What implications does the T20 World Cup in USA hold for advertisers?

Cricket's reception in the United States remains a point of intrigue as the sport, still fresh to the American landscape, contends with tepid ad rates. While multiple reasons have led to this decline, as experts share in this piece, the high-octane India-Pakistan clash did stir some excitement in the branding world. Media gurus tell us how has this debut host nation fared for cricket so far in the U.S.?

Harshal Thakur
New Update

There are certain years that are slotted with so many monumental events throughout the course that every month seems like an opportunity for advertisers to ride the moment train and leverage eyeballs surrounding that event. 2024 is one such year. Right from the beginning, besides the usual festive marketing, the year has witnessed one significant event after another. The Summer season witnessed two juggernaut events clashing with the 2024 Lok Sabha elections occurring at the same time as the annual Indian Premier League (IPL). This not only multiplied options for advertisers but created a unique problem-of-plenty situation, which, if leveraged judiciously, meant enormous returns on investment. 

The IPL ended in the last week of May, while the 2024 general elections saw results declared on June 4. Despite that, advertisers are yet to take a monsoon backseat as a gargantuan event has already begun its proceedings. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024 is breaking new ground. Co-hosted by the West Indies and the United States, the tournament takes cricket's biggest spectacle to American shores for the first time. 

Being the youngest format among ICC’s World Cup tournaments, the T20 World Cup has been massively popular since its inception. However, this popularity has been largely restricted to the Indian subcontinent, Australia, England, and the Caribbean. With its foray into American soil, this year’s World Cup has presented a novel commercial opportunity as well as new equations for advertisers.   

A new market beckons

Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world, boasting billions of fans across the globe. The T20 format, with its fast-paced action and shorter duration, has further broadened the sport's appeal, particularly among younger demographics. Despite this, the short format of the game had only been restricted to Commonwealth nations. However, this edition of the T20 spectacle has forayed into the United States. Additionally, this edition features a record 20 teams that are competing for the coveted trophy. 

This new market holds potential lucrative opportunities for brands to advertise. The untapped audience of this new country facilitates novel opportunities to raise brand awareness as well as ROI. 

“This edition of the World Cup features a record-breaking 20 teams which is a dream come true for many smaller cricketing nations. This initiative not only provides opportunities for these nations to develop cricket in their countries but also creates branding, advertising, and revenue generation opportunities for both the smaller and established cricket-playing countries. Amul has sponsored the USA team apart from the Sri Lanka & South Africa teams in the current edition. Many more advertisers may look forward to adopting this strategy,” says Sarfaraz Ansari, Senior VP, Mudramax. 

On the other hand, Vaibhav Choudhari, Vice President – West, Carat India, has a different view. He says, “The location of the World Cup doesn’t matter for Indian brands as the viewership on TV or digital streaming platforms attracts a significant share of audiences as against on-ground opportunities. Usual sponsorships, targeted audience impressions, non-FCT elements, and some innovative integrations along with the regular spot buy options will be leveraged by the participating India brands.”  

Krish Ramnani, Co-Founder & Director, Togglehead, remarks, “In the USA, a significant portion of cricket enthusiasts stems from the South Asian diaspora, comprising expats from the region. This demographic presents a lucrative opportunity for brands targeting this population, especially in the export market.”

Ramani says that Cricket boasts massive followings in England, Australia, and among the South Asian diaspora, with a particularly fervent fan base in India. He says that unlike IPL where viewership is more regionally divided, during the World Cup, patriotism swells among Indians, drawing in a massive audience.  

“Indian matches, strategically scheduled at 8 PM IST, hit prime time, maximising viewership post-office/school/college hours. This concentrated attention not only grips local audiences but also resonates with overseas Indians, offering brands a vast platform for exposure,” adds Ramnani. 

Sluggish ad rates paint a different picture

All said and done, there still remains uncertainty regarding the reception of cricket in the United States, given that it’s a relatively new sport in the land of liberty.   

Despite this uncertainty, Ramnani sees a lucrative potential in the South Asian diaspora. “In the USA, a significant portion of cricket enthusiasts stems from the South Asian diaspora, comprising expats from the region. This demographic presents a lucrative opportunity for brands targeting this population, especially in the export market,” he opines. 

Similarly, Choudhari is optimistic about the reception by the Indian community in the USA. He says that while the fan base in the States is still developing compared to traditional cricketing nations, a casual fan base would be interested in knowing more about the sport given that the World Cup is a significant event. 

“If we were to take the analogy of the Football World Cup - the excitement it creates in our country whereas we are a very strong cricket fanbase nation. Strong marketing and promotion highlighting the fast-paced, action-packed nature of T20 cricket could attract new viewers,” adds Choudhari. 

While Ansari admits that we might not see large crowds in the stadiums for every match, he sees a silver lining for the future. “The ICC's decision to include these aspiring cricket-playing nations in the World Cup is a commendable initiative that will promote the sport not only in these participating countries but also globally in the future,” shares the Senior VP at Mudramax. 

The uncertainty around the reception of cricket in the USA is not the only thing that might concern advertisers. Despite the magnitude of the event organised by the ICC this year, ad rates haven’t seen a significant increase. 

Ramnani draws attention to multiple potential causes that could have caused this anomaly. These include the extended IPL season saturating the cricket calendar, a prolonged election campaign diverting ad spending, potential cricket fatigue among viewers, and low viewer engagement for early morning non-Indian matches. 

Ansari shares a detailed explanation behind the sluggish ad rates, “Every resource is finite and so is the available dollar with every advertiser. The last 10-12 months have seen 5 major events – Asia Cup, CWC 23, IPL24, Elections and then T20 WC and the upcoming Paris Olympic in 2024 and Euro Cup to follow. All these events are large pullers of money and because each event performed better than the others and expectations from each event, a large sum of money is already exhausted.” 

Ansari goes on, “Scattered mediums fighting each other for the larger pie played its role as well. And then the format of the upcoming T20 WC – bifurcation of match slots due to time zone difference has somewhat restricted the intent of many large and small advertisers to go full throttle. This has dampened the sentiment of broadcasters to go brave and in turn, broadcasters are struggling to fill in inventory even at compromised pricing.”

Pointing out the budget constraints of advertisers, Choudhari says, “Advertisers do not spend significantly during the June-July period historically due to a slower business season. Also, most advertisers who have spent significantly on IPL would not want to participate in the World Cup due to budget constraints, same is the case for those who wish to leverage the festive for a better ROI. Ad rate packages are already lower than the previous year due to the above factors as well a plausible drop in viewership due to timings will also affect its sales. We could see the usual RMG apps & pan masala brands participating as sponsors but it will be a daunting task to sell the inventory without slashing pricing significantly.”

Ajay Gupte, CEO - South Asia, Wavemaker says that before the beginning of the World Cup, the audience did not seem as enthusiastic about the event as anticipated, ergo the low ad slot rates. However, he thinks that once India starts on a winning momentum (which seems to be the case), ad slots might witness an uptick.  

Cricket fatigue and trends in specific mediums

With the World Cup being scheduled just after the end of a long IPL season, there’s talk of potential cricket fatigue that fans might experience given the extensive duration of the tournament. 

As to what impact it will have on viewership and advertisers, Choudhari says, “Viewership for the overall event would see an increase due to the number of matches, but average match popularity would see a decline barring the Indian fixtures, which would be telecast during primetime. Irrespective of cricketing fatigue, India matches will drive a significant viewership on all the telecast platforms.” 

Krish Ramnani says that while cricket fatigue may be a factor, the World Cup has a remarkable ability to unite fans and evoke a sense of national pride. He posits that despite any weariness from the relentless cricketing calendar, the passion and patriotism surrounding the World Cup tend to outweigh any fatigue.

“Moreover, the condensed and high-stakes nature of the World Cup format tends to consolidate viewership. With fewer matches and each game carrying immense significance, fans are more likely to stay engaged throughout the tournament,” Ramnani remarks.  

On a similar note Ansari thinks that while there may not be a high rating for all the matches, no amount of cricket can bring in fatigue in a cricket-crazy nation like India. 

When it comes to assessing which mediums might experience a change in viewership during the grand event, experts have different opinions. 

Sarfaraz Ansari opines, “Due to the short format, viewers might choose cricket regardless of the teams playing, potentially impacting the viewership of other genres, particularly movies and news. GECs (General Entertainment Channels) might retain their ratings during non-prime time matches as audiences might opt for mobile to follow those games.”

Vaibhav Choudhari, on the other hand, holds that there could be a significant shift towards digital from linear TV. He says, “The upcoming ICC Men's T20 World Cup will likely see a shift towards Hottar as it will be streamed for free which is likely to get a significant surge in numbers. Traditional linear TV might see a slight decline as roughly 45-50% of matches are early in the morning and audiences might prefer a glimpse of the matches on digital platforms as against TV.”

“In today's digital age, with endless choices and fleeting attention spans, CTV emerges as the go-to platform for diving deep into the drama, passion, and spectacle of the World Cup. It's not just watching – it's living and breathing every moment on the grandest stage imaginable,” shares Ramnani. He adds that it's not just the action on the field; it's the rich content surrounding the World Cup that makes it special.

“Pre-match analysis, post-game breakdowns, and engaging discussions are enhancing the viewing experience, turning it into a holistic journey through the sport,” says the Co-Founder of Togglehead. 


Hitting the ideal media mix

While the T20 World Cup seems like a lucrative opportunity, it has its unique set of challenges that brands and advertisers must account for in order to get the most out of this popular event. 

With the novelty and uncertainty surrounding the event, arriving at the ideal media mix might seem like a daunting task, but if done well, it could prove to be a route to a potential goldmine. 

Sharing his view on the right media mix, Choudhari reveals, “Apt dispersion of TV & OTT would be advisable to get the maximum scale through this event. Viewership is going to be significant on both the media/platform hence an either or scenario will pose a loss of opportunity considering the importance of the event. Match timings also play an important role as the early morning matches might attract viewership on the digital streaming platform, so audiences who start early for work or education might enjoy the World Cup matches while travelling and such non-prime matches would also have less clutter which could be a potential for an advertiser to get some eyeballs in an efficient way.”

“Another major factor will be brands/advertisers' target audience as digital streaming would offer a level of targeting that can help the advertisers to focus within limited budgets. All India-specific matches are in prime time (8 pm), which will attract mass audiences, but it will come with a premium pricing as well. So a combination of brand objective, target audience, and budget will have to be weighed in properly to arrive at the ideal mix of media/platform as well as matches as the clutter on Indian matches is expected to be higher than other fixtures,” elaborates Choudhari. 

Ramnani shares his ideal allocation guide for media mix: 

● 20-25% towards linear TV: Despite the rise of digital platforms, traditional linear TV still commands a significant viewership base, making it a vital component of any marketing strategy. 

● The remaining budget towards digital: Within the digital realm, diversification is key. Here's a breakdown: 

○ Live Matches: Capitalising on the excitement of live matches ensures maximum visibility and engagement with the audience. 

○ Impact Properties: Investing in impactful moments such as highlights, super 4s, super 6s, wickets, and catches allows brands to align with the pulse of the tournament, capturing viewers' attention during key moments. 

○ Highlights and catch-ups: For viewers who may have missed a couple of matches or may want to relive key moments in came, this becomes extremely impactful as well.

○ Programming Integrations: Seamlessly integrating brand messaging into pre-match and post-game programming adds depth and resonance to the campaign, enhancing brand recall and affinity. 

○ For larger scale campaigns: Consideration can be given to fan zones, fan boxes, and on-ground experiences. These immersive activations offer a unique opportunity to connect with fans on a deeper level, creating lasting memories and forging stronger brand relationships. 

Is there meat for brands? 

On Sunday, India defeated Pakistan in a nail-biting encounter thanks to a spectacular performance by its bowlers, particularly Jasprit Bumrah on a much-talked-about peculiar New York pitch. 

Although the match was anticipated to be a spectacle, rain played a spoilsport by delaying the proceedings multiple times leading to a fairly delayed match as opposed to the slotted air time.  

While these factors are unforeseen, they could hamper the ROI in the long run. 

Experts think that the large scale and new location of the World Cup could open up possibilities for brands looking to scale into a new market. 

“This presents an opportunity for brands eyeing new markets. Take Amul, for example, partnering with Michigan milk producers to enter the US market. By sponsoring teams like Sri Lanka, South Africa, and the USA, Amul gains visibility, aligning with its expansion goals,” remarks Krish Ramnani. 

Before the beginning of the World Cup Nandini, a dairy brand from Karnataka announced that it will be sponsoring the national teams of Scotland and Ireland. This led to speculations that smaller brands from India might gauge this as an opportunity to venture into the USA and perhaps get a large number of eyeballs with a lesser investment by sponsoring less prominent cricketing nations. 

“Sponsoring lesser-known teams in the World Cup can be a lucrative opportunity for Indian brands to tap into new demographics. However, careful planning and a well-defined strategy are crucial to maximise the benefits. Consider factors like the target market's size, cultural preferences, and potential for growth before making a decision,” shares Vaibhav Choudhari.  

Explaining the thought process behind this approach, Ramnani remarks, “Brands often leverage events like the World Cup to secure more cost-effective advertising slots within seasonal buys. This tactical approach allows them to optimise their marketing budgets while strategically positioning themselves for expansion, particularly in terms of the export or entering new markets. These strategic manoeuvres hold immense significance in their expansion plans, potentially serving as pivotal stepping stones towards broader geographical reach and market penetration.”

Sarfaraz Ansari, however, thinks that many brands might not want to venture into these hosting nations for few reasons. He says, “The event is being hosted in only two countries, USA & West Indies. Though WI was once known as the powerhouse of cricket, it has never been known as a market for business expansion. The USA is never known for cricket and the event for them is only a month-long festival. So, it does not seem any advertiser will associate with this event to venture into these hosting countries.”     

In terms of viewership, Ajay Gupte thinks that it will increase given the human emotional elements involved. “This might be the last T20 World Cup of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, there’s Rishab Pant who has just made a comeback after an accident, then there’s Hardik Pandya who is facing heat from fans. All these humanistic elements will ensure that people are invested in the World Cup,” he says.

It remains to be seen as to what impact the slower and uneven pitches in the USA might have on viewership given the low-scoring matches that have transpired. Additionally, several matches till now have witnessed delays or cancellations due to rains. This could impact the timings of the matches which have been designed keeping the Indian Standard Time in mind leading to a potential decrease in viewership. 

Furthermore, audiences in India have become accustomed to witnessing significantly high-scoring encounters in the IPL–the flatter pitches and the impact player rule being the potential reasons. This could cause disinterest among a large number of fans habituated to watching action-heavy matches. 

Disney+ Hotstar has taken a few initiatives to propel viewership numbers. One of them is the free streaming of matches for audiences in India, reducing possible deterrence due to a paywall. 

Further, the platform introduced Dolby Vision for the first time in India and for cricket in the world. All India matches, Super 8s, semi-finals, and finals are set to be streamed live in Dolby Vision on Disney+ Hotstar.

Another significant initiative has been the introduction of sign language in broadcast. Disney Star, in association with India Signing Hands (ISH), introduced an Indian Sign Language (ISL) feed for the ongoing ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. 

Prior to the India-Pakistan match, Bloomberg reported that the advertising slots for the encounter could fetch $48,000 for 10 seconds of an ad slot. That translates to INR 4 million in Indian currency. These rates were said to be at par with events such as the Super Bowl and the Football World Cup. 

With India winning by a close margin against Pakistan, the remaining matches might see an uptick in numbers given that India and Pakistan are the only prominent teams in their group with the exception of host USA–who pulled an upset against Pakistan earlier in a super-over. 

While the chances of Pakistan qualifying to the super-8 stage remain thin, a possible upset might lead to a second clash between the arch-rivals–as has been the precedent in earlier editions of the tournament–leading to a surge in ad rates.

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