e4mSpotlight: What makes Indian Premier League 'premier'?

A week ahead of bidding for IPL’s television and digital rights, we explore why IPL is such a sought-after brand

e4m by Madhuwanti Saha
Updated: Jul 10, 2017 7:52 AM

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has become one of the world’s most lucrative properties, in terms of title sponsorship, after its rights were bought by Chinese mobile phone company Vivo for Rs 2,199 crore till 2023. The next and the only other bid was from competing mobile brand Oppo who bid for approx. Rs 1300 crore. What has catapulted IPL to where it is today? A week ahead of the bidding process for its television and digital rights, we explore why IPL is such a sought-after brand.

Before all that, it must be noted that Sony Pictures Network (SPN) and Star India will make aggressive bids for broadcast rights. Discovery Communications has also been reported to show interest. For digital rights, the prospective bidders are SPN, Star India, Amazon, Reliance Jio Digital Services, Twitter and Facebook.

The previous deal with Sony reportedly fetched BCCI roughly Rs 6,700 crore across the ten-year period. This time, the number can soar up to between Rs 18,000–30,000 crore.

For Vinit Karnik, Business Head - Entertainment, Sports & Live Events at GroupM, IPL’s fixed timing and relevance has made it what it is today. He says, “For the first time in the country you have a sporting league with a fixed calendar which makes the life of a marketer easy as he can plan launches, communication and campaigns around IPL. Marketers and fans are always eager to consume information about league off season, irrespective of good and bad, which also keeps the brand relevant.”

What differentiates IPL from others is its positioning as an entertainment segment with a dosage of cricket…more than a sports property. Neeraj Vyas, Senior EVP & Business Head – Hindi Movies and Music Cluster at SONY SAB, SPN, agrees. “From ‘Manoranjan ka Baap’, ‘Jumping Japang’ to ‘10 Saal Aapke Naam’ all our campaigns were pitched as one big entertainment zone with top quality cricket. From an advertiser’s perspective, brands want to be around IPL because it cuts across all geographies and builds areach faster than anything else. That is its biggest advantage.”

Brand guru Jagdeep Kapoor, who is the Chairman and Managing Director, Samsika,credits IPL’s success to its glamour, international quotient and Indian origin. “IPL was conceived and visualised as an international brand with international teams’ participation. It’s consumed by international fans and viewers as well. With its source of origin being India, the source credibility being Indian and the size of physical audiences that you get in India, the brand has gone to a different level,” he says. He adds that the intoxicating mix of Bollywood and cricketers in terms of franchise ownership is the DNA of IPL, which makes it unbeatable compared to any other league.

For Vyas, this entertainment quotient hasalso brought IPL its women audience. “Even the way it gets played out you will find women, children and elderly people at the venues. Even our ‘Extraa Innings’ property, with female anchors and celebrities, was pitched differently.” From popular anchor Mandira Bedi (2009), actor Shibani Dandekar, cricketer Isa Guha to model Rochelle Rao, IPL has been graced by sassy sports presenters.

SPN’s bold step of airing IPL on Sony MAX also contributes to IPL’s success and vice versa given the latter’s distribution.Vyas points out, “Sixty-nine per cent of the numbers has come from Max this year.” The cumulative reach of IPL grew from 102 million in season 1 to 411 million in season 10, according to SPN. 

Despite the property hit by so many controversiesfrom the betting fiascothat led to the ban of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals for two seasons to the rigging bidding deals by Lalit Modi, IPL’s brand image hasn’t been tainted.N Chandramouli, CEO of TRA,explains, “The audience didn’t change. They felt the game is safe, as the owners have cheated.”

Raking in moolah

With 10 years of careful yet extensive marketing, SPN’s role in the growth of IPL cannot be overlooked. At the same time, the official broadcaster earned reasonably well over the decade. Starting from Rs 300 crore in the first season, Rs 400 crore (season 2), Rs 600 crore (season 3), Rs 750 crore in season 4 and Rs 1000 crore in season 5. Season 6 and 7 saw it dip to Rs 800 crore but strengthened to Rs 950 crore in season 8. It touched Rs1200 crore in season 9 and finally Rs 1300 crore in the tenth season.

Three days before IPL-10, SPN had sold out its inventory.

IPL’s digital streaming partner Hotstarwas slated to make more than Rs200 crore in advertising revenue this season compared to Rs 65 crore.The firm had signed two sponsorship deals of Rs20 crore each with Vivo and automobile firm Maruti Suzuki India for the tenth season.

In February 2015, Star India bid Rs302.2 crore to win the global internet and mobile rights for IPL for a three-year period, beating Times Internet and SPN.

Brand talk

With the kind of brand value and reach that IPL has achieved over a decade, it’s no surprise that it has become the favourite launchpad for brands to leverage at a premium cost—a phenomena similar to the Super Bowl in the US. For instance, in the tenth season,Amazon India, Vodafone, Pepsi, Maruti Suzuki and Parle rolled out their campaigns especially for the league. Rohit Gupta,President – Network Sales & International business, SPN, shares that around 35–40 brands across categories come in every year and that the 10 years have seen major launches with the best creatives. “Brands are spending Rs 40–50 crore over two months. There is pressure on creative agencies to bring out the best. An ecosystem has developed around IPL.”

Why brands don’t mind paying a hefty price? Rajat Mehta, Senior President, Marketing and Corporate Communication, YES Bank, answers, “IPL has made concerted efforts to increase its outreach well beyond the 10 cities where the matches are played.” The bank has an ongoing five-year association with IPL as an on-ground Central Associate sponsor with the BCCI and an On-air Associate sponsor with Sony.

Vodafone India happens to be the only Indian brand to associate with the league since its inception. The brand apparently reserves one third of their marketing budget for IPL. According to Siddharth Banerjee, EVP-Marketing, Vodafone India, the telecom player has successfully reaped the fruit of its 10-year labour, given the ‘multiplicity of communications it offers’. He shares, “The 10-year-long association with IPL has created a winning formula for Vodafone and given us a positive ROI. We have always aligned our communication goals around IPL with our key business objectives.”

Banerjee also points out that the league has provided a platform to innovate. For this season, they brought back their popular animated character ZooZoos in three different ads.

YES Bank’s Mehta shares how they cashed in on this platform. “From a numbers perspective as well, the media value earned by YES Bank far exceeded the money spent on ground and on air. YES Bank has further leveraged IPL content rights to attain global leadership within the BFSI segment not only in India but across the world. This year, we used our video and digital rights to achieve 235 million impressions by reaching over 30 million fans, our video views were at a staggering 52 million,” he says. According to media reports, the first 20 matches of the 2017 season saw a media value of Rs 58.12 crore delivered for the bank. 

Active interest by FMCG and Chinese handset firms

New categories wereborn out of IPL, including the Indian handset category with the likes of Karbonn and Micromax.There was even participation from digital wallets like PayTM and Freecharge. Gupta shares,“Three to four years back, there was ecommerce category. Amazon was the first one to come into IPL.” Last year, the handset category contributed to 20 per cent of IPL’s advertising revenues, the highest among all categories.

From the aggressive bidding that played out in May, it’s evident that other Chinese mobile handset players are pulling out all stops to taste IPL’s success with Gionee bagging sponsorship rights of Royal Challengers Bangalore and signing on cricketer Kohli as its brand ambassador. Lenovo-owned Motorola sponsored Rising Pune Supergiant.

Will Yang, Brand Director, Oppo India, shares that IPL has helped it generate increased brand awareness, putting it ahead in ‘top of the mind recall’ brands. “Our association and investment during the IPL period has helped us in connecting with not just current customers but potential consumers as well.” The Chinese handset firm was IPL’s presenting sponsor last year.

With IPL luring women viewers, it’s no surprise that even FMCG majors like Hindustan Unilever and Godrej have joined the club in the second season. Last year, Reckitt Benckiser came on boardtoo. In fact, the high media rates had made the majors stay away from the league in the first season.

How does the future look?

Looking at the above historical viewership data, advertising revenue and active participation by brands over the course of 10 years, the league is only set to grow at least for the next five years. But will it ever go through brand fatigue? Kapoor disagrees saying that brands don’t go through that; instead they grow. “For instance, those two brands (CSK and RR) are reconsidered and will come back in their original avatar.”

Even Chandramouli agrees that IPL as a brand will go strong for a few years but by five years from now it will start diminishing. “An overdose of cricket will reduce the viewership. There is the slow incursion of in-growth of other sport leagues. India has the capacity to do 30–40 leagues of varying sports. Cricket is not going to rule the roost forever.”

Meanwhile, Karnik is extremely upbeat about IPL’s future, “The property has proved its merit over the last 10 years. It will sustain if not grow in the next five years.” 

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