IPL media rights: Futuristic Digital propels Indian Premier League into sci-fi realm

The breathtaking way the IPL Media Rights Auction (2023-2027) has unfolded over the past three days is the clearest indication that the mega event is heading from a largely domestic rigmarole to an international one, with a diverse audience and ownership.

Of course, IPL continues to be an Indian-dominated T20 tournament. But how media rights to Australia, New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, the Middle East and the US have been gobbled up for mega dollars is a gripping study.

The sale of media rights for the next cycle (2023-27) brought in almost 200% more than the previous cycle (2018-22); it is Rs 48,390 crore (6.2 billion USD) against the Rs.16,347 crore raised from 2018 to 22. This brings its value per game to Rs 118 crore (15.10 million USD), leaving the English Premier League (11.34 million USD) far behind. Only the US National Soccer League, with $35 million, is ahead of IPL in terms of value per game.

Of course, BCCI and many others are thrilled with how the digital rights sale has gone, with Viacom 18 grabbing the digital rights to the Indian subcontinent, the non-exclusive package of high-profile games and TV and digital rights across Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the UK for a total of Rs 23,758 crore, which was slightly higher than the INR 23,575 crore that Disney Star paid for television rights in India. Media rights for the Middle East (Rs 205 crore) and the United States (Rs 258 crore) were gobbled up by Internet Times.

The number of matches should increase from 60 matches per year in the previous cycle to 410 matches in total (74 matches in 2023, 24; 84 in 2025, 26 and 94 in 2027).

The most interesting aspect of the whole deal is how digital has evolved. With Jio (Viacom 18) improving connectivity across the country by leaps and bounds, it’s only a matter of time before 5G, the bedrock on which digital will be based, becomes widely available. This is where the game gets interesting – if the way the world’s most expensive stadium, the $5.5 billion SoFi stadium in Hollywood Park, California, is shaped, is any indication.

The SoFi stadium, in preparation for the FIFA World Cup in 2026 and the opening and closing ceremonies of the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, will be a true technological fortress. With 5G compatibility, augmented and virtual reality, drone technology, artificial intelligence, robots, sensor technology, 4D cameras, holographic technology will take sports viewing to breathtaking sci-fi heights. And it’s not just the SoFi Stadium gearing up for the digital tech upgrade. The Tottenham Stadium in London is being fitted with 1,200 kilometers of cable, or 20 meters of cable per seat! All this to seduce the new generation of athletes who think, eat, sleep tech.

A similar digital revolution in India will allow every smartphone or smart TV viewer to invoke favorite camera views, replays, analysis, reviews, comments, interact with other fans or chat in groups closed in real time. Predictive analytics will not be limited to just tracking the ball, but will also map each viewer’s preferences for drinks, restaurants, shopping, interests, and more. Indeed, much of digital will be in the realm of science fiction and that’s where the next generation of viewers are headed.

Tellingly, Viacom 18 or Jio has taken a giant step in the race to carve out a place for itself in a futuristic technological world that today’s young IPL fans will happily embrace.

It is this ability of IPL to constantly upgrade and adapt to the demands of the times that will ensure that BCCI opens it up to foreign ownership to make it truly global. Of course, giant US sports empires like the world’s most valuable $13 billion Liberty Media (Formula 1, Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball team, movies, TV production, satellite radio, etc. ), Kroenke Sport & Entertainment (8.73 billion USD with interests in English football club Arsenal, Los Angeles Rams, etc.), Fenway Sports Group (Liverpool, Boston Red Sox, Fenway Sports Management, etc.), Glazer Family (Manchester United, NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers, etc.) geographies and will definitely love taking a part of the IPL.

Thus, digital, which represented only 7% of media rights in 2008 and 25% in 2017, has now equaled, or even exceeded, TV rights. The future is digital and the IPL auction reflects that. It is commendable that BCCI has not rested on its laurels but is still thinking of ways and means to stay ahead of the race. Thanks to their foresight, watching cricket may never be the same again!

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