Zee will be back on the pitch with International League T20

The ILT20 trophy. Zee has made a strategic investment to resume sports broadcasting. Photo: twitter.com/ILT20Official
The ILT20 trophy. Zee has made a strategic investment to resume sports broadcasting. Photo: twitter.com/ILT20Official


ZEE has signed a 10-year deal with ECB for ILT20’s global media rights — TV and digital — for a reported $100 million.

Five years after exiting the sports broadcasting business, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEE) is set to make a comeback with International League T20 (ILT20), an IPL-style cricket league floated by the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB).

In May, ZEE signed a 10-year deal with ECB for ILT20’s global media rights—TV and digital—for a reported $100 million, or over 800 crore. The new league makes for the perfect vehicle to re-enter sports broadcasting, Rahul Johri, president of business at ZEE, said in an interview.

“If you look at it, for ILT20, we will be paying a fraction of what rights holders of other leagues are paying. And this league will have the maximum number of international players; will be aired at primetime; and on top entertainment channels including Zee Cinema and digital service ZEE5," Johri said.

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He declined to reveal the rights value but said it is a “viable business" and the “perfect entry point to resume sports broadcasting."

In 2017, ZEE sold its sports business housed under Ten Sports to rival Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) for approximately 2,400 crore. The deal included a five-year non-compete agreement, preventing ZEE from entering sports broadcasting. ZEE is currently in the middle of a merger with SPNI, which will also include Ten Sports.

“ILT20 is a strategic investment for ZEE to resume sports broadcasting, and we will continue to explore and evaluate properties with the prism of long-term value creation, enabling us to make the sports business a compelling value proposition for the company. Post ILT20, we will also broadcast the ICC Men’s and Women’s cricket events on TV," Johri said.

Talking about the increasing value of sporting rights, Johri, who was the first chief executive of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), said it is difficult for any one traditional media company to own all the rights.

ZEE couldn’t win media rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) events for their respective next rights cycles.

While Disney Star retained IPL TV rights for the next five years for 23,575 crore, digital rights of the cash-rich league were picked up by Viacom18 for 23,757.5 crore. The combined value of the rights surged to 48,390 for five years, almost a threefold jump over 16,347.5 crore in the previous rights cycle.

Similarly, media rights for the ICC events were also picked up by Disney Star for $3.03 billion for four years (2024-27), but it sub-licensed the TV rights to ZEE for $1.35 billion, keeping only digital rights.

When asked about ILT20’s role in ZEE’s sports bouquet, Johri said that unlike all the other T20 leagues, which are primarily domestic events of the organizing board with four international players, ILT20 League would have international teams comprising the best talent in the world. Over 106 players from 20 ICC member countries have already registered for the league.

“The ILT20 is perfectly suited for ZEE," he said. “With our unparalleled global reach in 190+ countries, and deep penetration and connection of ZEE’s channels and Zee5 in the Indian audiences—both on television and OTT, the Indian audiences will have an opportunity to watch premium cricket content."

The broadcast network has already decided to live-telecast all the matches across ZEE’s 10 linear channels in the Hindi-speaking market, South and East regions in English, Hindi, and Tamil.

Currently, ZEE doesn’t have a dedicated sports channel. Johri said that as an entertainment broadcaster, ZEE would also ensure a carnival outside the stadium and quality cricket inside.

The inaugural edition of ILT20 will see six franchises, including three owners of the IPL franchises—Reliance Industries (Mumbai Indians), Shah Rukh Khan (Kolkata Knight Riders), and GMR Group (Delhi Capitals)—as well as the owners of MI Emirates, Abu Dhabi Knight Riders and Dubai Capitals. Other franchise owners include football club Manchester United owner Glazer Family’s Lancer Capital (Desert Vipers), Capri Global (Sharjah Warriors), and the Adani Group (Gulf Giants). All three had bid but lost in the auction conducted by BCCI for two new IPL franchises last year.

The league, which will kick off on 13 January, will host 34 matches across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, culminating in the final on 12 February.

All matches will be played at 7pm India time, which is prime time for Indian television audiences.

Johri said that the property is seeing a lot of traction, and there is a good response from the advertisers.

“Also, with sports becoming a significant part of the Indian ad expenditure, one needs to capture the opportunities in this domain," he added.

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