The Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), a franchise-based T20 tournament involving star players from Bangladesh and abroad, is going to start in three days. One of the teams participating in the tournament is Chattogram Challengers, a franchise founded in 2019.
The team is owned by Delta Sports Ltd, which operates under Akhtar Group, a well-known name in the business sector in Bangladesh.
K. M. Rifatuzzaman, the managing director of Akhtar Group spoke in detail to The Business Standard's (TBS) Shanto Mahmud about Chattogram Challengers, the franchise's current activities, his plans regarding the BPL and his future endeavours.
The Business Standard: You've secured ownership of Chattogram Challengers in the BPL. So how are things going right now?
K. M. Rifatuzzaman: I always look forward to this time of the year when the BPL takes place. It's very intriguing. It's more of a festival, an occasion to celebrate. I always look at what other franchises are doing and what we can do better than them. It's an amazing experience to run a franchise with so many players and team officials.
TBS: You have signed a lot of youngsters this time. How much do you expect from this team? How far can they go in the tournament?
Rifatuzzaman: We have focused on performances rather than the age of the players. You cannot judge a player's performance by his age. We have put a lot of faith in those young players and I am sure they will be able to repay it. In international cricket, you cannot experiment much. As a franchise, we have the freedom to do that. It may be a high-risk option but we can be rewarded as well.
TBS: Why did you get involved with cricket? To be more specific, why did you choose the BPL?
Rifatuzzaman: Why not cricket? Right now the most popular sport in our country is cricket. If you go back a couple of generations, the most popular game back then was football. But we grew up watching cricket and we feel an emotional connection with this sport. Bangladesh's biggest cricketing platform is the BPL. We have plans to get involved with other domestic leagues as well. We will discuss that with the BCB.
TBS: You had to spend BDT 1 crore for the ownership and an additional BDT 4 crores for players' fees. How much money will you require in total to run the franchise?
Rifatuzzaman: The BCB has set a standard amount of expense. But apart from that, we have to spend a lot on players' daily allowance, marketing, merchandise, logistics etc. If you want your team to be the one people follow, then you have to spend BDT 15-20 crores. But it's up to you how much you spend beyond the BCB's standard amount. You can very well follow the BCB's guidelines and run a franchise without spending too much money.
TBS: You are a businessman. How much profit do you expect to extract from here?
Rifatuzzaman: If you look at the international franchises, a huge portion of their money comes from merchandise and they involve their players with other brands and thus generate money. But we don't see that much in Bangladesh. But if we start planning for the next BPL now, involve advertising agencies and show the sponsors a feasible plan, then I think extracting profit is possible.
TBS: What can be the sources of income of the franchises?
Rifatuzzaman: As I said, apart from sponsorships, you can earn from merchandise and involving players with other brands.
TBS: Do you have plans for any activity to keep the franchise and the fan base engaged throughout the year, like a talent hunt?
Rifatuzzaman: Because of Covid-19, there was no BPL in 2020 and 2021. Throughout this period, we kept our fans engaged through our official Facebook page. Yes, we could not do something on the field because of Covid-19, but we were digitally connected. This year, it will further increase. We were the only franchise that was digitally connected with the fans. Franchises have to conduct activities like talent hunt otherwise people will forget us when the BPL is not there.
TBS: You are spending a lot of money to run this team. If you become champions, the prize money is only BDT 1 crore and if you come in second, you will get half the amount. Is the amount sufficient?
Rifatuzzaman: For me, prize money is more of a token of honorarium. If you make a team of BDT five crores, then the prize money of BDT one crore is not bad. But if you spend BDT 15 crores behind the team, then the prize money won't really matter to you. It's up to you really. The prize money is not our main focus because it will hardly give a 10% revenue return. The three-four aspects that I discussed earlier have the potential to give 30-40% revenue return.
TBS: The BPL is a big platform in Bangladesh. Do you see that as a platform or campaign for advertising your brand or company?
Rifatuzzaman: Of course. The youth and cricket-loving people are connected with the BPL. So this is the best way to highlight our logo, our brand. Besides, if we can plan campaigns for the whole year, get celebrities and cricketers to endorse our brands, it will be really beneficial for us. We challenge ourselves to do new things and will hopefully do things that other franchises have not been able to do.
TBS: The BCB is thinking long-term and planning to strike an eight-year deal with owners. Would you like to stay involved with the BPL for a longer period of time?
Rifatuzzaman: We are very positive about that. If the BCB thinks that we are contributing to the growth of the BPL, then we are ready to stay involved. If we get more time, it will be great for us. We were, are and always will be involved with cricket and the BPL.
TBS: In the IPL, the names of most of the teams have not changed yet. But in the BPL, every year the names of the teams change with a change of ownership. Is this a factor that contributes to the lack of popularity of the BPL?
Rifatuzzaman: If a franchise sustains for a long time, a fan base will be established. But if, for example, I cannot make my franchise profitable and back off at the last moment, the fault is completely mine. So it's important to have a clear vision as franchise owners. The franchises that have the potential to continue for a longer period of time should be given priority. I won't say that the change of names of the teams is the main reason. I think it depends on the connectivity of the franchises with fans. New franchisees can also contribute and do well.
TBS: Do you have bigger plans regarding cricket, like setting up an academy?
Rifatuzzaman: We have just started. But we have already taken a few steps like setting up an academy. We have plans for talent hunts as well. If we see a player who has the potential but is training in another academy, we will find him through scouts and help him develop more skills in our academy. We have that in mind. I think the BPL is a huge platform for such players.
TBS: Would you like to tell us about your company in brief?
Rifatuzzaman: My father started this furniture business in 1976. In the eighties, we set up a construction business. Then we set up a few more businesses related to furniture like building materials, furniture materials etc. We introduced lacquer finish in Bangladesh. We established ourselves in the foam industry as well. We launched Bangladesh's first architecture magazine called 'Showcase'. We are involved with Bangla TV in the electronic media. We have a fashion house too. We have set up a furniture academy for its development.
Translated by: AHM Nayeem