How India Made Cricket a Billion-Dollar Business

How India Made Cricket a Billion-Dollar Business

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Cricket, a quiet sport. Pioneered by the British. Measured, considered, timeless.

Just a couple of decades ago, cricket was struggling to attract audiences and its commercial future was very much in doubt. Now, it has the second biggest sporting franchise in the world, bettered only by the NFL. At the center of its success is one country and its record breaking tournament, the Indian Premier League. So there's been a revolution in cricket. Traditionally what used to happen, when English cricket started, cricket in the rest of the world stopped.

Now, such is the glamor of IPL, such are the riches the IPL provides that English cricket has to bow down to India. There are 74 games now in the IPL and each one is valued at over 10 million pounds for one game. There's no way that other formats of the game before could have commanded that sort of financial power or value. The figures that are talked about is that 80% of world cricket's income is provided by India in one form or the other. India currently has a population of 1.4 billion people.

IPL has a viewership of almost 700 million people. Worldwide fanbase for cricket is about two and a half billion people. We are 27% of that total fan base worldwide. So potential to grow this viewership? Immense, massive.

This is the story of how one country became the driving force behind the biggest sporting turnaround of the 21st century. Well, cricket is this unique English game. The English invented most of the sports, but cricket is probably unique in that the two sets of players are doing opposite things. One of them is playing with a bat and the other one is playing with a ball. It's one of those kind of quiet enigmatic sports to describe, I think.

It's the battle between runs, the number of runs you can score versus the number of wickets. And a wicket is when a batter gets out and so it's a contest between runs and wickets. The overall aim of the game is to score more runs than the opposing team. A run is essentially a point and it's given every time a batter runs between the wickets, which is possible after the ball has been bowled. Four runs are given if the batsman hits the ball beyond the boundary of the pitch, with the ball having hit the ground.

A six is given for batters who can clear the boundary without the ball hitting the ground. The fielding team bowls to the batting team. A fielder bowls in sets of six balls, which are called an over.

After each over, the bowler changes. The best way to prevent the batting team from scoring is by getting the batsman out or taking wickets. This can be done in many ways: bowling, catching, or running out. Once 10 of the 11 batsmen are out, their innings finishes and they can't score anymore runs. The same is true if they run out of time, which varies depending on the type of cricket game and is where the most revolution has taken place in recent years.

Its most traditional format is multi-day cricket, so where it's played with a red ball and there are three results possible: win, lose, or draw. So I know people are completely stumped by the fact that you can play a game for five days and still draw at the end of it. Cricket's complicated rules and long playtime meant it struggled to appeal to fans outside Commonwealth countries who had deeply historical ties to the game. Invented in England in the 1600s, cricket arrived in other parts of the globe during the late 17th and 18th centuries via British colonizers. The British took the game to different parts of the world, as they expanded, as they went in search of trade, and then they acquired territories. They didn't tell people you have to play our sport.

They played their sport and the other people, seeing the British play the sport, was attracted by it. While a number of the Commonwealth countries adopted the game as their own, one managed to turn the sport into big business. I think the Indians, who have been given no chance at all, are likely to give a great deal more trouble than many people expect.

When I was a very young boy, that was a long time ago, in the fifties, as a five year old, I was taken in India, in Mumbai, to watch England play India. Mihir Bose, the BBC's first sports news editor, is one of cricket's best known commentators. His most recent book, "Nine Waves: The Extraordinary Story of How India Took Over the Cricket World" traces the country's rise from colonial dependency to global dominance within the sport. The money in cricket came through, and this was worldwide, came through people at the gates buying tickets. When a team came over in England, Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, or whoever, there would be in the cities, what was called test fever. People would want to buy tickets, there would be long queues to get tickets and so on and that was the situation 'til well into the 1990s.

Television had shown its potential in India during the 1982 Asian Games, but it wasn't until the 1990s when domestic viewership reached critical mass that its full potential could be capitalized on. The cricket authorities in India realized television stations were prepared to pay big money. By then, crowds had declined all over the world.

People were watching on television and English cricket and Australian cricket found that when they played India, they could sell their television rights to these Indian television stations for a lot of money. And that is where India, if you like, took over the world game. While the sports original days long format continued to have an appeal with longstanding fans, cricket struggled to entice new, younger audiences. This pressure only intensified as the unparalleled popularity of mega franchises like the NFL and the EPL continued to proliferate. In an attempt to reinvigorate the sport, a variety of shorter formats with fewer overs were created.

England, finding audiences were not coming to cricket, spectators were not coming to cricket, devised a new format of the game where only 20 overs were bowled by each side. You know, shorten the game because then you could play the game in an English summer, start at one or two o'clock, play 'til about seven o'clock, eight o'clock, and somebody could finish their work at five and just pop in for two or three hours. That was the idea. England's 20 over format, also known as T20 or 20-20, launched its first professional tournaments in 2003.

The shorter format made it a much better fit for broadcasters. Sky Sports televised eight group matches and the entirety of finals day live. England's T20 World Cup was a success domestically and had proved the potential of a more explosive version of the game. But it would take a total disruption in 2008 to change the course of cricket.

And that disruptor came in the form of the Indian Premier League. No matter which times on your end, over the next 51 days, it's only one time. And that is to celebrate cricket's biggest festival.

Welcome to the Vivo Indian Premier League. They made it into a spectacle and the old-fashioned traditionalists find this abhorrent. To them, that's not cricket. Cricket is theater where, you know, you have intellectual discussions as to where the ball is played and so on and so forth. Here they said, no, no, you don't need all that. You want entertainment.

You want to rival what the cinema offers you, what any other form of entertainment offers you. The IPL didn't just take inspiration from America's pre-show entertainment and pyrotechnics. It also adopted a similar league structure where the same teams compete every year. For the IPL, they devised completely new teams. So it became Mumbai Indians owned by one of the richest businessmen in India, composed some of them from Mumbai, composed of players from around the world, or the Chennai Super Kings, or you know, the Kolkata Knight Riders. So they came up with these exotic names.

You know, the one difference is this is not about a country playing another country. The one difference is you're able to, as a franchise, attract the best in an auction, which is done prior to the season beginning, where you bid for the best players in the world for a certain price tag. How much has the IPL, you know, changed the face of cricket because of the money involved? Yeah, well, I mean the money involved is huge for the players these days.

This is a time of upheaval in sport, where new moneyed leagues promising big payouts threaten to upend the status quo. From Saudi Arabia's controversial LIV golf tour that saw golfers sign up despite concerns over the country's human rights record and then lose their place from renowned PGA tours, to the proposed European Super League, a breakaway competition in football designed to guarantee millions of dollars for a select few at the expense of long established leagues. And the IPL is no different, with only 10 teams competing, each under owners with deep pockets.

It quickly attracted the world's best players, causing issues for any other tournaments that took place during the IPL season. Player choice, scheduling, the kind of proliferation of short format leagues whilst also trying to schedule international cricket, whether it's test match cricket, the domestic game, the other international formats. You know, it is quite a challenging jigsaw puzzle. The organization unofficially in charge of putting that puzzle together is the Board of Control for Cricket in India, or the BCCI. While the International Cricket Council is named the global watchman, money, as is often the case, wields power. The humble truth here is the BCCI is the richest body today in the world of cricket across the globe.

And I think it's purely because of the success of IPL, massively, so you've got sponsorship deals coming, pouring through every single corner of the room into the BCCI. 80% of world cricket's income is provided by India in one form or the other. There's television rights, there are commercial deals when India play abroad, if you look around the stadiums, the marketing of the sponsors names are Indian sponsors names because they have got the rights.

They want their names on television because Indians are watching and therefore they'll sell the product. So the BCCI obviously continues to, you know, aggregate power in a sense purely because of the type of consumers it has at its disposal. The Indian consumer, like I said, 700 million people watching IPL, which has probably the least number of games across any sporting, you know, format across the world.

I'm not just talking cricket, I'm talking NFL, I'm talking about MLB, I'm talking EPL. This has the least number of games. It has the maximum viewership. The success of the 2022 IPL media rights e-auction highlighted just how successful this franchise has become in such a short period of time. The TV and digital rights for 2022 - 2027 matches collectively sold for $6.2 billion.

This not only reaffirmed the IPL as the leading cricket league, but also made it the second most valuable league globally. At more than $13 million per match, the IPL has surpassed global leagues such as the EPL and the MLB and is second only to the NFL. Disney bagged the TV rights and a joint venture between Paramount and Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries, won digital streaming rights. Media companies are constantly working hard to make sure they get the right form of content such that the consumer loyalty continues to stick and grow. If you look at the case of Netflix in the two quarters that went by they actually said they're gonna come off massively on their consumer numbers only because, you know, they're not able to penetrate countries like India, which require a different form of content. I'm not saying that they should go after cricket as a possible broadcasting thing.

They may, who knows, but if you get, you know, sport which is universal, has no language, something like a football or a cricket, which actually attracts more consumers given its religious following in those specific countries, I don't see a reason why you will see more media companies coming and you know, trying to get a partnership with the BCCI, given the massive fan following across the world. It's widely agreed upon that media is what's propelled the values of teams to such astronomical heights. In the US, the Big 10, a college football conference, just signed an $8 billion media rights deal and Apple signed onto a 10 year global broadcast deal to stream major league soccer worth $250 million. With so much untapped revenue to play for, a flurry of new T20 leagues are being created in an attempt to ride the wave of the IPL's success. South Africa have started fleshing out details of the new T20 league. Players are already on board.

A broadcast deal has been confirmed and team owners revealed. SA's previous attempts that getting an international T20 league off the ground have failed. South Africa and the UAE are both set to launch new T20 leagues in 2023, adding to an already packed cricketing calendar. These tournaments will put a further strain on resources and talent, especially as the current ruling by the BCCI states no Indian national player can take part in other leagues unless they permanently retire from the IPL and national cricket.

The thinking here is that players competing in other T20 tournaments will take fans to those franchises which could lead to tougher competition in terms of attraction, attention, and brand value for the IPL. So you see in T20 leagues, in Australia, the Big Bash League, the Caribbean Premier League, one in England, and now two new leagues being launched, just announced, one in South Africa and the other one in Dubai, the Emirates Cricket Board. Now the fact is, in all of these leagues, Indian players who have a global fan following are not allowed to play, that's the rule. And if you can't get, you know, the likes of MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli or some of the other big boys that we have playing cricket across the world for their country and in the IPL League, I think you'll lose that many audiences. In an interview with ANI Sports in August 2022, the BCCI Vice President Rajiv Shukla commented on the matter: "Our Indian Premier League is itself a huge league and we cannot allow any of our players to attach themselves to any foreign league in any manner."

The owners of the IPL teams have found a clever way to compete with these burgeoning leagues: Buying the competition. All teams within South Africa's new T20 tournament have been bought by the owners of IPL teams. There are 10 team owners in India.

All of them have tasted immense success in IPL. They've seen their evaluation go from literally nothing to now close to $2 billion per franchise given the media rights valuation. When you taste that kind of success in a limited timeframe of 10 or 15 years, you certainly want to experiment as an owner, a team owner, and see what this can do if other leagues take off. Now, non-cricketing countries, seeing the opportunity that T20 brings, are beginning to hedge their bets. Not only is the shorter format an easier game to sell to those countries with less understanding of the sport, but the money floating around and growing demand for talent offers the perfect incentive for young athletes. Right now, we're in the middle of a historical event for Cricket Finland because we've never hosted an international cricket tournament before.

But I think from our perspective, as a nontraditional country, we've been looking at, at the data that's come out from our World Cup qualifier event. There are quite significant viewership figures which have come through purely from a Finnish-based viewership. And I think looking at that in terms of the way forward, that's come about simply because the game itself has become more attractive for people to actually come and watch. It's become something which is more sold as a product, has more things going on for the viewer when they come to the ground.

We've tried to sort of mirror that here with a very smaller version. Obviously we haven't got a hundred thousand seater stadium as they've got at a traditional cricket ground in India or England. But at the same time we have looked at it to actually think about how we can actually get new people interested in the game and have somebody at the game that is referring to what's actually happening on the cricket field.

for somebody that's never seen a game a cricket before. For Finland, a country whose own national sport, Pesäpallo, is also bat and ball-based, T20 offers a potentially easy transition for players and viewers. You only have to look at the average salaries of Pesäpallo and IPL athletes to understand the opportunity here. In 2019, the highest salary for a Pesäpallo player was about $55,000. That same year, the IPL's top paid cricketer, Virat Kohli's salary and winnings came in at around $4 million.

That's not to mention the $21 million he banked through endorsements. The opportunities that are there for players in nontraditional countries to actually have access to the the global stage, whether that's IPL, whether that's another franchise somewhere else in the world, or whether that's within the the ICC'S Global Pathway events, I think there's something which has itself only developed in the last five to 10 years. Every other cricket board internationally is trying this format because they think it'll result in them getting a lot of largesse in terms of dollars that come in and they can in turn improve the local infrastructure of the game in their respective countries, which they probably can't do given the current state of finances. So it's a chicken and egg situation. If they're able to successfully attract and stage the first or second season of the tournament by attracting some world class players and getting adequate consumers, media companies will come and follow those as well.

Now cricket is hoping to break into the largest sports market in the world: The US. The US's Major League Cricket competition is set to launch in 2023, backed by investors such as Bollywood superstar, Shah Rukh Khan and Microsoft Chairman Satya Nadella The following year, in 2024, Los Angeles will jointly host the T20 World Cup with the West Indies. And there's also a bid by the ICC to feature cricket for the first time ever in the Olympics, which will also be in LA in 2028. With so much interest in the sport and its expansion, investors are picking apart the business model and exploring ways to capitalize even further.

It has now gone to serious business where large business owners across the globe are seeing this as an opportunity to own a franchise, probably improve governance, get more independent sportsmen to come on the boards of these companies and therefore attract the best talent, get sponsorships, and increase the scale and size of what they can do in their respective franchises. Sport has become business and sport is still run and that is true beyond cricket in other sports, but particularly in cricket, as if it's a cottage industry. We haven't got off the field, the sort of leaders and administrators we need to run a big industry like this. An industry that appeals to millions of people and which can affect the lives of millions of people because for them it's a form of entertainment that they value.

2022-10-05 23:22

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