After an explosive bidding process, it is clear that the IPL has changed cricket forever. Where do we go from here? James Fenn, Associate Director at Hill + Knowlton Strategies, looks to the future after a landmark week for the cricket industry.
Lazy Sundays on the village greens. Popping plugs in Victorian pavilions. Well-oiled crowds reimagining 80s anthems. For many, these are the images that come to mind when they think of cricket. A sport steeped in tradition and backed by sentiment.
But over the past two decades, cricket has undergone a seismic change. Led by the rise of the short game, the transformation has been attributed to many things; a deliberate broadening of the fan base, a shorter attention span of modern consumers, an “Americanization” of sports entertainment. But, in reality, the fuel that powered the turbines of cricket’s transformation was the same fuel that powers most sporting innovations. The pursuit of profit.
From the IPL to the T20 World Cup to The Hundred, each brings great benefits to fans and cricketers alike, delivering more entertainment, more formats, more cricket. But they also create new IP, new assets and new rights. New ways to create capital.
None of this is critical. There is no free lunch and in sport there is rarely free growth. Profit fuels the progress that fuels profit. Commercial interest in the sport, when targeted in the right way to add to the experience of fans and players (but not take away from it), should be a virtuous cycle.
Which brings us to the final example of cricket’s new reality, the bidding process for the last two IPL franchises. This week, the rights to create new IPL franchises were offered to bidders. The results were amazing. Kolkata-based RPSG Group and international equity investment firm CVC Capital (which have previously invested in Rugby 6 Nations and La Liga, among other properties), have paid a combined total of nearly $1.7 billion. dollars to buy in the league. Outbid big players, including the Glazer Family and the Adani Group.
This money goes directly to the BCCI. Indian cricket’s governing body need only create a slightly more complicated list of fixtures. It is, for a beneficiary, something that borders on paradise. By building the IPL to be a juggernaut of fan engagement, the IPL has created a self-feeding monster. A property that not only provides broadcast rights and commercial deals, but offers BCCI a huge injection of instant cash, whenever it needs it.
This is exactly what the ECB wants The Hundred to do for them (besides, of course, developing the sport). Despite a successful first year, they still have a long way to go.
It resembles the model in the United States, where the price of NBA or NFL franchise rights has been mind-boggling for years. But for cricket, a sport that many around the world would mistakenly call niche, to have reached this level is an amazing moment.
The consequences of the IPL’s expansion bids could trigger another period of dramatic change for the sport. I tried to predict what might happen next:
The IPL becomes unassailable in the world of cricket – The cancellation of the 5th Test between England and India this summer – which many believe was due to Indian players not wanting to risk their IPL place – was already seen by some as a turning point in the game. balance of power in cricket. With the financial clout demonstrated by the new franchise offerings, the IPL’s hold on the global game will only grow and grow. Expect the tournament to get significantly longer and the schedule to be even more dominated by cricket’s most lucrative competition
Women’s IPL must happen – This remains perhaps the IPL’s biggest blind spot. Support for women’s sport is finally getting the attention it deserves, in cricket and beyond. Off the back of The Hundred, where women’s competition stole the show, the IPL must have a women’s equivalent. Since this presents the opportunity to create even more assets and intellectual property, this one can’t be far
The IPL goes global :The current T20 competition landscape is disparate. Each of the major cricketing nations holds a national tournament, which varies in scale and success. But with the power of the IPL brand, don’t be surprised if Indian competition begins to expand outside its home market. If BCCI showed up on the doorstep of the West Indies Cricket Boards with a monster offer to rename the Caribbean Premier League to the IPL: West Indies, who says no? Also look for emerging markets to win. IPL: USA or IPL: Abu Dhabi would make a lot of sense. Could the IPL even be part of the international game? The bigger the IPL, the more options open
The IPL also dominates the virtual world – The IPL is no stranger to capitalizing on the latest fan experience trends. The league has capitalized on the popularity of fantasy sports better than perhaps any league outside of North America. As our world becomes increasingly virtual, expect the league to dominate this space as well. Thanks to its strong ties with Disney/Star Sports, the league has already built unique virtual experiences for fans in India. These experiences will only become more sophisticated and more accessible on a global scale, as the IPL leverages its partners to push the boundaries of what can be achieved in virtual fandom. As the number of games increases, could we see some of the games released only through virtual worlds?
IPL Breaks US ‘Big Three’ – According to some sources, the IPL is already the 4th most valuable sports league in the world, ahead of the Premier League. But with the league’s growth trajectory, it looks certain to break the once unassailable dominance of America’s major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB) in the next few years, if it hasn’t already.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the IPL is that there is huge room for growth. More markets. More teams. More experiences. The financial reality laid bare by this week’s deals has sent shockwaves through the cricketing world. But this is a league that is just beginning.