South Africa and thrice in India, with IPL teams Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings winning the tournament twice each. A total of 33 teams (and an additional eight that participated but did not qualify) featured in the annual competition from 2009-2014, with Sydney Sixers and New South Wales also winning one title each. It was a rich intersection of cricketing superstars, and to its credit, it did have quite a few blockbuster clashes too.

So, what happened next?

A combination of factors. Despite being a brilliant concept, the tournament never really kicked off among fans, with TV ratings dipping over the years. The reason behind the lukewarm response was thought to be the participation of lesser-known teams and players, with only a few matches in a season garnering significant interest. With the IPL on every year and the existence of the international calendar, even a separate September window couldn’t reduce the overdose of cricket after a certain point.

As interest dipped, the tournament also suffered commercially. The first title sponsors, Bharti Airtel, initially signed a five-year deal but pulled out after two years in 2011, leaving ESPN Star Sports, the broadcasting partners who paid $1 billion for a 10-year window, scampering for new title sponsors.

The new title sponsors, Nokia, paid a comparatively smaller amount than Bharti Airtel, but also withdrew after a year. They were followed by other mobile handset brands who acted as sponsors – Karbonn Mobiles in 2012, and Oppo in 2014.

With interest not obviously growing, the Champions League T20 was cancelled in July 2015, just a day after the Indian Supreme Court’s verdict on the IPL betting and spot-fixing scandal announced the suspension of two IPL teams. The 2015 edition – which was supposed to be held in September and October – was also cancelled.

A tournament that was supposed to mimic the UEFA Champions League ended up garnering only feeble interest. While fans witnessed top T20 cricketers play for and against each other in a condensed competition, the tournament will perhaps only be remembered as a superb idea on paper that ended up being a commercial dud.

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