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Coca-Cola India and Byju’s are among companies that may bid for the title sponsorship of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) after Chinese phone maker Vivo pulled out from the cricket tournament, two people familiar with the development said. Vivo’s exit was triggered by calls for a boycott of Chinese goods after a deadly border clash between Indian and Chinese troops in June.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) now plans to invite bids for a new title sponsor for this year. Vivo, which had agreed to pay 440 crore a year for the five-year sponsorship deal, may return as the main sponsor next year.

Several firms, including Byju’s and Coca-Cola, are eyeing the opportunity to sponsor India’s most-watched sports event, hoping to cut a deal with BCCI, which has been left scrambling to find a new sponsor at short notice. Online education startup Byju’s, which is also the sponsor for the Indian cricket team, is currently in talks with BCCI for the title sponsorship for the upcoming IPL season. The startup, which recently secured funding worth $500 million from multiple investors, has set aside 300 crore for the sponsorship deal, a person aware of Byju’s operations said seeking anonymity.

Byju’s replaced Nokia as the team sponsor for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) franchise in March. Actor Shahrukh Khan, co-owner of KKR, is the brand ambassador of Byju’s. It declined to comment on its IPL plans.

Coca-Cola India is also evaluating its plans to sponsor the IPL. “We continue to stay invested in cricket and (are) observing how the situation evolves. We are awaiting more details before taking a decision," the company said in an emailed reply.

It’s not hard to see why BCCI is still able to attract sponsors willing to bankroll IPL. “IPL is a terrific property for brands to break out from the gloom of the pandemic. Many have already set aside money to park on IPL as a vehicle. Post covid-19, this would be the first celebratory property in terms of sports content as Indians eagerly await to see their favourite sports stars in action," said Harish Bijoor, brand strategy specialist and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Top media buyers said BCCI may not be able to command a similar amount that Vivo was paying, owing to challenging market conditions. The IPL, which is coinciding with the festive season, may also attract e-commerce platforms.

“With deep pockets, e-commerce firms such as Amazon are likely to be in the running to clinch the title sponsorship. It would be an opportune time for online firms to be visible and advertise as they also make a splash for flagship sales in October," said a senior media buyer seeking anonymity.

Ashish Bhasin, chief executive, Asia-Pacific, and chairman, India, at Dentsu Aegis Network brands, said online retailers which have not been severely impacted by the pandemic and have the need to advertise may end up bidding for title sponsorship.

“They could be firms such as Jio, Amazon or digital wallet players like PhonePe. However, it would be a herculean task for the brand to execute promotional activities in a short span of one month," he added.

A PhonePe spokesperson said the company will continue to be associated with the T20 league. PhonePe was the league’s co-presenting sponsor for TV viewership in IPL 2019. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.

Suneera Tandon contributed to the story.

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