Plans to create the first global sport alliance were revealed at Lord's with Rajasthan Royals leading the innovation as they joined forces with Hampshire, Cape Cobras and Trinidad and Tobago to form a worldwide Twenty20 brand. The Australian domestic Twenty20 champions, Victoria Bushrangers, are also believed to be close to confirming their participation in the venture.
Shane Warne, captain of the Rajasthan Royals and a former captain of Hampshire and Victoria, was in London to announce the plans alongside Manoj Badale, the London-based businessman who part-owns the IPL franchise, and officials from Hampshire, the Cobras and Trinidad and Tobago.
All of the teams within the deal will henceforth carry the "Royals" monicker, which means that Hampshire Royals (formerly Hawks) will be treading on the toes of their Twenty20 Cup rivals, Worcestershire Royals. The two counties are understood to have already been in discussions.
"This is a major innovation in world sport, and it represents a great opportunity for the clubs," Badale said, "but also an opportunity for fans and sponsors to be part of something totally unique and exciting. The response that we have had from fans overseas over the past two seasons has convinced us to expand our ambition."
The four other domestic teams involved in the tie-up will now play under the Royals name in their respective Twenty20 tournaments and the aim is to grow the brand around the world to give them almost year-round coverage. For the players it could create the chance to ply their trade in the other domestic competitions and opens up the option of talent-sharing between sides.
The concept is still in the planning stage, and the finer details are yet to be firmed up, including Victoria's participation. But Badale confirmed that the intention would ultimately be to roll out the brand to other existing Twenty20 markets in New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
"I'm so excited by this," Warne said. "It would be nice to be 20 years younger. I am delighted to be part of this new innovation, and I am excited by what we can achieve, given what we have already achieved. Yet again, the Royals are leading the way. It is bonus that clubs with which I have such deep affection are so involved."
Organisers said they were looking to stage the first Royals 2020 "festival" in July during a window in the English season, with Lord's - the venue for the launch - a possible base. Matches in either Australia or South Africa during the Christmas holiday period would then follow in December, with a third tournament earmarked for the Middle East or Jaipur in early 2011. This prospect will invariably lead to more concerns about player burn-out, amid overcrowded schedules.
"I think at international level there's no doubt that they've got scheduling problems," said Sean Morris, the chief executive of Rajasthan. "But I think that Twenty cricket is becoming more and more important to the international player. He plays very little of it at the moment, and we want to fit alongside the domestic calendars. There are one or two windows in that, and we don't want to conflict and compete with them."
"When we talk of festivals, it's about the fun aspect, the enjoyment of Twenty20 cricket," said Warne. "As far as the cricket goes, if I'm bowling to Dimitri Mascarenhas and he's playing for Hampshire, I promise you it will be competitive. These will be competitive games that are fun to watch, with a festival atmosphere. Whether it's with cheerleaders, fireworks or music, it's all about the fans having fun."
"The opportunity to be part of a global brand is a unique one across all sports," added Morris. "And it will enable us to take advantage of the changing landscape in cricket, not least in the areas of marketing and talent development."
"There are plenty potential pitfalls," said Badale. "Firstly, we are going to have to ensure we don't fall outside the regulations of the domestic leagues and the cricket boards. Secondly, we have to try not to do too much too quickly. People keep asking us "What is it?" "It's" pretty simple. We're going to have the same kit, over time we're going to have the same name, and we're going to play each other a couple times a year. There are risks, but business is all about risk and return."