April 11, 2013

When cricket goes corporate

Amrit Mathur
Among the IPL's most distinctive achievements is how it has brought the world of Indian business into the game

Five seasons on, the hype and the noise surrounding the event have obscured the IPL's identity as a fully functioning business enterprise. The league's alliance with the Indian corporate world has set up for Indian cricket a multi-layered partnership with industry, giving private entrepreneurs unique access to Indian professional sport on a scale not seen before.

Judged from the business standpoint, the IPL is brilliant - a cricket tournament developed primarily as a valuable commercial property. Through its yearly summer carnival, the IPL has given corporate houses a chance to promote, push, advertise and aggressively market their businesses.

Fundamental to the IPL's business plan was the idea of inviting private enterprise to own a slice of the cricket business - which had till then been a closed club. When franchises were sold in perpetuity, at a steep entry price, the corporate world was told it could invest in, own, and in future even trade on key components of Indian cricket. This proposition turned out to be a commercial masterstroke.

Until then all domestic T20 teams around the world were merely first-class teams renamed but still controlled by cricket associations. South Africa had the term "franchise" in cricket before India did. In 2003-04, Cricket South Africa decided to concentrate the resources of 11 provincial teams by merging them into six franchises, but those were still managed by the folks running cricket in Durban or Johannesburg or Cape Town - only with sponsor names tagged on to the team names.

Before the IPL, Indian cricket had no real, meaningful relationship with industry and commerce, though there were big TV deals and sponsors paying serious money to put their logo on Tendulkar's chest. The BCCI was quite content to let a few big sponsors (the ones who could afford to pay the asking price) compete for the available rights.

By creating an arm of Indian cricket that could be run as a purely commercial enterprise, corporate India was allowed to enter Indian cricket's dressing room. The sale of the IPL franchises was the game-changing moment.

Limiting the number of teams in the tournament maintains a simple economic balance - that of demand outstripping supply, translating into rise in value. The side benefits that come with owning an IPL team are social status, and opportunities for image-building and networking: good for business, priceless for bragging rights.

Whatever happens to the franchises, the BCCI's own revenue is secure. Every year it gets franchise fee payments ranging from US$37 million from Sahara Pune to $6.7m from Rajasthan Royals. There is also its share of central revenue, mainly from broadcast rights and from commercial sponsorships (this year from Pepsi, Yes Bank, Star, Vodafone and other partners).

With the BCCI protected from risk, it is essentially the franchise owners who carry the heavy financial burdens in the IPL. They have committed expenses (franchise fees, player costs, the costs of running, managing and marketing the team and of staging home matches). All of this could touch Rs 150 crores (about $27m) every year for a franchise.

The franchises' lifeline is their share of the central revenue generated by the IPL from the collective sale of broadcast and sponsorship rights. Central sponsorship is distributed to teams through a complex formula - a team's league standing has a bearing on what the franchise receives - and the average annual figure is approximately Rs 50 crores ($9m) per franchise. Given that there is a difference in revenue distribution of approximately Rs 1 crore (about $180,000) between each of the nine ranks in the league standings, the margin of earnings between the IPL winners and the bottom-placed team works out to about Rs 9 crore.

To break even, let alone make a profit, a franchise team has to strenuously work the assets available to it. Selling branding space on team uniforms is a major revenue stream. Logo branding has obvious media value, given live television coverage; everything starts with the team shirt.

Each franchise sells as many as ten properties on its team uniform. If marketed well, this could raise close to Rs 60 crores ($10m). The big money comes from the main team sponsor slot - the 206 square cm space across the front of the shirt, which can fetch about Rs 20 crores ($3m) per year. The six other logo spaces on a team jersey are expensive; the ones on the trousers and helmet fetch lower prices. Other licensing arrangements - which involve the use of the franchise's logo - come at more affordable prices (around 50 lakh or $92,000 a year).

Ticket revenue from home matches form another chunk of revenue. Some teams, Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi among them, will target ticket sales in excess of Rs 40 crores ($725,000) this season. (This is after 20% of the ticket inventory has already been given, as part of the franchise contract, to the IPL.)

The side benefits that come with owning an IPL team are social status, and opportunities for image-building and networking: good for business, priceless for bragging rights

The rules of engagement between cricket and industry have now changed to a more equal working arrangement - as against the BCCI's monopoly position. Due to the financial requirements of every franchise, commercial partners are no longer unwelcome guests, to be tolerated as long as they fork out the cash, but allies who deserve respect. Each IPL team has, on an average, 25 commercial partners - sponsors, licensees and suppliers.

The IPL has given everyone, from an MNC like Nokia to a local hosiery company like Lux Cozi, room to hawk their goods. The advertiser need not have a well-recognised pan-Indian presence. For instance, Manyawar, a brand headquartered in Kolkata, which sells formal Indian clothes for men, is now Kolkata Knight Riders' "ethinc wear partner". There is something for every size of corporate player.

It is the combined energy of approximately 250 such entities, all of whom are now players in the business of Indian cricket every summer, that fuels the IPL's economy. These new stakeholders drive growth by injecting resources and creativity into the system.

This is why the IPL is much more than a cricket carnival. Surrounding the action on the field, beyond the boundary is an entire world. A whirl of promotions, product launches, events, contests, road shows, celebrity appearances, meet-and-greets, fashion shows, movie tie-ups, and more.

As part of their outreach efforts aimed at building a fan base and at positioning their brand right, teams have organised cricket tournaments for slum kids, visited hospitals, led advocacy campaigns against disease, supported UN programmes for the girl child, and so on.

Cricket has for long been a big part of what connected corporate India to its customers, but before the IPL, corporate India did not have the kind of access to Indian cricket it now does. Due to this altered grammar, where the game is commercially driven, franchisees are in the business of reaching out and engaging with fans.

Five years since the IPL began, teams now have a better grasp of what needs to be done. The league is now firmly integrated into the Indian economy, and its financial results will reflect larger commercial dynamics at play, impacting all of the IPL's stakeholders - teams, players, sponsors and fans.

To an extent cricket, and the IPL, has not been much affected by the recession. There is still money being spent, but perhaps not as freely as before - questions are asked, concessions negotiated. The IPL is like a batsman who earlier hit through the line but now has to graft for runs and struggle on a track that is getting increasingly tricky.

The next article in this series will look at the impact of the IPL on players, what team owners look for, why they pay what they pay, trading, and emerging trends

Amrit Mathur is a former manager of the Indian cricket team and currently a consultant with Delhi Daredevils

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on April 12, 2013, 10:38 GMT


    Your comment is unqualified. There is no direct financial relationship between owners existing business and IPL Franchisees. These are independent entiies and have their own financial and legal standings. The frame work was well articulated and practical. About Deccan and Kochi are mismanaged by their owners. Greed over took the business. These scenario is normal in any business. About stock market index going up and down, it is cyclic. If there are any franchise has financial issues, it is due to their own doings than their parent companies. In India there are around 60 billionaires and 2000 multi millionaires. If you are looking for Dark Cloud over Silver Lining, then you are over ambitous.

  • imsaiarasan23 on April 12, 2013, 8:25 GMT

    Was a revelation that the Leagues played in the subcontinents including IPL, SLPL and BPL have a corporate ownership, whereas the Big bash, Ram Slam, Carribean T20 are still through the 'cricket associations' structure..

    The corporate structure brings more efficiency to the league but will increase the costs to the fans (considering there is a markup for the profit to the owners) and also rising disparity between the teams based on resources of the owner of each team..

  • UdayMate on April 11, 2013, 22:06 GMT

    @Andy Plowright - The IPL is the most sought after event in the international calendar by most cricketers. If it had no soul - you wouldnt have players vying to be part of this tournament. Yes, the commercialism is at times annoying but the quality of cricket played is always fairly good coz you have the best Indian and international talents playing for their franchises. Its a novel concept in cricket and has for sure revolutionised the sport - whether we all like it or not. Long live the IPL:-) And when it comes to slow bowlers -please do take a look at Narine, Shahbaz Nadeem, Murali Kartik, Harbhajan Singh, Hanuma Vihari,Pragyan Ojha, Ashwin, Piyush CHawla and Ravindra Jadeja who have all bowled quite well so far in this IPL.You probably dont think they are good enough - to each his own.

  • Nutcutlet on April 11, 2013, 15:29 GMT

    How does IPL money benefit the poor & bereft of India, please? Or is this a question that's completely out of place whilst everyone is having a party? Can the disadvantaged share in the fun, by having enough to eat, perhaps?

  • Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas on April 11, 2013, 15:08 GMT

    @Andy Plowright, not just me, but I think the players themselves seem to disagree with you loudly as they keep saying that the quality of cricket in IPL is of a very high standard and intensity. Even if you were right and that nothing sticks into you, as long as it is providing entertainment to the people who dole out their money (Indians mostly), IPL is worth every cent.

  • ganeshram78 on April 11, 2013, 10:04 GMT

    The IPL has been jinxed for all corporates associated with it. The IPL was a fallout of bull market excesses in late 2007/ early 2008. Since then the share prices, which over a period truly reflect the fortunes of those corporates are all down 65% to even 95%. Mind you, the Sensex is hardly down 10% since then. The likes of GMR, Kingfisher, Reliance, Deccan Chronicle, DLF, India Cements stocks are all down. Lalit Modi, who practically owned 2 teams, is a refugee, the kochi team is a casualty and Saharas are facing huge challenges from the regulator, SEBI. We need to see what happens to SunTV, the latest entrant.

  • dummy4fb on April 11, 2013, 8:58 GMT

    You've missed out on the biggest source of revenue for the franchisees which serves to derisk them as well - their share of TV rights touces ~50-60 million USD a year!! That more than covers any comercial risk - and that is why the IPL makes money for its team owners.

  • ladycricfan on April 11, 2013, 8:19 GMT

    Where is Karbonn mobiles? I miss the " Karbonn Kamaal Katch". .......Yes bank maximum takes a while to getting used to. And a new " innovative thinker award" , I'm not sure who is sponsoring that.

  • dummy4fb on April 11, 2013, 6:03 GMT

    The author has detailed the financial assets quite well but in my opinion one big factor missed out here is the infrastructure cost. Ppl compare IPL to English Prem league but one major advantage for owners in IPL is that they don't have to build or even maintain stadia. Look at Liverpool. A household name by any stretch of imagination but they are struggling to move out of Anfield for years. Arsenal have struggled in recent years since their move to Emirates stadium. They have to 15 million pounds every year.