The matches are about to begin amid the razzmatazz that’s now come to be associated with the Indian Premier League (IPL).
But before the first ball is bowled, the owners of the eight teams are all winners. The franchisees should break even before the fun and games begin through the simple expedient of asking the Sony-World Sports Group combine to fork out more for telecast rights. The Rs 720 crore a year the Board of Control for Cricket in India has renegotiated with the television network should see the teams home, despite the higher costs of playing matches in South Africa and the loss of stadium ticket sales. Besides, the pipeline of team sponsorships and merchandising — what the franchisees get to keep for themselves — has been opened up much in advance of last year’s 11th hour.
The chances of Sony, in turn, making money from the IPL this season are clouded by an economic downturn that has frozen advertising budgets across India, notwithstanding the extra airtime inventory created around matches. Sony has the biggest chips riding on the IPL. It is committed to feeding Rs 7,500 crore into the kitty over 10 years, which will be shared by the cricket board and the teams, frontloaded in favour of the franchisees. The teams, however, cannot hope to survive if the broadcaster keeps bleeding. This is tele-cricket, as the face-off with the government over security brought out in stark detail. The tournament can be played without a single spectator in the stands only because it is reaching 70 million Indian satellite television households. None of the ringmasters in Indian cricket’s three-ring circus can afford to take his eye off the caged tiger in the middle.
The departure from the original template for IPL fund-raising is a mixed blessing. An advertisement-driven show can create a larger buzz, for instance by moving the entire caboodle to South Africa overnight, but it cannot come close to generating the hysteria on display in the home stadiums of local teams. This format of cricket needs both. Before it can become a global brand like, say, the English football Premier League, the IPL will have to develop stronger roots at home.
Manchester United did not become what it is today by playing in Spain.