When Chennai Super Kings’ Suresh Raina slammed Mumbai Indians pacer Jason Behrendorff over point it looked like the ball would sail over the boundary for a six. What he did not account for was Kieron Pollard fielding close to the boundary. The West Indian sprung into the air, stretched to his full height, and caught the ball with his right hand. More graceful was how he got to his feet. He broke his fall by cartwheeling with his left hand, the ball secure in his right,rose up, and thumped his chest. The crowd roared.Close-up shots of Raina as he walked off showed him grimacing many times as if to say: “Bad luck... bad luck...”
The intensity and the quality of cricket in the current season of the Vivo Indian Premier League (IPL) has been nothing short of spectacular. It is little wonder that even after 12 years since the maiden tournament, viewers’ and advertisers’ interest has shown no signs of ebbing.
According to a release by Star India, the official broadcaster of the event, the first two weeks of Vivo IPL 2019, which commenced on March 23, has seen 345 million viewers tune in to the cricketing extravaganza,14% higher than in the same period in 2018.“Television viewership delivered a phenomenal 29.8 million average impressions for the first two weeks, registering a growth of 21%,” the broadcaster’s statement said. Viewership of its video-streaming app Hotstar was 267 million in the first three weeks of the tournament; last year, this figure was 202 million for the whole tournament.
Gautam Thakar, CEO of Star Sports, tells Fortune India that the T20 Cricket league featuring world-class talent has lost none of its attractions for viewers and advertisers. “The current generation has a short attention span and is action-oriented. So T20 as a cricket format works well for them,”says Thakar. “Moreover,irrespective of which city or state one belongs to, all the IPL teams get a lot of mass support across the country since iconic Indian cricketers and exciting new local talent are playing for every team.”
Vinit Karnik, business head of ESP Properties, the entertainment and sports division of GroupM, agrees the IPL is “literally in a league of its own”. “The stakeholders including BCCI [Board of Control for Cricket in India] and the broadcasters [Sony Pictures Networks India aired the IPL for the first 10 seasons before Star India took over] have really upped the game from a marketing communications standpoint,” Karnik says. According to the 2019 edition of ESPN’s annual report on sports marketing in India, the IPL drew central sponsorships worth over ₹600 crore—more than double of what it was in 2017. This includes on-ground sponsorship and title sponsorship
.This could be why Star India expanded the bouquet of channels airing IPL matches and pre-match and post-match content this year.The broadcast is available in seven Indian languages now besides English. Last year this was five. The network is also airing IPL matches and related content on its movie channels such as Star Gold on weekends to draw kids. The strategy appears to be working as the average impressions of the first 17 IPL matches this year on kids aged 2-14 rose 34%.
This year too, the lineup of brands at Star India’s doorstep is long. In addition to the usual TV ad spots, some have devised new ways to imprint themselves on the minds of viewers.For example, viewers may place orders on food delivery app Swiggy through Star India’s Hotstar.
Sameer Nigam, CEO and co-founder of digital payments app PhonePe, says very few public platforms unite Indians the way crickets does and have the mass appeal of the IPL.PhonePe has advertised on the IPL for the first time in 2019 and Isco presenting the on-air broadcast. “I strongly believe that associated with large events over a prolonged period of time on TV in India Is still the best way to build trust among consumers,” says Nigam.“It shows that you are init for the long run and are a sustainable and trustworthy brand.”
According to a report in The Economic Times,Star India is likely to make ₹2,100 crore in ad revenue from the 2019 edition of the IPL, 20%more than what it did in 2018. But considering that Star paid a staggering ₹16,348 crore to air the tournament for five years, can it make money at this rate? Yes, and maybe more, according to a person familiar with Star’s commercial plans.Factoring in syndication and distribution earnings from the cricket league feed to global audiences, Star may make attractive returns on its investment, says the person who declined to be identified.
But 2019 isn’t like any other year for the IPL, whose finale is on May 12. The general election is underway in India and will continue till May 19. Results of the election will be declared on May 23. A big portion of the IPL coincides with the election. Karnik agrees there is a possibility of election coverage drawing away some viewership from match broadcasts, but with the “second-screen economy” catching up fast, many might view the IPL on Hotstar, and watch news on TV.
Thakar isn’t fretting about the election coverage stealing IPL viewers. “Our analysis indicates that, from a viewership standpoint,there are only two election dates that matter—voting day and counting day. So two days in a tournament that has around 60 games don’t matter much,” he says.
This story was originally published in the May 2019 issue of the magazine.