May 5, 2013

What makes the IPL successful?

Is it the marriage between cricket and entertainment? The T20 format? Or just its power to grab a prime chunk of the game's calendar?

The IPL's selling point is that spectators get to watch Indian stars and a few foreign ones play against each other for two months at a stretch © BCCI

It's the season of cricketainment. I watched Sanju Samson's forward defence serve as a wonderful backdrop for a thrilling dance contest between two sets of cheerleaders, with delightful commentary from Sameer Kochhar.

That's when I had an epiphany. I got what the IPL is about. It's really what the markets want.

If there is a more stupid term than cricketainment, I do not know of it. The IPL was always marketed as cricketainment, and coupled with its commercial success, the reasoning developed that it's the entertainment that gets it the eyeballs.

Cricket was always there - was it so successful before? No. So what has changed now? The entertainment. People love seeing the cheerleaders, Shah Rukh Khan and all the other Bollywood stars share screen space with the cricketers. It's a family package, there's something in it for everyone. You spin the yarn enough and it can appear coherent. The commercial success of the tournament has served to provide a feedback loop.

What if the IPL had been just about cricket? Would the commercial results have been any different? I would happily bet against it. The real selling point of the IPL is the opportunity to see cricket superstars in action all the time. In fact, even absolute loyalty for franchises is not good for the tournament. You may passionately support your team, but you must be excited to watch various other stars in action over a period of two months.

As an aside, is the league designed to build loyalty at all? Players are thrown back into the auction pool after three years, the ownership of franchises is for a limited tenure of ten years, the grounds are hired, and there is no junior set-up. Of course, some franchises are powerful enough to change the rules to suit themselves and hence there is a semblance of stability in some teams. Otherwise the loyalty is really about cheering one's city and/or favourite players. Bah! Internet forums offer greater scope for that.

By virtue of being commercially successful, the IPL has lent extraordinary credibility to the T20 format. Tests v T20s was never an ideological debate before the IPL. Now it's as much about a conflict of ideology as it is about differences in taste.

The IPL is successful not so much because of the format of the game but because of the format of the tournament - mostly Indian stars, with some foreign ones thrown in for good measure, playing against each other every day for two months.

I am not sure if the IPL would have been any less commercially successful if it was played in the 50-overs format. Pit Dhoni against Yuvraj, Tendulkar against Dravid, Steyn against Pietersen. The overall audience might have been smaller and it may not have brought in as many new viewers (the ones Sanjay Manjrekar called "Alphonso fans") into the game as the IPL in its T20 avatar has done, but then ODIs provide a bigger advertising market than T20s do. In terms of commercial success alone, an IPL with 50-over games could have been as big an idea, if not bigger. The biggest source of cricket revenue is broadcast rights. An ODI in India fetches about four times what an IPL match does.

It's ironic that often it's the people who sing a dirge for the death of ODIs who celebrate the IPL for its riches. The logic seems to be: "I think ODIs are outdated, so they have to be done away with. You may think T20 is mediocre but the market pays for it, so shut up."

In effect, the IPL has bulldozed its way into the two most profitable months (given school vacations are on and advertisers are more inclined to spend at the start of the financial year) of the most lucrative cricket market.

For all the tripe about the entrepreneurial spirit of the IPL, it's really its power to have secured a prime chunk of the cricketing calendar for a supranational tournament disguised as a domestic tournament, with utter disregard for the existing domestic regulatory guidelines for sports broadcasting, that has made the league the commercial bonanza it is today.

When he's not watching / talking / tweeting / reading cricket, Mahesh Sethuraman works in a bank in India to pay his bills. He tweets @cornerd

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 9, 2013, 10:00 GMT

    If a person can score a century like Miller did, just now, one knows that he will perform well in O. D. I.'s and Test Matches. It shows that he is a great talent. The only idea seems to be, that one can have a T-20 World Cup every year, easily, and we don't.

  • Adam on May 7, 2013, 9:16 GMT

    1.2 billion cricket mad Indians were always going to make it financially successful. The actual quality of the cricket is vastly overrated. Domestic T20 in England, Australia and South Africa is at least equal standard if not better. Its not particularly popular outside of India either - if it weren't the only cricket available on UK tv then no-one would watch it.

  • Dummy4 on May 7, 2013, 8:23 GMT

    It's just to long. The first week I love it, the second week I watch snippets but by the time the final arrives I am completely indifferent to the whole thing and really can't give a toss who wins. A few fresh overseas faces might brighten it up

  • Dummy4 on May 7, 2013, 6:49 GMT

    Some of his comments about IPL is true. But hold it Mahesh. Crass commercialisation of sports has become the order of the day in any sports. And no doubt BCCI is flexing its muscles in ICC hirearchy and gets a slot without disturbing FTP. I am ardent fan of cricket and i watch every form of cricket. Be it Test match or ODI or T20. And honestly i have to admit that T20 is a clear entertainer and just like fast food. Now-a-days People want to spend time for entertainment in their evenings just go and freakout and IPL is ideal place for that. And the PLAYERS also get fat packets in IPL and it is alluring the foreign players to go under the hammer of IPL auction. So see the positive points in IPL and enjoy the game. Nobody goes to IPL to see the technicalities of the game.

  • Cyril on May 6, 2013, 20:37 GMT

    I agree with most of the article, but I am a bit surprised it was published as IPL is king of propaganda: commentators briefed and scripted, players fed lines for interviews and more. Even negative comments on Cricinfo seem managed. So many big companies have a foot in IPL that actual performances on the field are secondary to the way they are presented. It's all fake!

  • Harsh on May 6, 2013, 20:24 GMT

    If its intended to compensate sportsmen to a better degree, and encourage youngsters to take up careers in sports, IPL is definitely a boon. Apart from that, cricket did not just survive on entertainment value, which seems to be the USP of IPL. Even ODI's and Test matches in 90's and early 2000's had stadium crowd attendance rivaling, if not more, than any IPL match. As is the case with every entertainment model, it has a shelf life and fatigue factor.

  • V.L on May 6, 2013, 19:13 GMT

    Mahesh Sethuraman has astutely taken a dig at the IPL , under the guise of praising it. That is perhaps the only intelligent thing about this article. As for regulatory guideline breaking, I have just googled for it and found nothing! So you would be wise to clarify it next time. You talk about prime chunk of the cricketing season. What prime chunk was April-May before IPL began? The exams have always finished before the first week of April and the quarter-end has always been the end of March. But no other tournament has (barring World Cups or Champions Trophy) has garnered as much attention or interest. The fact remains that you are just one of those stressed out employees who takes out his frustration by taking a dig at IPL and BCCI and honestly, it is starting to get monotonous and boring!

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2013, 16:27 GMT

    It starts at 2:30am here in auckland, I wake up at that time and watching, therefore you can guess how interesting it is. go the IPL

  • Apoorva on May 6, 2013, 13:57 GMT

    I believe that IPL definately has bought a wider audience to the forefront which will in turn serve the game. What has happened that it has become a very big media property so now it has to sustain, too much money is riding on it. And if such big corporates, so many intelligent ppl s future is riding on it - they find ways to make it successful. We cannot comment if 50 overs would have been successful or not, though what I can fore see is that format will evolve further, I am pretty sure fo 10 overs -1 innings will happen

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2013, 10:51 GMT

    I think this is a simplistic analysis. The IPL has enlisted families and young children to its fold. I am astonished at the following that some teams have got whether it is RCB, CSK or MI to name just a few. The IPL is doing a few things right and there are enough statistics about women watching cricket now thanks to the IPL. I think it is representative of the social change that is sweeping the country . A girl in our office who earns 25,000 rs a month is willing to fork 1100 rs for a single IPL ticket. Clearly priorities are changing as is our society . Cricket has always been important to the indian male since the days of Hazare. Now IPL is part of the middle class Indian family and to attribute its success to the summer is a childish assessment. I was critical of IPL too but I sincerely believe that it is a phenomenon which has made a major difference to Indian watching and television viewing Ramanujam sridhar

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