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IPL: BCCI’s decision to host concurrent league matches has trend-setting potential going forward | Cricket News



MUMBAI: A little more than a week ago, Rebecca Campbell, chairperson at Disney’s international operations and direct-to-consumer (DTC) that oversees the company’s streaming businesses globally, was in Dubai watching an Indian Premier League (IPL) game. Also present at that match was BCCI secretary Jay Shah.
Whether Cambell met Shah or not is unclear but a week later, the Board announced that the final two league stage matches of IPL, scheduled September 8, will start concurrently at 7.30 pm and move away from the prevailing idea of ‘double-header’ where one match begins at 3.30 pm IST (2 pm GST) and the other at 7.30 pm IST (6 pm GST).
The decision potentially has far-reaching consequences – some extremely positive – for all stakeholders, but none bigger than the Board itself and the broadcaster.
Let’s first get done with the existing scenario of double-headers played at 3.30 pm and 7.30 pm. Be it India in the month of May, or UAE right now, playing a match at 3.30 pm IST or 2 pm GST is quite a challenge. Soaring temperatures tend to take a heavy toll on players during the afternoon game, thereby leaving teams playing the 7.30 pm tie with a distinct advantage.
Given that playoffs are ‘do-or-die’ matches, the primary reference point – while contemplating this decision – was to ensure a level-playing field.
“That’s one area where we wanted to experiment. This (move) will put all teams on equal footing, and that’s great for the competition. And because it’s just an experiment right now, it’ll help us understand all the corollaries involved in such a move,” says BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal.
The corollaries majorly pertain to broadcaster interests, given that two matches will mean divided viewing time for cricket consumers at prime-time hours, at the cost of a weekend afternoon game that might have attracted its own share of eyeballs for the broadcaster.
The math, nevertheless, seems to work differently and it is clear an afternoon game has few takers.
On the other hand, while two matches at concurrent timings may mean divided viewing-time but it also offers the following: a) Opportunity for broadcaster to increase TV / OTT subscriber base, considering viewers may want to watch both matches simultaneously; b) Give BCCI an idea if the format works, because if it does then 74 matches in a little less than 60 days – once two new teams are added – becomes a possibility for the 2022 edition; c) Puts less pressure on BCCI to bargain with the International Cricket Council (ICC) for a wider window for IPL when the new Future Tours Program (FTP) comes into effect starting 2023; d) Puts more onus on other stakeholders, especially franchise-owners, to work on their respective ecosystems from a popularity / fan-engagement POV and then earn a set percentage of central revenue based on the TV / OTT numbers their teams can generate on match-days.
What’s clear right now is, broadcasters don’t want the 74-match format and the BCCI-Star (now Disney) deal doesn’t allow matches beyond that number in the present deal. A quid-pro, therefore, could’ve been the only way forward.
“There are two choices the BCCI had. This is one among many reasons why we began thinking if hosting concurrent matches could work,” says Dhumal.
When BCCI introduced two new teams in 2010, it had no choice but to create a new format consisting of 74 matches – 10 teams were divided into two groups of five and in group stage, each team played 14 games, facing the other four teams in their group two times each (one home and one away game), four teams in the other group once, and the remaining team two times. A random draw was used to determine the groups.
It was complicated and had to be avoided. The current broadcast deal has Star (Disney) paying BCCI Rs 16,347 crore over five years – which means 2022 outgo will be to the tune of Rs 3,500 crore – and therefore, while BCCI aspires to expand the league, its stakeholders also need to be convinced.
Meanwhile, the BCCI has also sent out a message to its stakeholders here – that it is willing to look into their interests. “That’s a positive move, certainly, especially with a new media rights tender expected next month,” say industry executives.
Concurrent league matches are hugely popular in the western sports markets, especially the highly successful NFL in the United States. Further, where football in UK & Europe is concerned, broadcasters have already been in practice of bucketing rights for TV and digital – read: Specific matches on TV and specific matches on digital and some on both – that have led to a successful model.
“The IPL numbers (ratings) have gradually been settling. And yet, compared to some of the western leagues, this is a very young property. So, some experimenting will help. Second, if teams play concurrent matches, viewers will decide which game they want to watch depending on popularity. That means, the onus will have to be on teams to catch the viewer’s popularity. Also, what these teams and their franchises do for the rest of the year, before and after the tournament every year, and what value-systems they manage to build will define their approval via ratings. The challenges will open up and so will opportunities,” industry sources add.
What it effectively means is: If Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad are playing on the same day as Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, the onus will have to be on Royals and the Sunrisers to do better not just on the field but off it throughout the year to build an ecosystem that can match Mumbai and Chennai.
In 2008, when Lalit Modi offered corporate India an opportunity to get involved with cricket, it was an opportunity loaded with risks. In a high-stakes game that IPL now is, risk-quotient is once again the overriding factor if the IPL needs to keep innovating and moving ahead.