New Delhi: The Indian Premier League (IPL), the glitzy Twenty20 cricket tournament whose latest edition kicked off at Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Tuesday, may have seen its average first week television ratings (TVRs) decline—from 3.9 in 2012 to 3.1 in 2014—but advertiser interest hasn’t waned.

IPL 8 is expected to make 950 crore in sponsorships and advertising for official broadcast rights holder Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd (MSM), which runs the Sony family of channels, according to media buyers and MSM officials. Last year, MSM earned around 800 crore from IPL—the premier cricket property of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

“So far season 5 has been the most profitable with revenue in excess of 1,000 crore and 76 matches. This year with 60 matches we will cross 950 crore compared to 800 crore in IPL 7, which also had 60 matches," said Rohit Gupta, president (network sales) at MSM. The broadcaster telecasts the IPL matches on MAX and SIX channels.

Gupta said IPL’s viewership in the initial seasons was the best. “Season 1 was the most watched owing to the novelty factor attached to the format," he said. Sony is the official broadcaster of IPL up until 2017. It is the one cricket property in India not owned by Star Sports, part of Twentieth Century Fox Television.

Media buyers say ad rates for spot purchases are up 10-15% this year to around 4.75 lakh for a 10-second ad.

Sponsors, including title sponsor PepsiCo India, have stood by the league, which has had two of its teams named in investigations and a court case concerning betting, which is illegal in India, and alleged spot-fixing. Former BCCI president N. Srinivasan lost his control of Indian cricket largely owing to the case, which named his son-in-law, who was then managing the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) team.

Other heavyweight sponsors including telecom operator Vodafone India Ltd and Hero MotoCorp Ltd have also stood firmly behind IPL. Vodafone plans to launch a big campaign around the league.

This year, several new categories of advertisers are using IPL as a platform. Among them are Internet dating sites, online auto classifieds, food delivery apps, mobile wallets and several other start-ups looking for eyeballs.

The list of those who have signed up to be associate broadcast or team sponsors includes Cardekho.com, Paytm, TinyOwl, Woo, Faaso’s, ICE X Electronics, Shopclues.com and Foodpanda.in.

ShopClues.com, an online marketplace, for instance, is the official e-commerce partner for the CSK team. Radhika Ghai Aggarwal, co-founder and chief business officer of ShopClues.com, said, “Our marketplace caters to mass India and there is nothing that appeals more to our target market than cricket. Through this (CSK) association, we wish to leverage the combined brand synergies to create greater engagement with our customers, both existing and potential."

Mobile payment and online retailer Paytm has signed up to sponsor Mumbai Indians. Matrix Partners-backed dating app Woo has tied up with Kings XI Punjab as a kit sponsor. CP PLUS, a surveillance and security systems and solutions provider, has also come on board as the principal sponsor of Rajasthan Royals.

Some teams have managed to retain their existing sponsors.

UltraTech Cement continues to sponsor Rajasthan Royals; Jet Airways, Etihad, Videocon and Usha International continue to support Mumbai Indians; and KS Kamasutra deodorants and Raymond remain sponsors for Delhi Daredevils.

Not all teams have been lucky.

In an interview last week, Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer at Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions, said that some franchises are still in the process of closing sponsorship deals and may even end up selling inventory at lower rates. Gautam Kiyawat, chief executive officer at Madison Media Group, part of communications firm Madison World, said: “This may not be an every year phenomenon. With two large cricketing tournaments occurring at around the same time, it was expected that it would be difficult for brands to support both." The World Cup ended in late March.

Some e-tailers prefer the ad route to sponsorships, Blah added. “You can expect at least the top five e-commerce brands to make their presence felt during this year’s tournament," he said in a 3 April Mint report. The same report cited an anonymous media executive as saying that at least 30% of IPL’s revenue this year could come from e-commerce firms. Brands such as Snapdeal could be easily spending in the range of 30 crore or more, this person added.

A media and entertainment industry report published by lobby group Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and consulting firm KPMG says the sports genre is expected to add substantially to television advertising revenue in 2015, thanks to properties such as the Cricket World Cup, IPL and the growing popularity of new sporting leagues.

The report notes that the success of IPL, which is estimated to have attracted a viewership of 191 million in 2014, has led to the creation of several other league-format sporting events.

The T20 league, which will be held in different cities, comprises eight teams: CSK, Kolkata Knight Riders, Sunrisers Hyderabad, Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Kings XI Punjab, Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals.

Vidhi Choudhary contributed to this story.

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