It is that time of the year when cricket fans swap the blue Team India jersey for their respective team colours in the Indian Premier League. The money-spinning, much-criticised and much-appreciated league, which will go into its sixth season next month, has reached dizzying heights and has also taken a fall.
Among the very few entities that has witnessed the galvanising effect of the league and faced brickbats too is the World Sport Group (WSG). WSG was instrumental in defining the success of the league, ensuring the broadcast rights were sold for a mind-boggling figure - the prime reason behind the league's cash box. The ten-year television rights were sold for $ 1.026 billion, which was later revised to $ 1.58 billion.
"The key to the formation of the league was the manner in which WSG conceptualised the structure of media rights valuation. This allowed the money from the media rights to support the entire economic system (of the IPL), including the franchises and players," said Venu Nair, President, South Asia, WSG.
Nair, who was present at a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry event, said the IPL had reached a 'point of stable ground', after the seesaw it witnessed over the past few seasons. "Most leagues that start in the world have a small growth. But in the case of the IPL, it was a hockey-stick curve growth and the plateau point came last year," he said.
"There is no magic formula for now to give the IPL a hockey stick-curve growth again. It has reached a comfortable level where it will stabilise and remain for a period. In some cases, the ratings may have gone down but the number of people watching is a lot more," he added.
"People have started expecting too much from the IPL. Expecting it to go up and up is like living in a fool's paradise, it is not going to happen. It has to plateau itself to sustain in the longer run. That is the reality of the IPL," he said, adding that the league could soar further if given a longer window.
"If the IPL becomes a longish league, played only during the evenings, the chances of massive growth are possible. In the English Premier League, the actual matches which are seen are the ones involving big teams --- the derby and weekend matches. But I don't see that kind of window in the cricket calendar, so it is unlikely. We just have to live with what is available."
Still in infancy
The EPL-inspired league, even though a big success, is still in its infancy when compared to the NBA or other football leagues across the world.
The revenue model of foreign leagues gives teams finishing in the top bracket a bigger share of the pie. And Venu is well aware of it. "One way of looking at it is in a collective sense and the other way is to break it down and look at it in small boxes. Are the matches of big teams still being followed? Is there a fan base that is growing? That is the model that needs to be looked at," he said.
However, the model opens up a bigger argument. "Does somebody benefit from a consolidated deal or from a broken-up deal. The smaller teams will want a consolidated deal because they want to run on the back of bigger teams, while the bigger teams will want to do it on their own because they feel they are unfairly targeted," said Nair, who admitted the concept had not been discussed in IPL circles as per his knowledge.
Sundar Raman, the IPL CEO said the divide could happen if a regional player chooses to exploit broadcast opportunities. To monetise the respective local team in its jurisdiction.
However, Nair said, "I think it is at least five years away because of the already existing contracts. But probably after 10 years of the IPL, there will be visibility if someone is re-jigging the model."
Nair is not pondering much over the league's future. He is happy with the way things are flowing. "It should go on as it is," he said.