Why sponsorship for IPL is no longer bang for the buck


When BCCI in 2008, formally made the announcement of India’s very own T20 cricket tournament, Indian Premier League to be held every year, the decision was welcomed with applause all over the world. For a country like India where cricket has almost a holy quality, IPL came as an ingenious decision.

Now the blue eyed fans would not have to wait four years for ICC One-Day International World Cup to cherish their favorite sport.  Also with IPL promising to be a blooming opportunity for young cricketers within the country, more money and support was pumped into the idea by Bollywood and honchos of the corporate world. Thus, in the first year of its inception itself the sport became an unprecedented conglomerate of Cricket, Bollywood and Entertainment and the entire nation went crazy for it.

Events from the bidding of cricketers to even the making of IPL sets and production value were all sellable quotients now and marketers capitalized on every single opportunity to ride on the soaring high popularity waves. The UK-based brand consultancy, Brand Finance, valued the IPL at US$2.01 billion in 2009 and then at $4.13 billion in 2010, the reasons of popularity were obvious.

Brand marketing reached a new level all together with multiple brands ranging from diverse  genres of lifestyle like Moov (pain relief medic)  to educational institutions like Amity University becoming sponsors of the IPL. Also brands like India's biggest property developer DLF Group paid 2.50 billion (around US$50 million) to be the main sponsor of the tournament for 5 years from 2008 to 2012 and from 2013 season, the American food and beverage company PepsiCo took over title sponsorship for five years valued at 396.8 million, and also became the exclusive beverage supplier for the IPL teams in the 2013 season.

However, the tables today have been turned and over the years with the inception of more controversies and preference to entertainment over the spirit of cricket itself the Indian Premier League (IPL) has embraced the sobriquet of the 'Indian Problem League', and is seen to be doing more harm than good for Indian cricket and cricket in general.  Speaking of the controversies, The Indian Premier League has always been about the abundance of Cash, Cricket and Controversies. While cash and cricket were the essence, controversies like the suspension of Lalit Modi, speculations over the match fixing row with cricketers like Shreesanth being involved and the infamous SRK scuffle at Wankhede added to the degraded spirits to the game and the trust of high spirited fans in their favorite sport was somewhere lost in the glitz and glow of the format.

Till 2012, IPL remained a big threat to most Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) as it meant a significant drop in viewership and a dip in ad revenues. But Post 2012, there's been a change in the modus operandi of Hindi GECs. As a huge low in the ratings of the IPL had been witnessed and the GEC channels seemed not to be bothered by the sporting extravaganza anymore and upped their ante to bring on more content oriented shows that have managed to steal the limelight from the gentleman’s game.

Taking the example of  2015, they have gone ahead and launched ambitious, high investment television shows bang in the middle of the IPL season. From reality shows (India's Got Talent 6, Indian Idol Junior 2 and Nach Baliye 7) to fiction (Dostiyaan, Yaariyaan Manmarziyan, Reporters, Sankatmochan Mahabali Hanuman, Fear Files, Ek Tha Raja Ek Thi Rani, Gulmohur Grand, Mere Humnawa, Rangrez) the programming platter of 2015 seems more crowded than ever before.

The low phase of the game has also had significant changes in the attitude of key marketers who were left in a precarious situation with the sudden downfall of the game but recently with the development of unique and creative intellectual properties like the Indian Soccer League, Pro Kabbadi League, Super Fight League and others they too are seen jumping off the IPL bandwagon and are investing in more sports and content oriented genres of properties.

Not only are such marketing experiences for the brands less expensive than the IPL but the growing popularity of these sporting properties have also led to a possible end of the monopoly of cricketing dominance existing in the country for years. With a shift in focus and clearly visible low ratings it is only a matter of time before the property goes back to its roots and re-iterates its focus, but until that happens we wonder if pumping any more money into it is a good idea.

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