In 2012 Star India began its journey as a sports broadcaster after it won the Indian cricket rights. Six years later, Star has retained those rights after winning a pitched battle with archrival Sony and paying close to a billion dollars to do so.
After the three-day e-auction ended on Thursday afternoon, Uday Shankar, the chairman of Star India, called it an "exhausting" exercise. But he admitted it was a learning experience. "Like every great thing, BCCI rights come expensive," he said, but added that it was worth it.
After winning the IPL rights you said economics does not really drive Test cricket. Coming into this auction did you really expect to overtake the IPL rights by such a big figure?
Yes. That is why we were prepared to put in that number. IPL is great and that is why it gets the viewership and it gets the business that it does. But this, as I have said, is national cricket: when the Indian team is playing on behalf of the country, the passion and the intensity it generates is unparalleled. And that is the power of this sport. You can say that the IPL number has become a benchmark, but if you see the IPL numbers (per-match value) in the first cycle moved up by four times. Actually the BCCI rights have gone up in a reasonable manner because the last price (per-match value) was INR 43 crores.
The last two years (2022 and 23) you have paid a high amount in terms of per-match value (INR 77.4 cr and INR 78.8 cr). During this period there are 44 international matches out of which 35 are ODIs and T20Is. Was that a factor behind the high price?
We believe that as we go further the sports market will get healthier and healthier in this country. There will be more and more people watching sports as we have seen in the last six to seven years that we've been active in the sports business. Our focus has been relentlessly on expanding the population of sports fans and cricket fans in India. And we have been successful in that. If you see the last five years' average - we have grown the viewership of all forms of cricket. If the quality of cricket, and, if the quality of the television and digital experience continue to go up every year, more and more people will watch. And that is what makes it worthwhile to be able to pay more.
Out of the 102 matches, 22 are Tests. Is your bid white-ball-cricket driven or combined? Can you explain the reasoning behind the jump from paying INR 43 cr per match to close to INR 60 cr?
Test matches have a value. They are niche category. They have certain loyal followers. They are not as big in the mass following as the T20 and ODI formats, but overall it is about quality of cricket. Also when you are in a tender process and if all three events (formats) have been bundled together you have to bid on all of them. The prices that you see reflect average value of all three forms put together across five years. So as a bundle we believe that it makes sense.
More than Test matches, the real issue is the quality of cricket, the quality of the competition. If two great teams are playing, if India and Australia and those kind of teams are playing, if the interests levels are high because of the nature of the engagement that is happening, all forms of cricket in this country get very exciting. The problem comes when the games become listless. And that is what we all need to be focusing on.
How much did the digital rights factor in your price?
We were focusing more on the consolidated rights. All the bids we have participated in we believed that we should look at the rights as a combo package specially because we have both digital and television offering. So we were not making those distinctions in our calculations.
"If two great teams are playing, if India and Australia and those kind of teams are playing, if the interests levels are high because of the nature of the engagement that is happening, all forms of cricket in this country get very exciting. The problem comes when the games become listless." Uday Shankar, chairman, Star India
How was the experience of taking part in the e-auction?
The experience was like a movie that was great, but it wasn't just coming to an end. It went on and on. I'm sure everybody including the BCCI who, purely from their business point of view, it was great the longer it ran because every minute was bringing more cash. But I am sure by the end of it they also must be exhausted because for it to go on for three days is quite something. I don't think there is another tender of any sport rights we are aware of that has gone on for so long. You had to be technically savvy. It took time to understand but it was a very scientific and transparent process. You knew at any time what the leading bid in every category was [even though] you did not know the name of the bidder. You were getting enough time to respond to that.
It also nailed a miscommunication that has been going on that e-tender or sealed tender, one or the other, is fundamentally superior or inferior. Finally it is about whoever is willing to pay the highest price. We participate and we experience sports rights all over the world, the BCCI runs probably the most transparent and brutally disciplined process sometimes to the disadvantage of the bidders. And they maintain the same discipline and that is why they end up making so much money.