The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 is all set to start. If everything falls in place as per the plan to be outlined the coming week, different stakeholders will be adding the finishing touches to their preparations.
The countdown leading to their arrivals in the Dubai Sports City will begin in almost a month’s time. The state of the art Dubai Sports City has the Dubai International Stadium and the ICC Academy.
The stadium has nine wickets on the top which can successfully sustain the riveting double headers, tentatively scheduled from 19 September 2020 when the first ball of the season will be bowled, to the finals on 8th November 2020 when the curtains for the season will come down.
It also boasts of world-class practice facilities, where the players and the support staff of the eight franchises will be sweating it out in 38 different wickets in the ICC complex alone. This includes two oval grounds and stimulated turf wickets, and if the players feel like beating the heat, they could utilize one of the best indoor facilities in the world.
Many of us who have been fortunate to be in the Sports City before can visualize the feel-good factor, which will be the byproduct of the overall ambience thus created.
What will be the benefits of organizing the Indian Premier League outside the country?
There are some people in Indian sports and the media who have already started questioning the rationale of holding the IPL outside the country. They have started asking what we will be getting out of this. The answer to them is straight and simple.
Firstly, while it would have been ideal to host this edition of the IPL in the country and give kick-start Indian sports, we are in the middle of a pandemic. Different parts of our huge country are likely to face their fair share of crests and troughs in terms of the number of positive coronavirus cases in the coming months.
In such a scenario, going ahead with the IPL season outside the country will definitely improve the balance sheet of Board of Cricket Control in India, which has taken a severe dent in the first half of the year. In the unprecedented situation we are presently facing, the industry needs the IPL more than the IPL needs the industry per se.
Secondly, while all of us want to see our country be a great sporting nation, there are many who are allergic to anyone and everyone who wants to bring in money into Indian sports. Indian sport cannot cross the threshold and be amongst the best, unless and until the sports federations are able to raise resources on their own and are entirely dependent on the government for their finances.
In the strong sporting nations like USA, England, Germany and Australia, the state has been the facilitator in terms of providing a level field and a congenial atmosphere, and pump in more and more money from different stakeholders into sports. In turn, this money has been used to improve the sports infrastructure and get more and more champions for the clubs and the country.
So the way forward is to let the best league of the country move ahead and salvage the situation for the BCCI, and not cripple it further in these challenging times.
Why IPL 2020 is going to be significant in the annals of Indian sporting history?
IPL 2020 will be special for various reasons.
Firstly, in all probability, it will be the most watched tournament ever in the history of the game.
According to the BARC ‘What India Watched 2019’ report, IPL 2019 was watched by 424 million viewers, the highest in the history of the tournament. This number is 51% of the total TV viewing population, and an additional 9% watched the tournament in restaurants, pubs and other locations.
In World Cup 2019, the viewership figures further jumped to 509 million viewers i.e. home and out of home combined. It was the most watched ICC tournament ever.
Don’t be surprised if the IPL 2020 viewership figures considerably improve upon both the IPL 2019 and ICC World Cup 2019's figures, and if the tournament becomes the most-watched in the history of the game.
Those fed and fattened on the consistent dosage of cricket are starved of live action since the pandemic has hit. They would be glued to their television screens once IPL 2020 starts, like never before.
Definitely, the percentage of viewers watching the matches outside home in pubs, bars and restaurants will take a hit. But this will be more than compensated by the sheer size of the huge captive audience who will be confined in their homes because of the fear of pandemic.
In fact, the rights-holder of the event will not only see jumps in their English and Hindi audience base, but are all set to further consolidate their gains in the four independent dedicated language channels in Tamil, Telugu, Bangla and Kannada. With work from home being the new normal, Star’s video streaming service Hotstar could also better its record 300 million viewers in the last season.
Secondly, the telecast of IPL 2020 may see radical innovations in terms of the production. The innovations will primarily be necessitated by the need to rationalize the cost and to reduce the concentration of the manpower nearer to the venue. The rights holder has already explored the possibility of the virtual commentary.
In the 3TC Solidarity Cup at Super Sport Park in Centurion on July 18th, while 24 South African players participated in the one off match involving three teams, Indian commentators turned their respective houses into commentary boxes. The likes of Deep Dasgupta (Kolkata), Sanjay Manjerekar (Mumbai), Irfan Pathan (Baroda) and Jatin Sapru (Delhi) gripped the Indian cricket fans with their take on the match in Hindi.
The entire production team of Star Sports joined in from different cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Mysuru to bring in a unique format of cricket that brightened up the lives of cricket fans.
While the scale of a tournament like the IPL having a high premium on the quality of broadcast would not like to explore this to a similar extent, on account of the unprecedented situation we are in today, will definitely bring into the picture some of them.
Many of these innovations are going to stay in the years to come. Moreover, the charm of tournaments like the IPL and the Big Bash has always been the huge excitement in terms of the restless crowd and the energy brought through the electric commentary and moderation, crowd engagement, on-the-ground activities and presence of the cheerleaders.
With most of the properties missing this time because of the pandemic, the production team, along with the commentators and the event managers, will try to innovate in terms of presentation and packaging to make up for these missing links.
Thirdly and ironically, while IPL 2020 may see all the previous viewership records broken by a fair margin, the advertisers and sponsorship interest would be lukewarm when compared to the previous editions. The challenge will further increase if the number of cases keeps on increasing at the similar pace.
The advertisers have seen their business shrink during the lockdown and are still grappling with poor cash flows. In such a scenario, there may be up to a 25% drop in terms of advertising, team and on-the-ground sponsorship revenue figures. In such a scenario, it will be quite a challenge for the official broadcaster Star Sports to cross last year’s revenue figures of over 2000 crore, leave alone getting to the increased target initially set for this year.
In an event of the scale of IPL, one has to spend around 30 crores just to achieve minimum threshold presence, and not many advertisers are currently in the position to spend that kind of money. However, the online firms across categories such as e-commerce, online gaming and video on demand services amongst others could come up as the only saving grace.
The IPL provides some of the companies the much-required avenue to bounce back, especially considering the fact that the tournament will be coinciding with the long festive season in the country. The franchise will also do well to give more assets to the brands for the already committed sponsorship amounts.
Nevertheless, the challenges in terms of the revenue generation are huge, especially for the title sponsor and the rights holder.
How the industry could gain from the IPL 2020?
Firstly, increased viewership would mean the advertisers getting wider reach and that too at very efficient rates. Nationally established brands and those brands wishing to create a big impact may take advantage of the situation.
Secondly, the unparalleled reach and the impact of the tournament across consumer segments may be the much-required trigger point for some of the brands to go that extra mile, and bring in hope and a renewed sense of normalcy to India at large.
Thirdly, while it’s true that general entertainment channel content providers with their fresh seasons of Big Boss, KBC and Indian Idol will be eyeing to split the viewership dominance of IPL, they are unlikely to be very successful in this venture.
They uniqueness of the IPL lies in its ability to cut across the different genres, and the majority of these shows are genre-specific. The IPL is a great opportunity for the gender and age-neutral products and services, which none of these shows could claim to be.
Fourthly, the coronavirus pandemic has brought about significant changes in terms of our habits, lifestyles and spending patterns. The IPL will be an ideal platform for the companies who are the flag bearers of the products which fit in the new normal.
For instance, insurance companies, apps and services that can deliver custom meals and exercise packages, immunity boasters, health and hygiene products, online delivery sites, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and washing machines, which makes aatmanirbhar at home, are some of the products which come under this category.
Does this mean that the IPL alone can revive the whole industry?
Definitely not. In fact, it will be an utter foolishness to even think so. But IPL 2020 as a platform will certainly give an opportunity to revive the marketing and advertising events.
Like the English Premier League and the other major European football leagues, it will be signal to the varied stakeholders that the event is back. And taken holistically, it will be a signifier of our attempts to come back to life as normal along with its given challenges.
At a much more specific level, will the IPL fix all the woes of Indian sports altogether? Certainly not, but it will give other sports and the sportspersons the much needed hope to start again and get back to life. So rather than opposing IPL 2020 being organized in a foreign country, it is time to accept the situation and support it wholeheartedly.
If in the process, the mindset of some who are allergic to money coming into Indian sports changes, it will be an added bonus.