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Bankroll that sticky wicket

This was IPL’s season to make money. Pity it’s harder to come by.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2009 21:30 IST

If the last season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was about proof of concept — cricket as showbiz —

this one will be about proof of delivery. A 5 percentage point drop in advertising revenue growth in 2008 means those edge-of-the-seat moments will be more intense in corporate boardrooms than in the ovals. For Sony-World Sports Group and the eight team owners who have among them bet close to $2 billion (Rs 9,000 crore) on the League, breaking even this year would require around Rs 700 crore of advertising to land up at Indian cricketing’s glitziest circus. This would have been in the realm of the possible in the last three years, when the advertising pie was growing by roughly

Rs 400 crore annually on average. But the ad industry itself reckons billings in 2009 will just about hold on to last year’s Rs 20,000-odd crore. If our national obsession is indeed recession-proof, the $3 million tab for Messrs Flintoff and Pietersen will be picked up somewhere else in the economy.

From initial indications, Mukesh Ambani, Vijay Mallya and Shah Rukh Khan signed up for a three-year break-even when they bid for the IPL franchises last year. Ratcheting up player valuations was also written into the script: decibels, after all, bring in the booty. Well above half the Rs 100 crore each franchisee typically spends in a season has to be made good by team sponsorships. Last year, only Mr Khan’s Knight Riders stayed afloat, buoyed by a raft of the film star’s personally endorsed brands. With a longer gearing time in Season II, the eight team owners will now be looking to wring more out of every advertising rupee. Gate fees and merchandising — what the teams get to keep — will lend themselves to more coordinated attention, as team bosses get wiser with experience.

All to the good for the razzle dazzle. The country’s 70 million cable TV households provide a concentration of eyeballs no advertiser can ignore. Especially when a big chunk of these 350 million people are glued to cricket, in whichever form. The auctions last week in Goa may be a far cry from the £100 million an unheard-of British football club offered Kaka, but then our obsession quotient is climbing steadily.