AFP – The Indian Premier League is expecting even higher returns in the years ahead after striking a bumper $2.55 billion broadcast deal to become one of the world’s richest sports competitions.
IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla believes there is plenty more growth to come for the glitzy Twenty20 cricket league, whose heady success comes despite its history of corruption scandals.
This week, Rupert Murdoch’s Star India beat rival bids from Facebook, Sony and India’s Airtel to land the IPL’s TV and digital rights over five years from 2018.
The deal, a four-fold increase after Sony paid $1.2 billion for broadcast rights over 10 years in 2008, puts the IPL on a similar level to football’s English Premier League, a bellwether for global sports marketing.
The eight-week IPL’s 60 games are now valued at roughly $8.5 million each, not far off the estimated $9.6 million per Premier League match – and well over the $6.2 million price tag attached to home internationals in India.
Shukla said he wasn’t surprised at the IPL’s new earning power, which is tipped to have a wide-ranging impact on cricket, much as Kerry Packer’s renegade World Series Cricket of the 1970s ushered in a new era for the sport.
"Every year, IPL is growing in terms of reach, value and impact. In 10 years, it has gone up manyfold, and I hope enhancements will keep on happening in the future ," Shukla told AFP. "Since the value of property has seen signficant gains with each passing year, it will keep increasing in the future as well," he added.
The IPL has spawned copycat leagues in Australia, Pakistan and elsewhere, and has already swelled the bank accounts of scores of players, making domestic T20 a lucrative alternative to the international game.
India captain Virat Kohli was the best-paid player at this year’s IPL, earning $2.26 million with Royal Challengers Bangalore, while the most expensive foreigner was England’s Ben Stokes at $2.16 million.
Earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a week – albeit for only two months – is usually the preserve of footballers and NBA players, but IPL cricketers can expect a step-change in their wages next year.
"It’s a game-changer, not only in Indian cricket but world cricket. The kind of money that’s generated in India through cricket is enormous," former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin told AFP. "You never know what’s in store. If you compare it to EPL, then an IPL player’s worth can be even more in coming years. The bar is raised and I am all for players making money," he added.
Many critics are concerned the growing sums on offer will have a negative impact on international cricket, as players prioritise earning money over representing their countries. But Delhi Daredevils spinner Shahbaz Nadeem, as yet uncapped by India, said international cricket remained the pinnacle for players.
"Money is no doubt a factor in IPL, but the ultimate goal is to represent your country. Yes, IPL can act as a good launchpad for showcasing your talent," the 28-year-old said.
The IPL, which is broadcast around the world, is hugely popular for its mix of sport and showbiz, with a number of teams fronted by Bollywood stars. It is the brainchild of Indian cricket administrator Lalit Modi, who is now in Britain and refusing to return to his home country to face corruption charges.
The IPL was also hit by a spot-fixing scandal in 2013, which led to the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals being suspended for two seasons in 2015.
But the IPL has thrived regardless, and has inspired a range of other franchise-based leagues in India in sports as diverse as boxing, badminton, poker and kabaddi.