It’s heartening to know that our annual cricket extravaganza, IPL 2020, is finally set to take off in the UAE from September 19. The 53-day jamboree goes all the way till November 10. Hopefully fast-moving cricket will provide wholesome entertainment to a pandemic- hit nation currently being fed bread and circuses by news channels obsessed with Sushant Singh Rajput and Kangana Ranaut. The Covid lockdown has frozen all sporting events. News channels had an opportunity. Unhappily they squandered it and sank to the basest.
They have been garnering flaky viewership on anything but news. Pitched against IPL 2020, it will be interesting to see whether they can hold on to their TRPs; or crumble as petty flash-in-the-pans they have always been.
Hope against hope, they might be forced to return to their original domain—reporting news! Disney Star India chairman Uday Shankar, knowing the magnetism of cricket, is promising a TV viewership of over 550 million, compared to 462 million the Star network achieved last year. That’s just under half the nation hooked on cricket! To get this reach, Shankar is rolling out seven broadcast feeds targeting different languages and regions, 90 commentators and 18 hours of live and special programming a day to keep everyone hooked.
A world without sports
Internationally,the damage in money terms because of sports cancellations has been huge. The International Olympics Committee (IOC) cancelled the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and has rescheduled it to next year from 23 July to 8 August. The cost of the cancelled Olympics is estimated at anything up to $25.2 billion. Media giant Comcast paid $4.4 billion for Olympic rights from 2014 to 2020. Much of all these investments will be washed away. Sports has never had it so bad since World War II. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has postponed 900 tournaments across all its circuits.The 2020 Wimbledon tennis championships have been cancelled.
The Boston Marathon has been dropped for the first time in its 124- year history. The world’s most watched sport, football, too has taken a huge toll. While club league football in Europe and elsewhere is resuming slowly, big tournaments like South America’s Copa America and the Euro 2020 Cup have been postponed till next year.
FIFA has said it is taking a hit of $800 million this year, and is worried about the World Cup scheduled for 2022. European football clubs are expected to lose $4.5 billion over the next year, according to a European Club Association study. “The results (of the study) demonstrate that the financial impact of COVID-19 on European clubs is already a seismic shock,” ECA chief executive officer Charlie Marshall said.
Too much riding on IPL
For the Indian Premier League (IPL), the richest of world tournaments, scheduled to start in March this year, cancellation was not an option. To make a comeback, it was fighting not only the pandemic but the fallout with China. Losing a slew of Chinese brands that advertise on IPL platforms hasn’t been easy. For the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which owns IPL, the stakes are high. It had sold the digital and broadcasting rights to Star India for a humungous I3,300 crore, and even collected `2,000 crore upfront. Besides this, the title sponsorship had been sold to Chinese handset brand Vivo for `440 crore. Other sponsorship deals had been signed for an additional I200 crore. For Disney Star India, too, IPL is big.
The broadcasting network had bought digital and broadcast rights for the T20 game in 2017 for 5 years for a massive `16,348 crore or I3,270 crore a year. Its strategy for growth in India is now symbiotically linked to cricket, and sports in general. Now that the tournament is on, Star spokespersons are sounding upbeat. Star Sports CEO Gautam Thakkar says he has sold 75 per cent of his on-air inventory. A week ago he said the network had signed on 15 sponsors including Dream 11, Amazon, PhonePe and Byju’s, as well as more than 60 other advertisers. Market chatter says spot sales may be at I12.5 lakh for 10-second ads.
It’s still not yet clear whether Disney Star will be able to match the returns of IPL 2019. Last year, it had raked in I2,200 crore (including robust digital revenue via Disney + Hotstar). This year seems an uphill task considering the IPL brand is considerably dented. It is evident from the re-sale of the title sponsorship, after Vivo backed off, to fantasy sports operator Dream11 for `222 crore. This is half of what Vivo had paid for the property. Besides, the UAE is not the coolest of venues, and the impact of matches sans cheering audiences is yet to be seen. There could be losses, but then the hit would have been larger had IPL been shelved. Just as well too, as it will provide certain relief from the news channels!