From all accounts, the first week of IPL2020 has been a bumper hit, dispelling apprehensions and anxieties about how the tournament would unravel in the time of Covid.
Remember, the IPL was cleared after months of delay, and just before the start, there was a major alarm when 13 members of the Chennai Super Kings squad had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Since then, things have rolled out smoothly. I imagine everybody in the UAE associated with the IPL – players, support staff, franchise owners, managers etc – was chastened by what happened with CSK and have increased the diligence in the health and safety protocol. To finally have the IPL and then mess it up with ignorance and/or impetuosity would be a travesty.
Broadcasters Star Sports have been overjoyed at the big spike in viewership from the opening game between arch rivals CSK and Mumbai Indians, and fans have had little cause to complain. Most matches (played yet) have been extremely competitive, with at least a couple providing edge of the seat excitement. The tie between Delhi Capitals and Punjab Kings XI, which went into the Super Over, was a heart-stopper.
Those not having the best of the situation is the international media which has not been given permission to cover the tournament, and the BCCI which will see its sponsorship revenues dip by 40-50 per cent because the tournament got the nod very late, and in an environment where the economic outlook is gloomy.
There will be financial setback to franchise owners and broadcasters too since the ‘market is tight’ as the jargon goes. But this, like for the BCCI, is from a profitability point of view, and does not mean there will be net losses.
For instance, Vivo pulled out of the title sponsorship for this season. This dug a massive hole in the BCCI’s profits as the Chinese cellphone giant was coughing up approximately Rs 440 crore each season. But within a few days, Dream11, the fantasy gaming site, won the rights for this season for Rs 222 crore. In the current market scenario, this was a big thing and underscored the appeal of the IPL with sponsors even in the most difficult times.
This is the background in which IPL2020 is being staged. Much of what I’ve recounted is known in fragments, but it is important to piece all these things together to understand the brand salience of this sports property, and why it had become so important for the IPL to be somehow played this year.
When the IPL was suspended indefinitely in March, there were serious misgivings whether the tournament could be played at all this year. One was obviously for reasons of Covid, then on the rampage all over the planet. The second was an internecine battle within the ICC between the BCCI and the ICC, plus some Boards.
The fact that the T20 World Championship was also scheduled in October-November this year severely curtailed room for manouvre once the Covid clampdown went beyond the first couple of months. Firstly, nobody knew when sport would resume, and secondly, if cricket did resume, the T20 WC was to get priority.
Two things changed the scenario in favour of the IPL. When cricket resumed in England, and without a hitch, during from July onwards, administrators and players all over the world got encouraged. With a little imagination, some luck and complete diligence to health safety protocols, sport was possible.
The other thing that helped the BCCI in pushing the IPL’s case through was Cricket Australia suffering massive financial damages because of adventurous investments made in the previous couple of years which bombed badly in Covid times. This not only seriously imperiled their prospects of hosting the T20 WC, but also made them dependent on financial wherewithal from the BCCI.
India were to tour Australia in any case at the year-end. But if Australia opposed the IPL being slotted in the September-October window, the BCCI could play hardball. Finally, a ‘middle path’ was found where the IPL was accommodated, and India committed to a full tour of Australia. The ICC dropped its recalcitrance towards the BCCI, awarded Australia with a T20 WC in 2022, and the IPL got the green signal.
It’s been a week since the 2020 editions started. There are no spectators at the ground, no media except those from the UAE, the teams are living in stringent bio-secure bubbles with little interaction with the outside world. All this seems antithetical to the raucous, high-octane tournament seen over the past dozen years.
Not that the fans care. The IPL’s back, which is huge relief and makes the world seem somewhat normal in these excruciating times.
(The writer is a senior journalist who has been writing on sports for over 40 years)
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