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Can General Elections Steal IPL’s Thunder?

India’s biggest jamborees, IPL and general elections, have clashed this year. Although the IPL season overlapped with the polls earlier in 2009 and 2014 as well, a direct clash was averted with the organisers deciding to shift the league overseas

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The on-going twelfth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) finds itself in a peculiar situation. This year, for the very first time, the tourney is poised for a head-on clash with another big event — the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Will the latter impact viewership? Although a similar situation had arisen for the multi-billion-dollar league on two earlier occasions in its decade-long run, but it was averted first in 2009, when it was hosted in South Africa, and again in 2014 when the organisers decided to take it to the UAE.

Game of viewership
With the first phase of elections already underway, for brands and for the league organisers, viewership will be the moot point. Keeping the viewership behaviour in mind, many news channels have already spiked their ad rates, but does it mean that IPL viewers would switch loyalty?

According to Anita Nayyar, CEO, Havas Media Group, the Lok Sabha polls will be more relevant only during voting and counting days. “The way IPL viewership is peaking there seems very little possibility of it losing its thunder. However, general elections will have its own loyal viewership and will be more relevant to voting and counting days. Since the voting is happening in phases, and is localised, the viewership of that phase/state will be more skewed to the same. In their own ways they will do justice to the viewers in offering high powered sports/entertainment and high powered politics.”

Even if we look at the latest IPL viewership data, the overall viewership this year has been 31 per cent higher than last year, as per the league’s official broadcast partner Star India citing BARC Preview data. It must be mentioned that the preview service allows subscribers to access the data of a specific event or show three days after it is telecast.

Star India said it reached 219 million television viewers across the country (urban and rural, television and out of home) for the first three matches held on March 23 and 24. The reach-in Hindi speaking markets (HSM) grew by 30 per cent to 79 million on the opening day, compared to 60 million a year ago.

Gautam Thakar, Chief Executive, Star Sports says, “The opening weekend was really strong. We are particularly excited because IPL 2019 has already crossed the viewership numbers we did last year at the beginning of the tournament. The investments made this year including a customised family feed on Star Gold, regional sports channels launch and strong marketing campaign has worked for us.”

If we look at these numbers, it seems the networks localisation strategy is working well for the channel and viewership. Also, this year, the broadcaster is airing IPL live across 24 channels, up from 10 channels last year. The channels include the network’s sports channel Star Sports across languages. It also includes movie channel Star Gold (Hindi), Star Maa Movies (Telugu), Hungama (kids), Vijay Super (Tamil), Asianet Plus (Malayalam), Star Suvarna (Kannada), Jalsha Movies (Bengali) and Star Pravah (Marathi).

“The on-ground work on channel distribution is improving every day. We feel that IPL will set the tone for the World Cup which is a bigger property in terms of reach. The viewership momentum will continue, the advertisers will be delighted and there will great months of cricket going forward,” adds Thakar.

Brands and IPL
For brands, sporting platforms deliver far better return on investment (RoI) compared to other mediums. Over the years, sports advertising has grown significantly and, as per the latest GroupM report, the total ad spend on sports touched Rs 7,762 crores in 2018.

For brands associated with the IPL, the faith in the league’s potential to deliver results remains unshakable. They do not count the league’s clash with the Lok Sabha elections as any significant threat in terms of viewership divide.

A cursory look at the sponsors of IPL 2019 gives one a fair idea of the kind of faith that sponsors have shown in this sporting platform: Vivo, Harrier, FBB and Hotstar Specials are the official partners, while Paytm is the umpire partner. CEAT has come in as the official strategic timeout partner; PhonePe, Thums Up, Asian Paints, Maruti Suzuki, Dream 11, MakeMyTrip, Swiggy, Voltas, MRF, Big Bazaar, Samsung QLED and Polycab are the broadcast partners. The network has got seven digital streaming sponsors — Amazon Pay, Dream 11, Swiggy, Coca-Cola, Flipkart, Maruti Suzuki and Nestlé Maggi.

Anupam Bokey, CMO, RPSG FMCG Business Brand, Too Yumm, which roped Virat Kohli as its brand ambassador last year and spends significantly on IPL, believes that the big clash between the IPL and the Lok Sabha elections will have no impact on the league’s viewership.

“The IPL is a very high affinity medium for sports lovers and cricket is like a big craze in India. Also the IPL is more real time, once the three hour duration is over, the match is done and dusted. If you notice, most of the team matches in the IPL are after 8 pm and by then the big happenings in elections are already known, so that becomes an ideal way to avoid any overlap or viewership clash,” says Bokey.

He further adds, “During elections there are only a couple of times when the interest spikes. One is on the counting day, and the day when the new government gets formed, and by the time the counting day would arrive, the IPL season will be over by then.”

Over the years the popularity of the IPL has grown manifold, it is much more than what it was in 2009 and 2014. Just to add some data, in 2017, Duff & Phelps had valued the IPL at $5.3 billion (from $4.16 billion in 2016), which soared to $6.3 billion in 2018.

The IPL is, in fact, on par with the major leagues of the world such as the EPL, NFL, etc. When it comes to growth of advertising, according to the Pitch Madison Advertising Report 2019, ad spending on TV is expected to grow by 18 per cent in 2019, to reach a figure of close to Rs 27,650 crore and a major driver of it will be sporting leagues like the IPL.

Why the viewership narrative assumes critical importance this year is primarily because the television broadcasting rights have been the single largest contributor to the IPL’s revenue, almost 65 per cent of the total revenue in 2018. Also, the league has never faced a real challenger which could impact its viewership as the Lok Sabha elections could do. But whether the elections will be able to steal the IPL’s thunder, it seems there is no conclusive evidence.

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