IPL Trophy(IPL/Twitter)
IPL Trophy(IPL/Twitter)

Star India sports head: IPL ready for expansion, but need to work to ensure viewer interest

  • An extended IPL window would eat into three weeks of India player availability too, and Test cricket could feel the ripple effect.
By Rasesh Mandani
UPDATED ON APR 07, 2021 05:34 PM IST

The Indian Premier League (IPL) starting on Friday is likely to be the last eight-team edition. As BCCI gears up for an expansion of the glitzy T20 tournament, the highly successful home-and-away format (60 matches) will become history.

Entries will soon be invited for two new teams to join up for IPL 2022. Broadcaster Star India, which contributes 80% to the revenue stream and holds the rights till the next edition, fears there could be an erosion in value if the expansion is not thought through. “IPL has reached a scale where it can grow, and it was only a matter of time,” said Sanjog Gupta, Sports head, Star and Disney India. “The watch out though is that a longer league will have a problem in the middle. Fans start dropping off as the tournament starts becoming predictable, before they come back towards the end. With the middle set to become longer with a longer window and more matches, it can potentially lead to erosion in value. The IPL ecosystem—BCCI, the broadcaster and the franchises—need to come together to solve how to ensure retention of interest amongst fans.”

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The last attempt at IPL expansion was in 2011 when two teams were added without an adequate window. Rising Pune Warriors and Kochi Tuskers Kerala came in paying big money but the 74-match league with teams divided in two groups lacked the competitiveness the home-and-away format provides. The following year, Kochi Tuskers was removed, and Pune Warriors fell after IPL 2013.

For those three years (10 and 9-team events), the model of each team playing the other twice to decide the playoffs had to be abandoned. For that format to be retained in a 10-team IPL next year, it would require 94 matches and prolonged availability of overseas players. It could then become a league of two-and-a-half months. This edition runs for 51 days, from Friday to May 30.

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“This is a complex problem which requires solutions at different levels and across facets. There have to be scheduling, format, window, marketing and packaging/product solutions. It’s only with all five solutions in place can you address the eminent problem,” said Gupta. Star pays the Indian board R54.5 crore per IPL match. It will have to factor in 34 more matches if the expansion goes through before 2022.

IMPACT ON TESTS

An extended IPL window would eat into three weeks of India player availability too, and Test cricket could feel the ripple effect. BCCI earns an impressive R60.1 crore per Test, but that’s out of bundled sales of all three formats. If a separate value is not attached to each format, market forces could correct costs in the next rights cycle.

“There are three formats, and each should have a reason to exist. Because at the end of the day the asset is limited, which are the players who can only play a certain number of days in a year. You can’t keep expanding the number of days you can play,” said Gupta.

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“One objective is to deepen the love for the game for the core viewers who Test cricket caters to. The other is to grow the game both in terms of younger and newer fans as well as to new markets in India and away. For that T20 is more suited. There has to be a more strategic outlook to the way cricket is structured to arrive at the ideal mix of how many days of Test, ODI and T20 cricket should be played over a four to eight-year cycle based on where your imperatives lie.”

Interestingly, these conversations come at a time when India are the No.1 Test team, have an exciting set of Test players who beat Australia away in a comeback series for ages and spun a web around England at home. They will be playing the World Test Championship final against New Zealand at Southampton in June.

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“It’s a really interest topic which requires a deep reflection,” Gupta said of the record ratings the England Tests generated. “India-England series was the most watched Test series in the last five years in India. For all practical purposes (it) would suggest there is a resurgence and interest for Test cricket. But the interesting thing is the series before that where India made a remarkable comeback in Australia and was a historic series saw a dip in viewership compared to the last India tour of Australia (2018-19). So, there isn’t a uniform trend here.”

It could be argued that three of the four Australia Tests were being played in different time zones and England series could have benefited from the high of Australia. Gupta says commercial realities are different. “Both in terms of engagement and viewership, a Test match day as compared to a T20 match day is anywhere between 1/8th to 1/10th. You have to find the right mix. While you want to cater to core fans who have a deep love for the game, you also need to devote enough days for the more popular formats so that you don’t miss out on a handshake with the young fans, which you should be looking to do year after year.”

Indian Test cricket, like England and Australia, is better placed. BCCI's commercial rights are secured until 2023. ICC Chairman Greg Barclay though says, “Test cricket has got its legacy and I am a purist, but I do accept that as much as I want to keep it as it is, less and less countries are able to afford that arrangement and are able to play it,” he said in November. “Very few countries can make it work from a financial point of view.”

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