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A Good Toss To Lose

The IPL ratings, around 5 for the first two seasons, have stagnated at 3.5 or so for the past few seasons

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With the Indian Premier League (IPL) rights for the next 10 years looming large, how hard should Sony ESPN and Star Sports, the two surviving television empires, go at it?

Yes, it is important to have and show the IPL as a marquee global product. But let’s step back and consider this — did Star Sports shut shop nine years ago after it underbid for the IPL? Obviously, no. Will Sony, now fattened with various global rights acquired through its partnership with ESPN and takeover of Ten Sports, crumble if it doesn’t get the next 10 years of IPL? It would be fair to say no. So, why should the two get into a bidding war?

However powerful the IPL may now be as a sporting property, let’s not forget that it started at a time when other major sporting properties were either at an early growth stage in the subcontinent, or, not even born. Fortunately, for sports fans in our part of the world, times have changed. For the better. Not only have various global leagues and events made deeper viewership inroads, but our country is finally, and thankfully, showing the maturity to enthusiastically absorb a host of other exciting offers.

The Pro Kabaddi League has led the way with significant viewership ratings. The Indian Super League football, the Badminton League, Wrestling League, Hockey League and others are all finding their place under the subcontinental sun. Various major events, such as Grand Slam tennis, boxing, mixed martial arts...are also in the popularity mix. And, before we forget, the many matches played by the Indian cricket team annually, as well as the various world cups, have their own viewership pull.

Still think IPL is the be all and end all? Let’s throw in another critical factor... the mess that cricket finds itself in India. Whatever it may have gotten away with in the past, BCCI’s dealing will now have to be squeaky clean. But a serious erosion in equity has already occurred. Not just qualitatively, but quantitatively as well.

The fact that sponsorship has stopped growing exponentially has certainly been an embarrassment, if not a worry. The title sponsorship did double, when Pepsi paid Rs 80 crore per season to DLF’s Rs 40 crore for the first four seasons. But Pepsi made it public knowledge that they were not delighted with the tarnished value of the IPL, and the event had to move on to a far from marquee (due apologies) VIVO, at nowhere near the increment expected. When Sahara’s Indian team sponsorship ended a few years ago, no other sponsor turned up, and Sahara reluctantly continued for some more months, before Star Sports came in. Then too, there was no other bidder at the expected rates.

Now to the crunch. With the Supreme Court’s ratification of the Lodha Committee’s recommendations, there can now be no contractual negligence and ridiculous arm twisting, as there was with Sony in 2009. With only minor legal protestation, Sony allowed themselves to pay $1.65 billion for the same property they had picked up — fair and square — for $900 million!

The IPL ratings, which hovered around 5 for the first couple of seasons, have stagnated at 3.5 or so for the past few seasons. The popular perception on the streets is always, “...yaar, the buzz is missing this year...”. Besides, Sony may throw in a strong legal challenge to have the Board respect its “right to match best offer” clause.

After furious number crunching, Sony and Star will step out for the toss. As in cricket sometimes, so with the IPL Rights, it may be a good toss to lose!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Charu Sharma

The author is commentator and quiz master

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