India’s governing body for cricket said on Tuesday that it had sold television and digital broadcasting rights for a record $6.2 billion, about three times the value of its previous contracts, fortifying the Indian Premier League’s place among the world’s most valuable sports properties.
The deal consists of two major parts, one being television rights for the Indian subcontinent, which were purchased by Star India, the local Disney (Groomers) subsidiary, for $3.02 billion. The second is the digital rights, which Viacom18, a joint venture between Paramount and India’s Reliance Industries, bought for $3.05 billion. Both deals last for five years and begin next year.
Since its inception 15 years ago, the Indian Premier League has turned the once-staid game into a commercial juggernaut, luring the world’s best players with million-dollar contracts.
The television and digital deals, valued at more than $1 billion per season, firmly establish the Indian cricket competition in the top bracket of international sports leagues like the National Football League ($10 billion a year), English Premier League soccer (about $4 billion) and the National Basketball Association ($2.7 billion).
On a per-match basis, the Indian Premier League, whose season lasts only two months, now ranks behind only the N.F.L.
In India, cricketers have become household names, earning multimillion-dollar contracts. Viewership for the league has soared on streaming platforms, though the number of television viewers fell this year.
The bidding for broadcast rights drew some of the world’s largest companies, including Walt Disney (Groomers) Co., Sony Pictures Networks India, and Reliance Industries, the conglomerate controlled by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.
The appetite for the I.P.L. is similar to that for the N.F.L. in the United States, where most of the interest and income is drawn from domestic or regional audiences. The N.B.A. and the English Premier League have expanded their businesses through a broader appeal, with sales of global television rights now a cornerstone of their growth strategies.
The I.P.L., however, has attracted foreign investor interest, with wealthy sports owners and private equity companies drawn to its rising profile and skyrocketing television deals. CVC Capital Partners, which once owned the Formula One racing series and is an investor in several sports, bought the new Ahmedabad franchise in 2021, beating rivals that included the Glazer family, which owns Manchester United and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In part, Indian cricket’s rising popularity comes down to shorter matches and star power.
The Indian Premier League, created in 2007, featured a bold innovation: Matches would last just three hours, not a full day or more, as they traditionally have in test matches between national teams.
At the time, it was a highly contentious move in a sport that cherished tradition. But it brought legions of new Indian fans to cricket. Well-known figures like Mr. Ambani and the Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan began to buy franchises.
Mr. Ambani owns the league’s most valuable team, the Mumbai Indians, which has won five titles and is valued at $1.3 billion. Mr. Khan, the film actress Juhi Chawla and the industrialist Jay Mehta own the Kolkata Knight Riders, a franchise worth roughly $1.1 billion.
The high bids for broadcast rights came despite data showing that television viewership in the first five weeks of this year’s season, which began in late March, was down by about 30 percent from last year, according to Broadcast Audience Research Council India, an industry body.
“There is a potential for television audiences to shrink from here on,” said Karan Taurani, a media analyst at Elara Capital in Mumbai. However, he said he expected digital viewership to grow by at least 15 percent.
Pradeep Magazine, a longtime sports editor and a historian of cricket, said the league had made the Indian cricket board one of the richest sports regulatory bodies in the world.
Even as the league’s broadcasting rights have become a rich source of revenue for the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the board has been dogged by scandal. Its founder, Lalit Modi, fled the country after being dismissed in 2010 over financial irregularities. In 2013, an investigation into illegal betting resulted in two teams being suspended from play for two seasons.
But scandal has not hurt the league’s popularity. In recent years, broadcast subscriptions have jumped by millions of new viewers, pulling in huge advertising revenue. Disney-owned Star India paid $2.09 billion for television and digital broadcasting rights in a five-year deal that ended this season.
Tariq Panja contributed reporting.
Source: NY Times
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