Pakistan’s successful ARY Digital Network CEO and president Salman Iqbal also decided to venture into the world of Twenty20 league cricket when he bought ownership rights for the Karachi Kings franchise from the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in 2015.
In an exclusive interview with pakpassion.net, Salman explained the reasons behind his decision to acquire Karachi Kings, why despite media reports there was a good relationship between the PSL franchise and PCB, the reason behind the departure of Head Coach Mickey Arthur and what new Head Coach Dean Jones brought to the table, Imad Wasim’s choice as Kings’ captain despite the presence of Babar Azam and his plans eventually to invest in The Hundred competition in England.
It’s been five years since you bought the King of Karachi. How do you feel it’s lost for you?
The decision to take the Karachi King and support PSL has been an excellent decision not only for us but for the sake of cricket in Pakistan as well. Quite a lot of players who are now part of the Pakistan team today owe their career advancement to what they have achieved through the PSL route. From a personal point of view, there are several success stories that I am proud of and a good example is Babar Azam who started playing for Islamabad United in 2016 and showed many promises, and then I picked him up for Karachi Raja in 2017 and he remains with us until now. And today, not only is he one of the world-class batsmen by comparison made with the best, but he is also the captain of the T20I and ODI teams which is proof of what this tournament has done for Pakistan and also the role played by the Kings of Karachi in improvement and welfare of the game in Pakistan.
ARY Media Group bought Karachi Kings for US $ 26 million for a period of ten years making it the most expensive PSL franchise (at the time), do you think this is a good acquisition?
I will be completely honest here and say that the decision to buy the Karachi Kings franchise is a decision that comes from the heart and is not really based on some in-depth financial valuation of the business at the time. The fact is that PSL is a new venture at a time when cricket in Pakistan is in enormous trouble with none of the high-quality games being played in Pakistan. You can only talk about the financial aspects of purchasing like this when there are metrics that you can rely on such as money gateways or where you have the hope to attract sponsors for such events. In our case with PSL in 2016, we had little or no knowledge of what to expect in terms of returning from this tournament.
This is similar to having a newborn baby with only the promise of the future and not many others, and we are assigned to raise him and raise him to become a competent young man. I can confidently say today that PSL as a product has grown rapidly, and can be considered one of the top T20 Leagues in the world to which we thank the Almighty. Of course, I will be the first to accept that the first 2 years of our relationship with PSL is a burden on us financially, but we are starting to see some better results from the 3rd year and I am happy to say that this year turned out to be great, but unfortunately the crisis brought to the Coronavirus Pandemic stopped. Overall, it was the 3rd year of PSL that began to show us that Karachi Kings were a big investment in financial matters but given the hype created by the tournament in the first year, we always knew that better times were ahead for us. all.
Sometimes, the media reports that the relationship between the PSL franchise and PCB is a tense relationship, can you elaborate on this?
Let me say this; it is natural that when franchisees sit together in a board meeting, there are some differences of opinion that can cause quarrels. But in such a scenario, this is not a serious problem because the main decision is taken after everyone’s viewpoint is considered. It seems that the media caught the discussion during the initial phase and they were reported as serious disagreements. The fact is that we live in a democratic society and we all have opinions and of course there will not be a 100% agreement between all parties, on all matters. So, for example, this year PSL game scheduling is a problem and Quetta Gladiator and Karachi Kings have made big reservations about it but this problem is resolved and disagreements like that happen when we talk about big events like PSL. In fact, Mr. Ehsan Mani himself stated that hosting PSL in Pakistan was a bigger challenge than the World Cup in 1996 if we consider the size of the event so that people can draw their own conclusions about the efforts needed to make the PSL a success that it has.
While participating in PSL is more a leap of faith for you, are you still disappointed that this is not a lucrative business as you thought it would happen?
There is no doubt that facing the King of Karachi is a leap of trust, but if you look at my investment history, this is quite in line with how I made my business decisions in the past and the driving force for me is mine. strong faith in the Almighty. When we started the ARY TV channel in 2004, there were no other channels in Pakistan aside from PTV and my critics mocked me for the decision. They feel this is crazy and no one will watch other TV channels, especially when Indian TV channels like Sony and Zee rule in Pakistan. We heard similar sentiments about us when we entered the film industry in Pakistan. but we proved them wrong too.
Returning to the PSL topic, the decision to take the franchise is based on the fact that sports after TV are the most watched program in the world and the tournament is expected to go well, and it seems we are not wrong in our judgment. As far as financial returns are concerned, the fact is that all businesses must take some kind of risk in the beginning and it does take time for any effort to reach its true potential. In our case, the fact that our franchise, Karachi Kings, has a TV station that supports it makes it easier to make Kings Karachi popularity faster than other franchises. What also helped us was that Karachi became the largest and most commercial city in Pakistan, never having something so large as their own. But when they got this opportunity, they immediately adopted it as their own and made it perhaps the most loved party in the whole country.
How important is it to return PSL fully to Pakistan?
Bringing PSL as a whole to Pakistan is a challenge we have faced for a very long time and to see it happen this year is an absolute pleasure for all of us. It was organized in the best possible way by PCB where they deserved great credit. Like our Armed Forces and security personnel who have made this happen in such a way that there are almost no problems faced by the franchise at all. To be honest, we don’t feel things will go smoothly but love the game of our security services and all related things so that they help in organizing the tournament perfectly.
What is the experience of playing PSL games in Pakistan?
We played a part of PSL last year in the UAE and while we have a lot of people attending the match in Sharjah, it’s clear that the crowd there supports Pakistani cricket as a whole, rather than a certain side. But as we walked to the National Stadium in Karachi for our first home match against Quetta Gladiators, we felt the true power of home support. The noise on the ground that day was such that we could not hear each other talking on the ground. That’s when I fully understood what it meant to have an advantage in the homeland. The atmosphere is truly extraordinary and all our foreign players who also play in other parts of the world have the same opinion that the feeling of playing in such an atmosphere is something they have never even felt before.
Despite having had a number of big players over the years, Karachi Kings hasn’t reached the PSL final, is that disappointing for you?
Looking at the current season which is still not officially over, I am quite satisfied that we have done very well to reach second place in terms of points behind Multan Sultans. In the history of our participation in this tournament, this is the first time we have reached such a high position. Therefore, we also have to admit that we have played in the knockout stages in the past, so I feel we have done well at PSL every season. This year, I am very confident that we will reach the final and that is possible if the tournament is restarted by PCB. However, looking at how the COVID-19 situation is progressing, this somehow seems impossible.
Do you think six teams are the right number for PSL, or should the tournament look to expand the list to fit other league sizes like IPL?
If we look at the IPL, they have eight teams and the total tournament takes around 50 days which is rather long. In my view, Pakistan is not ready to add more teams to PSL and I say that not only because of the length of the tournament but also because of the fact that our market does not have the financial maturity to handle this scenario. If six teams find it very difficult to survive in financial terms at this time, then the problem will only increase if more teams are added to the mix. And I don’t think we can blindly follow the IPL model as in their case, the biggest part of the revenue is given to the team from which the game is being played, while in PSL all teams share the results for each match. So, for now, in my view, six teams must be sufficient in PSL until a better revenue sharing mechanism is found for all parties.
What is the thinking behind Mickey Arthur’s transfer as coach?
To begin with, Mickey Arthur was not removed from his position but his four-year contract expired. When the contract ends, we choose the changes and Mickey leaves us well and we really appreciate the work he has done for us. Change is an important part of the evolution of any organization and in this regard, we feel that Dean Jones who left Islamabad United at the time was the perfect choice for us and we took the opportunity with both hands.
What did Dean Jones bring to the table at Karachi Kings as Head Coach?
Dean Jones has an outstanding reputation as a top-notch coach who has won 2 PSL titles with Islamabad United in 2016 and 2018. So when the opportunity arose, we immediately brought him because we felt that he was in a unique position as a foreign trainer whose knowledge about the abilities of Pakistani players as well as others, and he hasn’t been disappointed with his debut season with us.
Why is Babar Azam not the captain of the Karachi Kings, considering he is leading the T20I and ODI national teams?
There is no doubt in our minds that Babar Azam is a very good player who continues to excel for the national team, and we have brought him to our team for almost 4 years now where he has made some extraordinary performances for our team and now our vice-captain too. The fact is that in terms of captains for the Kings of Karachi, we really need continuity and that is why we chose to stay with Imad Wasim as the team captain. During the first 3 years, we changed captains at the rate at which a batsman changed his gloves! We have Shoaib Malik, Ravi Bopara, Shahid Afridi, Kumar Sangakkara with Mohammad Amir even being captained on one side. So, the need for some kind of continuity in this matter and we decided to remain and remain with Imad Wasim as captain. We even mentioned this to Babar, and he agreed that this was the right way to move forward.
Do you feel that PSL has the potential to continue and become a better product?
There is no doubt in my mind that PSL is by far the largest and most famous product offered by Pakistan to its own people and the world. And for me, we haven’t seen the true potential of this product and we are all convinced that it can surpass its position as the second best league behind IPL.
What changes are needed for PSL to improve itself in future editions?
I feel that PCB is doing a good job in running PSL but what I want to see is more franchise involvement in decision making for this league. In addition, in line with Ehsan Mani’s desire that PSL must have a ‘home and away’ game, I would like to see franchisees adopt the stadium as their residence. So the Karachi Kings would ideally adopt the National Stadium as their own and so on, but this can only happen once Quetta Gladiator and Peshawar Zalmi can do the same. If this change can be made in the future, the increase in PSL to the best will only be a matter of time.
Are you interested in buying a franchise abroad, like the one in The Hundred, in the future?
Let me say that I would be happy to take stock in the team if that were the case that Hundred allows franchising in the same way as in IPL or PSL. For me, The Hundred is the next big thing, a good choice to have in terms of franchise ownership. In the past, there was a time when I was really interested in buying a franchise on CPL and almost signed a contract but playing time in the Caribbean was a big problem for us. In terms of TV viewing in parts of the cricket world, time zones are an issue and we, therefore, have decided to abandon that opportunity. But England is something special because it is a cricket house and the timing of the game for most viewers around the world would be ideal. I would be very interested in team ownership in The Hundred but at the moment, I don’t believe that options are open to overseas buyers.
to request modification Contact us at Here or [email protected]