Chartbuster! Tracing the IPL economics and the reasons for success

Be it on-air sales for host broadcaster Sony Pictures Networks India, sponsorship revenues the eight franchises will pull in, or on gate receipts, IPL 10 will set new benchmarks.

Cricket fans enjoy the action between Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad on a giant LED screen at the IPL Fan Park in B. R. Stadium, Guntur in April 2015.   -  T. Vijaya Kumar

How the IPL proved to be a game-changer for Indian cricket!

It would be safe to say that cricket is a religion in India, fervently practised, believed, lived and loved. The Indian Premier league (IPL) which began in 2008 has been a successful property and has gained immense popularity, so much so that a new word Sport-ainment was coined around it. Today it has both evolved and progressed in a myriad of ways, almost unrecognisable from what was expected of it in 2008. It has stormed the collective Indian psyche and has proved to be a true game changer. Sports marketing in India is now referred to as pre- and post-IPL phase.

On top of the Leagues

Live entertainment, fuelled by a growing middle-class populace, internet penetration, and other positives of the IPL has allowed the creation of other sporting leagues. Inspired by the IPL formula, several leagues have emerged over the last half-decade, with varying degrees of consumer and advertiser interest and success. The IPL carried forward the momentum from 2015 and soared even higher, both ratings and revenue wise.

People now look at sports as a year-long activity with serious investments, careers, marketing spends. During 2013-15 eight major leagues were started, these include Indian Super League (soccer), ProKabaddi League, Premier Badminton League and Hockey India League. While some of these events tasted instant success, few fell short of gaining adequate traction amongst viewers, advertisers and broadcasters. ISL and PKL have witnessed a steady rise in the average ratings year on year. But these two, put together, still fall short by a fair margin in comparison to their elder sibling — IPL.

Emergence of a new audience: Fun for the whole family

In 2008, the IPL created mass hysteria in India thanks to its smart strategies, which involved the appointment of regional brand ambassadors and promotions for each franchisee in the competitive spirit of ‘My City My Team’. The tournament amassed a collective audience, which cheered for their respective city/regions and also in the process managed to attract a new breed of fans. It has not been uncommon to see toddlers with their team's acronym painted on their cheeks being bounced on their parents’ laps on television screens. What was it that drew all those millions of people — not the stereotypical male-dominated cricket audience, but grandparents, housewives, college students, career women, retired folk and schoolchildren — many of whom belong to India's working middle-class? From convenience, to the novelty of the IPL experience, and better facilities in the stadiums, many elements have played a part. The viewership of the IPL 2016 season was not male-dominated, with women (41% including rural) and kids comprising a significant portion of the viewership pie.

Fans have a blast in the stands during the IPL final between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on May 29, 2016.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash


IPL leads charge as media spending hits high notes

The key development in 2016, which will increasingly become the norm going forward, was that SPN introduced separate IPL inventory sales for Standard Definition (SD) and High Definition (HD) channels. Riding high on sustained interest in IPL from categories such as Telecom, Auto and E-commerce, Sony had 80+ brands associated with world cricket’s biggest annual property

Rising importance of technology in sports

Technology has gradually made its presence felt through applications across the entire value chain of sports business. Be it to enhance and correct game related decisions or digital media usage by broadcasters to reach out to an increasingly tech-savvy audience, through internet and mobile applications or virtual advertising in LIVE telecast to make brands a part of the on-ground bandwagon virtually.

While purists may label the slew of technologies (e.g. Spider Cam) introduced by the IPL in recent years as ‘unnecessary’, still the tournament has changed the way cricket is being perceived. Ground-breaking technology and high production values are the norm now. The Hawk-Eye, Zing Wicket System, Umpire Cam, and Super Slo-Mo are proof enough that the IPL is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to broadcast high-quality cricket and bring in people who don’t follow the sport. Their target audience are the arm-chair cricket experts or office-goers, who love to analyse and talk about the sport for hours. 

Increasing online consumption

2016 witnessed a massive surge in digital content — being created as well as devoured — in the realm of sports. With smart packaging, lower data charges and growing mobile penetration, broadcasters have found a way to connect with millennials and people on the go via OTT (Over-the-top) platforms, which are predicted to grow at an accelerated rate over the next three years.

M. S. Dhoni looks on as the 'Spider Cam' makes an appearance during an IPL game in 2011. While purists may label the slew of technologies (e.g Spider Cam) introduced by the IPL in recent years as 'unnecessary', still the tournament has changed the way cricket is being perceived.   -  K. Pichumani


Despite India having the lowest average fixed-line internet connection speed in the region, young digital audiences are increasingly favouring online streaming of sports events over watching them on television, as the online option gives them flexibility of time and space. This is being helped by the rapidly increasing smartphone and internet penetration in India.

To cater to this growing trend, several broadcasters have developed the required capabilities through platforms like Hotstar and Sony Liv amongst others. The proof of concept was delivered in 2016 when Hotstar garnered 100 million audience for their LIVE IPL broadcast.

Consistent growth of brand sponsorships

This has been the real game changer. IPL revolutionised cricket and brought in an exponential growth in terms of revenue into the sport. The biggest gainers were the players and the technical support staff, especially the overseas ones. However, the question is: how do 100 plus sponsors, who ride the IPL wave, manage both: to pump in and regain their money? The answer solely lies in one word: value. The sponsor interest and investment in the league was sustained thanks to the consistent value created by the tournament year on year. Also, given the fact that India is a hub for both cricket and entertainment, the value-making potential of the IPL was far too good for the corporates to ignore. It was a win-win situation for everyone: Right holders, players, sponsors and fans. In short, the advent of the IPL was a breath of fresh air for cricket in India and a turning point.


Inspiration for emerging leagues in India

The ‘sports league’ fever in India started back in 2008 with the inauguration of the IPL. Given the fact that most emerging sports in India are modelled around the IPL’s format, it only proves that the tournament has been a huge hit. Apart from a bustling league format, finer nuances like the Playoffs format or the Strategic Timeout concepts have also been successful. It has ensured that the losing teams (in the semi-finals) live to fight another day with the right holders also scoring big in terms of match revenue. Also, considering the fact that India did not have a real club culture like the West, IPL has done really well to build on the local connect. Though the IPL’s format may or may not work for some sports, still a cue can be taken from the professionalism, marketing and advertising involved throughout the season. Keeping IPL as a benchmark, many sports franchisees have sprung up in the past few years attracting more sportspersons, viewership, broadcasters and sponsors into the business of sports in India. Today IPL most certainly is a brand to reckon with, built with finesse and hard work. It is a ready reckoner for emerging leagues to replicate.



According to ESP Properties-SportzPower Report: Sporting Nation in the Making IV, “India’s Money League mopped up Rs. 1020.0 crore or USD150 Million net in ad sales revenues for Sony Pictures Network India, a good 25 percent over 2015’s numbers and IPL team sponsorship grew by 9.5%, riding on the back of 22 new brands that tested the waters with IPL franchises during the season.”

We can’t end this look ahead to 2017 without a shout back to the biggest deal in Indian media and entertainment — the IPL. The 10th anniversary of the BCCI’s golden goose promises to be the biggest ever. “SPN is reportedly quoting spot rates at over Rs. 600,000 for its SD channels while for the HD feed it is Rs. 200,000 a spot.” stated ESP Properties-SportzPower report. Whether it be on-air sales for host broadcaster Sony Pictures Networks India, sponsorship revenues the eight franchises will pull in, or on gate receipts, IPL 10 will set new benchmarks. 

The author is the Business Head, ESP Properties