Opinion: The Indian Premier League – Howzzat for a startup?

Ambarish Ray IPL

Ambarish Ray talks about IPL – a successful startup in itself and how this entity went from initial criticism and paranoia to being one of the most successful leagues in the world.

When we think of the Indian Premier League (IPL), we think of a glamorous spectacle of cricket and entertainment. The biggest names in international cricket, Bollywood and industry are closely associated with it. Like the big bang, the biggest buck cricket league in the world, the IPL leaves most of us wonderstruck and starry-eyed. It’s hard to imagine it as a hesitant step in a new direction, trying to bring a change to the legacy of cricket per se. Would you call IPL a startup?

Yet, that is what it was. A small step, a stride in the direction of change. A bold idea. In other words, a startup.

IPL – The Beginning Of A Startup

In its maiden launch season in 2008, the IPL faced what every new idea faces. Criticism.

Many considered it a knee-jerk reaction to the Indian Cricket League which had been funded by Zee Entertainment Enterprises in 2007. This League, however, was not recognized by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) or the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Therefore, when the IPL launched hot on the heels of India’s 2007 T20 World Cup victory, it faced a lot of criticism as an act of aggression and one-upmanship. Undaunted, the BCCI proceeded to address every doubt and reassure the public that the IPL had been on the tool desk, being planned for the past two years and that it wasn’t a superficial reaction or challenge to any other league.

The other major sore point surrounding the IPL initially was the glamour that surrounded it. Cricket fanatics and puritans, the priests of the temple of cricket, were disdainful of the T20 format. To add Bollywood and entertainment to this seemed like a racy recipe that was more deserving of a tamasha than a game fit for the lords and ladies.

Everyone was concerned about the ‘seriousness’ of the game and how the format itself was going to bring down its standards. It was time to prove itself. And that’s exactly what the IPL did.

From the get-go, it was focused on its format and modelled itself on the NBA and EPL. It was determined to shake the inertia of the Indian cricket scene. From international consultants to top rung professionals, no effort was spared to peg the event as a winner from the whistle blow itself. As someone who was a part of the team that launched the maiden IPL broadcast on national cable TV, I have both a ringside as well as inside the ring notes on the runaway success that the IPL is today.

Also Read: Opinion: IPL Marketing on a shoestring budget – how to market during IPL without investing in IPL

A Mantra For Success

For any startup to be successful, it needs to fulfil the expectations of all its stakeholders as well as delight its various audiences. The Indian Premier League, with its masala mix of sports, entertainment, and glamour, checked all the boxes.

Its money-spinning formula unlocked the true financial value of cricket, making it one of the BCCI’s highest revenue assets. In fact, the BCCI is the richest cricketing body in the world today. Its fast-paced cricket and international talent changed the grammar of the game in the country. And its huge entertainment quota seduced fans from across the board, as it brought together India’s two most beloved worlds – cricket and Bollywood.

The IPL gave Indian sport a good shake with a really smart move. High-quality cricket was now being packaged and home delivered during prime time to every TV in every Indian home.

Through the years, the IPL has only grown from success to bigger success. Even COVID-19 could not deter the country’s love for its homegrown league. In fact, the pandemic allowed the IPL to prove itself once again. That it was not about grabbing attention but delivering cricket to every Indian fan in the way they would enjoy it the most.

The IPL Opportunity

Today, the IPL presents a huge opportunity for brands and cricketers alike. Here, talent meets opportunity, and everybody wins. As the IPL model is being replicated in other countries, it is a matter of prestige for cricketers to participate in this extravaganza. The IPL recruits only the best players to be chosen for bidding for each season.

Selection and bidding too have seen a huge jump since the IPL’s inception.

In fact, the average price tag of a team stands at over INR 6,000 crore (nearly a billion dollars), a whopping 17-fold jump in just 13 years. Recently, the BCCI made over INR 12,000 crore by selling just two teams.

There is also a fantastic opportunity for brands to leverage their visibility and increase their reach by millions. Media rights, title sponsorships, media partnerships, and associate sponsorships have become a battleground for brands, with many giants wanting to gain maximum share in this game. Brands that are not directly associated with the IPL also shell out huge amounts just to have their communication air at prime time during the matches.

All of this has hiked the IPL’s title sponsorship fee from INR 40 crore in 2008 to over INR 400 crore in 2022. It’s grown 10x in a little over a decade. Now, if that’s not a success story then I wouldn’t know any.

In India, the IPL craze knows no bounds. People adore this quintessentially and proudly. An Indian take on the gentleman’s game. And the numbers show it.

Like every startup, the Indian Premier League too started out as an idea of doing something new and different. And its success wasn’t just good luck. It was based on a meticulous study, research, and calculation. Of what the audiences want, what the stakeholders expect, and what the industry needs. A perfect calibration to create the perfect super story of a phenomenal startup. That is no longer one anymore.

The article is authored by Ambarish Ray, Co-founder & CEO of Digital Dogs Content and Media.


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