Indian Premier League cash-cow delivers even in COVID times

Mumbai Indians claimed a record fifth IPL title in Tuesday’s final, but it was a victory for Brand IPL too.

The robust appeal of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was once again highlighted this year after the world’s richest Twenty20 league escaped the economic aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic with only a few minor scratches.

The Indian cricket board’s (BCCI) league, which has an estimated brand value of $6.8 billion, drew record television and digital viewership and at least one of its franchises even grew its revenue despite the league being first postponed and then shifted to the United Arab Emirates following the coronavirus surge in India.

Cancelling the whole tournament would have left a $536 million hole in the pocket for the world’s richest cricket board, which rarely shares financial numbers about the league.

So the IPL’s eight franchises were ushered into a bio-secure bubble in August to play 60 matches across three venues, all behind closed doors.

Mumbai Indians claimed a record fifth IPL title in Tuesday’s final, but it was a victory for Brand IPL too.

“It’s been a great success given the current scenario globally,” BCCI treasurer Arun Singh Dhumal told Reuters.

“Everybody had their fingers crossed whether we’d be able to pull it off.”

Starved of live cricket action for nearly nine months, the world’s second most populous nation sat glued to television sets, lapping up every bit of action from the UAE.

Board secretary Jay Shah, quoting TV monitoring agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), said that a record 200 million fans had watched the Sept. 19 opener between Mumbai and Chennai Super Kings in Abu Dhabi.

In terms of viewership, the IPL even outperformed some of the pay-per-view matches of the Premier League in Britain.

BARC tweeted before the playoffs that the league had clocked seven billion viewing minutes, up 28% from last year, after the first 41 matches.

“With people generally staying indoors due to the pandemic and with lack of other entertainment options due to COVID-19, viewership numbers have been staggeringly high,” Santosh N, external advisor to financial consultancy firm Duff and Phelps, told Reuters.

“It showed why IPL is such a massive property not just in cricket, but in world sports in general.”

BCCI’s Dhumal called it the “most successful IPL ever” in terms of viewership and explained what he thought it meant for cricket’s eco-system.

“I’m glad we were able to organise it successfully because when it impacts BCCI revenue, it impacts the game, it impacts the players, it impacts the state associations and creation of cricket infrastructure,” he said.

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