Board of Control for Cricket in India is the sport’s governing body and conducts the wildly-popular men’s edition of IPL, broadcast rights for which are set to be fought over by media giants including The Walt Disney Co. and Amazon.com Inc. The BCCI wants to auction broadcast rights for the women-only games and its six league teams by early next year, its head Jay Shah told Bloomberg News in an interview in Mumbai.
“At the moment, there is strong interest in media rights,” Shah said, adding that he was hopeful the owners of men’s IPL franchises would bid for women’s league teams too. The association, he said, wants to bolster the women’s game as it’s typically overlooked in the otherwise cricket-crazy nation of almost 1.4 billion people.
Shah’s game plan to bolster diversity is also underpinned by business savvy as he looks for more niche ways to monetize the 15-year-old sports franchise. IPL, estimated to be worth $7 billion, attracted 600 million viewers last year and trails only the Premier League and the National Football League in terms of viewership, according to BCCI estimates.
An auction of broadcast rights for the men’s league in June is likely to draw bids of more than $5 billion in a heated contest that could include Amazon Prime Video, Walt Disney, Sony Group Corp. and Reliance Industries Ltd., led by Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani.
As long as cricket continues to be played in the allies of India, IPL’s popularity will keep increasing, according to Utkarsh Sinha, managing director at Bexley Advisors in Mumbai.
“IPL is one of the stickiest media properties available, and heavyweights will slug it out to get media rights to it,” Sinha said. “It is probably the first format globally designed with commercials and profits in mind.”
BCCI is relying on the auction’s success to bankroll subsidiary formats like the women’s cricket league. The fight for IPL’s five-year broadcast rights underscores the wider fight to win eyeballs in the largest consumer market still open to foreign companies. Still, India has proven tough to crack even for the likes of Netflix Inc.
Amazon announced its intention to add live sports on its platform in India including cricket at the end of April, while Reliance-controlled Viacom18 Media received $1.8 billion in funding from a James Murdoch-backed firm as it gears up for the bidding battle.
The demand for IPL right now is so hot that the BCCI has raised the base price above which bids will be accepted to $4.2 billion. It has also for the first time managed to sell all sponsorship slots for 2022 matches with backers including Saudi Arabian Oil Co to Tata Group, according to Shah.
The online auction format for the men’s league is a new approach for BCCI and shows Shah’s attempts to modernize the 94-year-old cricketing body’s style of functioning. Bidders also can pitch only for live-streaming rights or TV broadcast rights. Previously, BCCI had sold these rights as a bundle in a closed bidding process.
“The decision was taken to double the reserve price for media rights after assessing the rising interest in the game,” Shah said. “We also decided to go for an e-auction this year to make the process transparent and to ensure maximum participation.”
The cricket control body for India, which accounts for about 80% of the sport’s global revenue, is working with the International Cricket Council to increase the IPL season’s window from the current two months on the sporting calendar. A longer window will mean more matches and higher revenues.
Part of the board’s share of the money raised from the franchise is spent on state-level cricket associations, setting up infrastructure for the sports, and other expenses, including pensions and fees for the players.
Shah said that online streaming would overtake broadcast soon, and he dismissed the prospect of viewer fatigue — one of the biggest risks for any sports event. Online streaming accounts for only 30% of the game’s viewership but is on a strong footing after pandemic restrictions and lockdowns forced people to watch more content over the internet.
Shah is confident the upcoming auctions will be a money spinner.
“There will be a strong four-cornered fight for the media rights of the game,” he said, referring to Amazon, Viacom18 Media, Disney, Sony. “The more money we raise, the better it gets for cricket as we will be investing it all back.”
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