Early IPL numbers show that it is booming despite the controversy that has surrounded the tournament and the BCCI’s chief executive. Sell-out stadiums in the UAE, a boom in online viewership and millions of online followers all contribute towards a very big brand. But it’s time for the brand to accept the responsibility that comes with such great power. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
There is something to be said for the ability of the Indian Premier League to be on course for one of its most successful seasons yet, despite all the controversy surrounding it. With the United Arab Emirates leg of the competition set to be concluded on Wednesday, the tournament has been an incredible success. Almost every single match was a sell-out, even when the games started earlier.
That probably speaks more about the appetite for hit-and-giggle cricket in the UAE than anything else. While Pakistan has long adopted the country as a venue for “home matches”, it’s never been treated to something quite like the IPL. Far removed from any other sort of T20 competition that passes for cricket these days, the IPL is the ideal entertainment package. With the best and biggest names in world cricket – all brands in their own right – the IPL is the personification of globalisation, snuggled into the UAE. The marriage could not be more perfect.
But it’s not just in the stadiums where this season’s IPL has been victorious. TV ratings are up and the online viewership has more than doubled compared to the same period in 2013. According to BCCI acting chief for all matters IPL, Sunil Gavaskar, there has been a jump to 12 million compared to six million previously for those watching via the tournament’s YouTube channel.
That might speak more of how consumers are changing their viewing habits, though. With the rise of services such as Netflix, it’s no surprise that more and more people are opting for an online viewing option. That’s especially true in regions where the IPL is only available on Pay-for-TV. Still, the numbers are impressive.
The IPL’s social media presence has also been boosted, with six million likes on Facebook (up from 3.3 million) and 1.4 million followers on Twitter (up from 1 million). The interest clearly has not disintegrated despite many dark clouds hanging over the tournament.
It speaks volumes of the appetite for cricket, especially T20 cricket. Despite the tournament following on so soon after the World T20, the interest has remained strong. It is a possibility that the World T20 has served as an appetiser for the IPL and has added to the interest. Whatever the reason, the fact that the IPL continues to grow is astonishing.
The investigations into the fixing scandal remain convoluted and ongoing. The BCCI’s association with the IPL cannot be ignored. It is a league in its jurisdiction and while some franchises exist independently, it still shares revenue with the BCCI. In fact, the BCCI pulls the purse strings for prize money and this year almost doubled the money teams can earn if they end in the top four. It is big business for the franchise owners, but that is almost irrelevant to the cricket fan.
Very few fans care for the behind-the-scenes rigmarole of salary caps, revenue sharing and franchise ownership. They care about the fanfare, the glitz and the excitement. The chance to spend a few weeks watching the world’s best players compete against each other is perhaps so enticing that a few stains on the reputations of the tournament matter little. That is somewhat concerning. Very few are actively willing the IPL to fail – it’s a fascinating concept and a great competition.
For fans, it’s entertainment at its best. For players, it offers riches they only ever dreamt of before. A sportsman’s career is short and to have the opportunity to collect a tidy nest egg for a few weeks’ work is a fantastic opportunity. But bothersome, perhaps, is that the brand that is gobbling up everything that gets in his way is trying to, or already has become, bigger than the game itself. It is not just a fixing controversy that has surrounded the IPL, but it’s fierce desire to control media, through barring photo agencies, limiting the use of some of its content and discriminating against players of certain nationalities. For all the possibilities of a level playing field that T20 offer, the IPL borders on elitism. It is a gluttonous tournament that cares not for any destruction it leaves in its wake. It’s power is overwhelming and it has grown into something so astronomical that it borders on oligarchy. That its target market has not turned up their noses is bothersome. It’s especially bothersome since its major stakeholder – the BCCI – have kicked and screamed against a fair and transparent investigation. Very little has been done to try to repair any faith that might have been lost.
With so much power, the IPL and its custodians have to take responsibility, despite the proven staying power. That needs to start with the BCCI and its constant appealing against the Supreme Court who is trying to conduct an investigation. It has to happen because it’s what such loyal fans deserve and it is also what cricket deserves.
Sport is at its best when we know for certain that it is pure. It offers a serene sanctuary away from the tainted real world. Once it has been tarnished, it becomes less palatable and the cynical will always question everything about it, or thrown it away. To overcome the stains of impurity like the IPL has, takes either a really strong brand or a very gullible consumer. What the case is for the IPL, only time will tell. DM
Drawing by Marelise van der Merwe.
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