When Chennai Super Kings (CSK) won their third Indian Premier League (IPL) title on 27 May—returning to the competition after a two-year suspension—it was a sign not only of the team’s ability to regroup but, in some ways, of the league’s durability.

In its 11th season, the IPL did not seem to have aged, or fatigued—if anything, it seemed to be getting stronger or gained in lustre, as former cricketer Ian Chappell wrote in the ESPNcricinfo website.

One of the things that’s changed from the beginning, in 2007, is it’s no longer assumed that Twenty20 (T20) is a young man’s game.

CSK were initially ridiculed for being a team made up of semi-retirees. As it turned out, their hero in the final against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) was 36-year-old century-maker Shane Watson.

Some of the team’s other influencers were captain M.S. Dhoni (36), Ambati Rayudu (32), Dwayne Bravo (34) and Faf du Plessis (33).

All stakeholders of the IPL, including the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the sponsors, teams, former players, and broadcasters use the word “exponential" while describing IPL’s growth over the last decade.

There are numbers that show rise in viewership, increase in media spend and the spread of the game globally.

IPL generated more than Rs1,200 crore ($182 million) net in ad sales revenue in 2017 for Sony Pictures Network India (SPN), compared with Rs1,020 crore ($150 million) net in 2016, according to the most recent available numbers.

The current year’s revenue has not been disclosed.

Star India, the official broadcaster of the cricket league, reported 200 million people watched the matches through its video streaming website, HotStar, according to figures provided by the broadcaster. Star India said it can’t immediately say how many people watched the matches on television. Audience measurement company BARC is expected to provide the overall TV viewership data on 8 June.

The 2017 season had 411 million TV viewers, up from 361 million for IPL 9, the ESP Properties-Sportzpower India Sports Sponsorship report 2018 said, citing BARC data.

For advertisers, the lure of IPL has not faded since its debut season in 2008.

Vodafone, which has been a long-term sponsor, has gained disproportionately in brand love, says Siddharth Banerjee, executive vice-president (marketing), Vodafone India. “We have been able to authentically leverage IPL for our marketing objectives."

Samar Singh Sheikhawat, chief marketing officer of United Breweries Ltd, says IPL has provided the company a platform to connect with consumers, given that advertising of alcoholic beverages is banned.

The company has sponsored IPL teams and done on-ground as well as on-air campaigns to tap into IPL’s popularity.

“IPL has added enormous value to the brand Kingfisher because it comes in the peak selling season (summers) for us which pushes our sales further."

Meanwhile, Chappell suggests how the IPL has been good for India and its players—the league’s overseas influence (foreign players) making the national team more combative and confident.

So, how has IPL evolved over its first decade? What does the 11th season say about the league, which has been termed as the most successful sports start-up in the world? How did IPL get this far after the World Sports Group bid for its telecast rights a decade ago, paying over $900 million based on an excel sheet and a power-point presentation? What does the future hold?

Manoj Badale, lead owner of the Rajasthan Royals team, says one of the reasons they got interested in the IPL initially was because of the likely involvement of so many major business houses and the emphasis on creating a level-playing field for all teams through a central auction and salary caps. “The moment these last two items disappear, it becomes a much less attractive investment proposition," he says over email.

Despite its controversies, be it Lalit Modi or the match-fixing charges against a few players or the betting accusations against team principals, despite skepticism over some results, the poor in-stadia experience, the league endures. Its fans remain involved, its sponsors ever willing and its team owners ecstatic.

Besides the national team, to an extent, Indian fans have culturally followed individuals rather than a collective. So, even if team loyalty is not as strong as it is in older and more established competitions like Premier League football, spectators are happy to support their heroes.

IPL has, from the beginning, done that well—created heroes, players who would hit the big sixes and maybe take a spectacular catch (bowlers remain T20 cricket’s step-children—with the odds so heavily stacked against them).

So, when CSK played the Delhi Daredevils in the national capital, it was Chennai’s Dhoni who got the biggest applause (if you cheer for Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah at Stamford Bridge—the home ground of Chelsea—you will likely get lynched or definitely heckled).

“It’s a tremendous platform for upcoming players," says Rahul Johri, chief executive officer (CEO) of BCCI. “About 30,000 people went to see the Kashmir player’s house (Kings XI Punjab’s, or KXIP’s, Manzoor Dar) after he was picked up. The guy from Nepal (Daredevils’ Sandeep Lamichhane) is a national hero."

This season, one of the standout performances came from Daredevils’ Rishab Pant, the league’s second highest scorer with 684 runs, who got a place in the India A team for a limited overs series against England Lions and West Indies A.

SRH’s Siddharth Kaul, with the third highest number of wickets (21), has earned a berth in India’s T20 squad against Ireland and England and the ODI team against England later this summer.

“You need heroes," says Satish Menon, CEO of Kings XI Punjab. “It’s the starting point. We created one out of Mujeeb-ur Rahman (14 wickets in 11 matches) and (K.L.) Rahul (the season’s third highest scorer with 659 runs, including six half-centuries) had a 50 in almost every match."

If the IPL example of creating stars can be extended to Tests, some believe it would help sustain the longer format of the game.

Five-day Test matches have over the years taken a hit because consumers have shown more appetite for the shorter version.

But players, like Kumar Sangakkara, believe T20 has had more of a positive impact on cricket, with scoring rates becoming higher, and the development of a new kind of cricketing athlete.

“The atrocious new shots in the repertoire… you can have all the discussions and nostalgia about days gone by. But if you want to sustain cricket into the future, you have to question, as an administrator, exactly in what form is this game going to survive," says Sangakkara, one of Star India’s on-air experts on its programme, Dugout, this season.

“You saw (left-handed batsman) Pant just hit this weird right-handed shot (against Mumbai Indians on 20 May)… I wouldn’t have thought about something like this when I was playing," says Anil Kumble, also a broadcast commentator. “An under-19 player doing this in the nets would have been dismissed and banished 10 years ago."

If cricket is not relevant to the time it’s played in, it will die. It’s an interesting challenge for the administrators to protect the integrity, culture and tradition of the sport and marry it into what the new spectator wants, adds Sangakkara.

“Sometimes, we like to confuse cricket with real life; but it’s time to have a more balanced perspective," says the Sri Lankan, who has played for Deccan Chargers, KXIP and SRH in the IPL.

“It’s a game, escapism for the masses and ensures that the spectacle that is put on mirrors all the values we hold dear as people and players. The evolution of IPL has been a huge positive in that sense."

“People keep talking about the death of Test cricket; but if you keep talking about it, it will die. T20 can spur growth of the sport, but some of those proceeds will have to come back to Tests," adds Kumble, a former Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) player.

“Today, we have more heroes, newer countries playing the sport... all of those are checks in the boxes. Will they all play Tests? Does it matter?" adds Kumble.

What T20—and IPL—have changed is the mindset of players on the traditional process of hitting the ball, running between the wickets and fielding. There is a new level of athleticism, power, fitness and skill.

Against SRH in a league match, RCB’s AB de Villiers caught Kane Williamson at the deep mid-wicket boundary, one-handed. He jumped several feet up, curled his legs in so that he landed inside the boundary ropes even as his body dangled outside of it for fractions of a second.

Daredevils’ Trent Boult’s catch-of-the-tournament was one-handed, too, snapping it off the air, twisting, so he could land on his belly with his head facing the boundary and stopping his body’s slide just inside the ropes. As he sprang up in one motion like a coiled wire, cameras caught batsman Virat Kohli wondering, in disbelief, whether he should walk or not.

“More players around the world are working on their range of shots, on their power; players are spending obscene amounts of time in the gym because they know longevity of their career and financial security depends on so many moving parts that they need to have a good grip over it," says Sangakkara.

Cricket without the distractions of worrying about financial pressure and extended careers have had huge positive effects, he adds.

When Star India won the global television and digital media rights for IPL earlier this year for five years, committing over Rs16,347.5 crore, they had a challenge on their hands. It was not just about a return on investment; it was also about having to scrub off the previous decade’s legacy and making a fresh start.

“SPN set new benchmarks in the way India consumed a cricketing tournament—combining the glamour of entertainment with the thrill of sport," says Rajesh Kaul, president, distribution and sports business, SPN, over email. “We decided to involve women and children in the game."

By all accounts, Sony managed to bring in the fringe viewers, making the IPL a family affair. While purists may have scoffed at the sports-meets-entertainment format, they were among the minority not buying into the whole razzle-dazzle of the new format.

According to Sanjay Gupta, managing director, Star India, they decided to do three things starting this season. They telecast in six languages—eight languages across 17 channels for the final—to reach a wider audience.

Unlike Sony, which focused on dance, music and Hinglish with a mix of anchors from across sports and entertainment, Star went analytical, introducing a conversation between 2-3 experts in a studio space.

They also leveraged Hotstar, their digital over the top (OTT) platform. According to a company press release, the match between SRH and CSK on 22 May had 8.26 million peak concurrent viewers, breaking online video streaming records. “We scaled up the quality of content, in each language, to get the full meal, and not just the chapati," says Gupta. “One of the key questions you hear is: is digital real? But consumers are saying ‘I am comfortable with this screen; so, content owners don’t need to decide that’."

Naysayers believe a loss of entertainment, like Sony’s show Extraaa Innings, has cost Star the equity of the IPL.

The success of IPL has, over the years, spurred several other leagues, including in football, wrestling, boxing, tennis, badminton and kabaddi. While these leagues have had mixed success, IPL’s gain in popularity is owed to a few key factors.

One is the strong cricketing structure built by BCCI, says Vinit Karnik, business head of ESP Properties, the sports and entertainment arm of Group M and SportzPower. The world’s best players want to and try to play the league, like the Premier League, and unlike the Indian Super League, for example. While some of the best players are part of the Premier Badminton League, too, the event itself is not marketed as well.

“Media rights this year were historic. People only look at the final number, but why are these bids so aggressive? IPL can help you establish your business over a longer period of time," says Johri.

The IPL’s knock-on effect was that other franchises copied the formula, with the Australian Big Bash being the most successful. The IPL also aided the evolution of the women’s game, according to Sangakkara.

“The largest revolution for cricket has been the women’s game. If they go on to become mothers, they would have a huge influence on the next generation," he says.

It allowed players to not hold on to the game for too long, make rational decisions regarding the length of their careers. For example, de Villiers recently announced his retirement from international cricket, though it’s unclear if he will continue playing the IPL.

This season, he scored 480 runs at an average of over 50 and a strike rate of 175. At 34, those who saw him bat and take that spectacular catch would like to believe he still has 2-3 years of cricket left in him.

In a world of constant evolution, chances are the T20 format will become stale too. Already, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is planning a 100-ball format. There are talks of T10 tournaments as well.

The IPL could well adapt to one of these formats, going ahead; but the immediate future would see innovations in how we consume it and how much higher can the players fly.

Saumya Tewari contributed to the story.

Close