‘Hey Virat, don’t shout ‘Ben Stokes’ in an empty stadium’

Guest Column: Anirudh Kalia, Consultant, Angel Investor & Board Advisor, takes us through challenges that IPL stakeholders face now

e4m by Anirudh Kalia
Updated: Jul 30, 2020 4:46 PM
IPL 2020

610 million Indians voted in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And 613 million Indians watched IPL 2019. Take a deep breath. Read the above two sentences again.

That’s the impact of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the leading T20 club cricket league in the world on the Indian media consumption landscape. It generates at least Rs 76 billion (US $1.05 billion) in direct and auxiliary revenue annually. From payouts to 1000+ players and staff, to ‘on air’, ‘on ground’ and ‘team’ sponsorships, digital distribution and subscription revenues. It also creates sizable business for tech companies, ticketing, F&B, fan merchandize companies, travel and hospitality, marketing, media agencies and content production houses. An economy by itself, it supports close to two million livelihoods. Not surprising then to see the elation and enthusiasm around the expected return of IPL in late September 2020.

The year 2020 has proven to be a ‘doosra’ that nobody read. The pandemic hit us square on the jaw throwing every aspect of life into a tizzy. But now with intense negotiations and bargaining, the event seems set to return in a different setting and context but with some challenges for all stakeholders.

Here are some that are staring the stakeholders square in the face:

A fan-less stadium: This is the first time when IPL T20 matches will be played with a Test match attendance (or even lower). They say, ‘fans maketh a sport’ and IPL is totally a ‘Made for Fans’ spectacle. Not this time though. The fan-less stadium in UAE may not matter to a viewer sitting at home in front of the TV set, it will surely be a new experience for the players.

A recent study done by Gracenote, a data analytics firm that analysed 83 Bundesliga matches played in empty stadiums during May-June’20 period reveals a ‘negative advantage’. Data showed that playing in an empty stadium, the teams took fewer shots, players chose to pass the ball more rather than launching an attacking run and most intriguing, the goalkeepers saved lesser percentage of shots. That’s the power of 40,000 shouting, singing, clapping fans in a stadium. It just makes the players to want to have a go.

Makes one think if Andre Russel would be as explosive for KKR in an empty Dubai International Cricket Stadium?  Or Chris Gayle for KXIP?

Consumer Demand: Has a considerable impact on the ad inventory uptake from brands. Many brand categories that contribute sizable revenues to IPL ‘On-Air’ will find the event slotted now in an off season. Beverages, ACs are a case in point. Some of them like Travel and Hospitality, too stung by the Covid impact, may choose to let the event slide. Some like non-essential services, Luxury, Food delivery and Apparel also may take a relook at their IPL plans as many large consumption states continue to be under extended lockdown. However, all is not lost. Many new categories like EdTech (in addition to BYJUs), E-sports, SaaS, Paints and Home improvement may seek to build salience using IPL.

Getting brands onboard in limited time: IPL is the annual festival of Indian cricket on Indian television and mobile screens. It is the same for many of India’s leading marketers. Discussions with brands start as early as the preceding September as multiple client and agency teams pore over commercials, messaging, category exclusivity and returns. This year those six months' work has to be crunched into 49 days (assuming the IPL Governing Council ‘greenlights’ the event on August 1). That is less than 25% of the usual time. More so, a ‘Live’ sports event is fixed in its start date and hence the leeway of playing the patient negotiation game is out of question this year.       

KBC, Indian Idol and Bigg Boss are not a threat to IPL. It’s the other way round: The statement that one hears in the market about IPL sharing space and maybe getting impacted by KBC, Bigg Boss and Indian Idol, is an erroneous one. Such is the scope and reach of the event that blockbuster movie releases don’t get scheduled in the IPL window, leading Hindi GECs (General Entertainment Channels) lose 1 to 3% of their viewership and malls report 30-40% shrinkage in footfalls in the evening on big matchdays.  

Double header Sundays may split the viewership: As many as 14 matches out of 60 start concurrently on a Sunday 8pm India time, a result of temperatures in the UAE that routinely reach 40 degree Celsius during the afternoons making a 4pm start time unfeasible. While the broadcaster would be contesting this as it directly impacts audience numbers, the ultimate call will be with the IPL governing council.   

Franchises lose some but move forward: The 8 IPL franchises have had a raw deal this time. Their gate revenues have been wiped out due to games being planned without spectators. The other hit is on the Team Sponsorship revenue. Most Team Sponsorship associations come attached with liberal ‘Hospitality Box / Ticket Access’, ‘Meet & Greets’ and ‘Shoot Days’ with players for ads. All this is unavailable now as social distancing norms kick in. It is estimated that overall a potential hit of Rs 600+cr on Gate Revenues and another Rs 90+ cr on loss of team sponsor brands is expected to be incurred by the franchises. Add to it the additional costs of carrying extra players, isolated stays, and the daily mandatory Covid testing in the UAE.

It remains to be seen how the BCCI or IPL governing council will compensate the teams for 2020.

Despite all the above, the show will go on. The lights will get switched on at the stadiums, the players will grace the pitch and the fan cheer will rise again, albeit from a distance. May be Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore will make it to the final in 2020.  

My two cents to help him, ‘The mics will pick up everything Virat. Don’t shout ‘Ben Stokes’ in an empty stadium’.   

(The author is Anirudh Kalia, Consultant, Angel Investor & Board Advisor.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.

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