The Indian Premier League is taking aim at football and basketball’s heartlands to attract new audiences and more revenue.
Bolstered by a five-year $2.55-billion (about R30.6-billion) broadcast deal signed last year with Rupert Murdoch’s Star, the IPL is one of the wealthiest leagues in any sport, helping to consolidate India’s dominance of world cricket.
Now IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla is eyeing viewers and earnings at the level of global broadcast giants such as football’s English Premier League (EPL) and America’s National Basketball Association (NBA).
‘We are not able to figure out where it [broadcast rights and sponsorship] will peak… but I think after the EPL, this is the most important league. It can match any league,’ said Shukla in an interview with AFP.
‘In [Indian] cities where we don’t host matches, we organise fan parks where we invite people to watch the match on the big screen. So 20,000-30,000 people are coming to the fan parks. Now we are planning to take it overseas, to places like Dubai, the UK and also America.’
Whether he can entice people out of their pubs and the lounges on cold May nights remains to be seen.
But the rewards could be huge.
The IPL’s 60 games over seven weeks earn about $8.5 million (R102-million) per game in television revenues, just in India.
According to industry figures, each EPL football match earns more than $11 million (R130-million) in the UK, with millions more from foreign broadcast rights.
An average EPL match is watched by more than 12 million people around the world. The 2017 IPL final drew almost 40 million viewers – in a country of 1.25 billion population, according to broadcasting surveys.
Neither can compete with the National Football League (NFL) in the United States, which regularly tops 20 million viewers per match.
Aaron Smith, a professor of sports business at Loughborough University in England, says the IPL is ‘the perfect storm of sporting entertainment with elements of the Champions League (football), professional wrestling, and a touch of Bollywood.’
But he believes the IPL’s ability to sustain India’s financial power will depend on whether ‘notoriously fickle audiences’ stick with Twenty20.
In comparison, Test cricket or the EPL or the NBA ‘command a level of loyalty and meaning unmatched by any other kind of product ever invented,’ said Smith. ‘Their authenticity is sovereign so they do not have to worry about brand fatigue,’ he said.
‘The IPL has to keep energising … audiences with new and novel options and innovations.’