OP-ED: The IPL Bidding Process and the Future of Cricket

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After an explosive bidding process, it’s clear that IPL has changed cricket forever. Where do we go from here? James Fenn, Associate Director at Hill + Knowlton Strategies, looks to the future after a milestone week for the cricket industry.


Lazy Sundays on the village greens. Corks popping in Victorian pavilions. Well-oiled crowds that reinvent the hymns of the 80s. For many, these are the images that come to mind when they think of cricket. A sport wrapped in tradition and supported by sentiment.

But over the past two decades, cricket has seen a seismic change. Spearheaded by the rise of short form play, the transformation has been attributed to a lot of things; a deliberate expansion of the fan base, a shorter attention span of modern consumers, an “Americanization” of sports entertainment. But, in reality, the fuel that powered the turbines of the cricket transformation was the same fuel that powers most sporting innovations. The pursuit of profit.

From IPL to T20 World Cup to The Hundred, each brings great benefits to fans and cricketers alike, delivering more entertainment, more formats, more cricket. But they also create new intellectual property, new assets and new rights. New ways to create capital.

None of this is critical. There is no free lunch and in sports there is rarely free growth. Profit fuels progress which fuels profit. Commercial interest in the sport, when appropriately targeted to add to the fan and player experience (but not take away from it), should be a virtuous circle.

Which brings us to the final example of the new reality of cricket, the bidding process for the last two IPL franchises. This week, the rights to create new IPL franchises were offered to bidders. The results were amazing. Kolkata-based RPSG and international investment firm CVC Capital (which have already invested in Rugby’s 6 Nations and La Liga, among other properties), paid a combined total of nearly $ 1.7 billion for buy in the league. Outbid the big players including the Glazer family and the Adani group.

This money goes directly to the BCCI. The governing body of Indian cricket only has to create a slightly more complicated fixture list. It is, for a beneficiary, something that approaches paradise. By building the IPL to become a fan engagement giant, the IPL has created a self-powered monster. A property that doesn’t just provide broadcast rights and trade deals, but gives BCCI a huge instant cash injection, whenever it needs it.

That’s exactly what the ECB wants The Hundred to do for them (alongside, of course, growing the sport). Despite a successful first year, they still have a long way to go.

It’s akin to the model in the United States, where the price of rights to an NBA or NFL franchise has been mind-boggling for years. But for cricket, a sport many around the world would mistakenly refer to as a niche, reaching this level is an astonishing moment.

The consequences of IPL’s expansion offers could trigger another period of radical change for the sport. I tried to predict what might happen next:

IPL becomes unassailable in the world of cricket – The cancellation of the 5th test between England and India this summer – which many believe was due to the Indian players not wanting to risk their place in the IPL – was already seen by some as a turning point in the balance of power in cricket. With the financial weight demonstrated by the new franchise offerings, IPL’s grip on global gaming will only grow and grow. Expect the tournament to grow considerably and the schedule to be dominated even more by the most lucrative cricket competition

The female IPL must arrive – This remains perhaps the IPL’s biggest blind spot. Support for women’s sport is finally getting the attention it deserves, in cricket and beyond. On the back of The Hundred, where women’s competition has stolen the show, the IPL needs a female equivalent. Since this presents the opportunity to create even more assets and intellectual property, this one cannot be far

IPL goes global : The current landscape of T20 competition is disparate. Each of the major cricketing nations hosts a national tournament, varying in size and success. But with the power of the IPL brand, don’t be surprised if Indian competition starts to expand outside of its domestic market. If BCCI showed up at the door of the West Indies Cricket Boards with a monster offer to rename the Caribbean Premier League to the IPL: West Indies, who says no? Also look for emerging markets to win. IPL: USA or IPL: Abu Dhabi would make a lot of sense. Could the IPL even become part of the international game? The more the IPL grows, the more options are open

IPL also dominates the virtual world – IPL is no stranger to capitalizing on the latest trends in fan experience. The league has capitalized on the popularity of fantasy sports better than any other league outside of North America. As our world becomes more and more virtual, also look for the league that dominates this space. Through its close ties to Disney / Star Sports, the league has already built unique virtual experiences for fans in India. These experiences will only become more sophisticated and globally accessible, with IPL leveraging its partners to push the boundaries of what can be achieved in virtual fandom. As the number of games increases, could we see some of the games being released only through virtual worlds?

IPL shatters America’s ‘big three’ – According to some sources, the IPL is already the 4th most valued sports league in the world, ahead of the Premier League. But with the league’s growth trajectory, it looks certain to break the once-unassailable dominance of major American sports (NFL, NBA, MLB) in the coming years, if not already.

What is perhaps most remarkable about IPL is that there is huge room for growth. More markets. More teams. More experiences. The financial reality exposed by this week’s offers sent shockwaves through the cricket world. But it’s a league that’s just getting started.


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