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With a number of players contracting covid-19 virus in what was being touted as the most secure bio-bubble, has pushed Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to indefinitely postpone the T20 cricket tournament Indian Premier League (IPL) mid-way. Team franchises Delhi Capitals, Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad have been impacted by covid infection with batsmen, bowlers, coaches and support staff testing positive.

In an advisory, BCCI said that the decision was taken keeping the safety, health and well-being of all the stakeholders in mind. “These are difficult times, especially in India and while we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, however, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times. The BCCI will do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all the participants in IPL 2021," it said.

The suspension will have an immediate impact on the league’s official broadcast partner Star India which has onboarded 18 sponsors and over 100 advertisers across multiple brand categories. It includes both new age brands like Dream11, Byju’s and Cred as well as traditional advertisers such as Frooti, Asian Paints, Thums Up, Vodafone-Idea and Mondelez among others.

Confident of its reach and popularity, the network has also raised the ad slot rates to 13 lakh this year from 11-12 lakh per 10-second and was looking to cross its 2020 revenue of 2, 500 crore. However, the raging second wave of coronavirus and crumbling health infrastructure in the country dampened the overall viewer sentiment with TV viewership witnessing a double digit decline in first two weeks beginning 9 April.


“Star India supports BCCI’s decision to postpone IPL 2021. The health and safety of players, staff and everyone involved in the IPL are of paramount importance. We thank the BCCI, IPL Governing Council, players, franchisees and sponsors for their support. We are also indebted to our employees, on-air talent, production, and broadcast crews for trying their best to spread positivity by delivering the broadcast of IPL 2021 to millions of homes in the face of challenging circumstances," the Star network said in a statement.

Media industry experts said that Star will be hit directly. S will take the biggest hit as advertisers are under no liability to pay the broadcaster if the matches are not held, said Sandeep Goyal, chairman, Mogae Media, a Mumbai-based marketing and communication agency.

“The network is likely to pay BCCI the annual broadcast sponsorship money as well since most insurance contracts don’t cover suspension of tournaments," he added.

According estimates by two media buyers, Star is expected to lose nearly 2,000 crore. Since the future of the league is uncertain at the moment, it is also unlikely to be able to charge a high cancellation fee which often deters advertisers to pull back from IPL advertising.

“Right now, Star’s strategy would be to convince advertisers that IPL is on a pause. For small advertisers that take up spot buys, it can renegotiate to move their ad inventory to non-IPL content. If the league stretches to June then some advertisers can also cite quarter change as a reason to back out. At this point, most advertisers will take wait and watch approach," said Shradha Agarwal, strategy head and chief operating officer, Grapes Digital, a digital-first agency.

According to Agarwal, digital campaigns with influencers, IPL contests and promotions will also go for a toss with no clarity on timeline of the resumption of the league.

For IPL team franchises, the immediate impact will be on multiple short-term digital deals which they have signed with brands. Most of these deals include online promotions, content activity and promotions. MX Taka Tak, for instance, partnered with seven teams as their official short form video partner to create content and challenges around cricketers and teams.

“We are expecting at least two weeks of suspension which is a long period for brands that have signed short-term digital deals. In worst case scenario if the league is cancelled then one-year sponsorship deals will get severely impacted," said an IPL team executive on the condition of anonymity.

Fantasy sports platforms such as Dream 11, MPL, Ballebaazi.com and My11Circle, among others, which solely depend on live matches, will be impacted in terms of downloads and user traction. In absence of live cricket, there will be no real money gaming happening on these platforms which will impact their revenue. Mint earlier reported that these platforms were collectively spending upwards of 200 crore in high-decibel advertising to maintain top-of-mind recall among viewers across Star India’s TV network and streaming platform Disney+Hotstar.

“We understand that the bigger picture is one of a healthy, virus-free world, and if pausing this edition of the IPL can help safeguard our players and their families, then, while it is definitely expensive, it is still a small cost to pay in the larger scheme of things," said Mitesh Gangar, co-founder, Playerzpot, a fantasy sports app.


Apart from business impact, there is also a huge human cost attached to the IPL which involves thousands of people in support staff, team, broadcast and hospitality partners. Multiple foreign players and Australian commentator Michael Slater have openly admitted their discomfort with holding the matches amidst a raging pandemic in the country.

Players including Royal Challengers Bangalore’s overseas recruits Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson along with Rajasthan Royals’ fast bowler Andrew Tye returned home citing personal reasons. Rajasthan Royal’s batting all-rounder Liam Livingstone flew back to England last week, citing “bubble fatigue accumulated over the past year". Delhi Capitals off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin also quit citing covid-19 as the reason for his withdrawal.

Meanwhile, BCCI has been targeted on digital platforms for being tone deaf to the debilitating state of affairs in the country. “It was a wrong decision to go ahead with it especially after the virus infection curve went significantly up," said Harish Bijoor, brand-strategy expert & founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. “The cost here is also of human perception. When there’s so much suffering around how can a game which is celebratory in nature go on. Having said that, I believe IPL has been suspended more because of the bio-bubble break but it should be called off on humanitarian grounds," he said.

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