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As IPL gets suspended indefinitely, experts discuss the broad implications of the move on all stakeholders

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has suspended the current season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in wake of players in different teams testing positive for Covid. While there had been talks of moving the tournament to a different city in the past few days, the new positive cases among the players led to BCCI announcing an indefinite suspension of the league.

For a while now, IPL had been the topic of a raging debate – Whether there was a need to hold the tournament this year, at this time, when the country is facing a massive surge in Covid numbers. While there were many who had felt that IPL should not have been held this year, or could have been suspended much earlier than it was, there were others who said something like an IPL was important because it acted as a distraction from the grimness that otherwise surrounds us.

In its official statement, IPL stated, “The BCCI does not want to compromise on the safety of the players, support staff and the other participants involved in organising the IPL. This decision was taken keeping the safety, health and wellbeing 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.”

In its official statement, Star India said, “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.”

However, the next big question everyone is pondering over is, how will IPL’s suspension impact different stakeholders considering there are massive investments involved in the league every year.

This year, Star India had on-boarded 18 sponsors and over 100 advertisers across multiple brand categories including Edtech, Fantasy Sports, Beverages, Pay Wallets, Home Décor, Auto, Telecom, Consumer Durables, FMCG and Financial Services.

For most brands, the IPL becomes that one property that garners impressive eyeballs. The leagues has helped a lot of brands build awareness and reach out to an engaged set of audience over the years. However, this year, perhaps due to the ongoing Covid surge, IPL’s viewership witnessed a dip when compared to last year’s numbers, according to data from Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India.

Last year, BCCI had earned Rs 4,000 crore in revenue from hosting IPL, in addition to a 25% rise in TV viewership, according to BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal. The different franchisees make money through title sponsorships, media rights, merchandising, ticket sales and the prize money. When it comes to the broadcaster, Star Sports and Hotstar was expected to rake in advertising revenues of around Rs 3,600-3,800 crore, a substantial jump from last year’s estimated revenue of Rs 2,600 crore.

While it might still be very early to understand the implications of the suspension, industry experts believe advertisers will approach Star Sports Network to rework the advertising deals. Many advertisers had to pay close to a 20% premium for ad slots this year and it is expected they would demand for extra airtime, to make up.

What the exact implications are, and how different stakeholders work around the suspension, only time will tell. To understand what the industry felt about the league’s suspension, we reached out to experts from the industry, and here is what they had to say:

Ashish Bhasin, CEO APAC and Chairman India, dentsu supported the decision to postpone the IPL for now. “Given the prevailing pandemic situation, I think it is the right decision to postpone IPL for now. The health and safety of all the players and everyone involved I think is paramount and keeping in mind the situation in the country and the prevailing mood in the nation, in my view it is the right decision.

IPL is the single largest property on television in India and something that appeals to a wide target audience, across the geographies. It has unparalleled reach and has always proven to be an excellent vehicle for brands and I think that will continue to be so and that will not change.

Given the fact that several parts of the country are going into lockdown, there are emergency measures been taken in different cities and towns to curb the pandemic, the severe shortages and difficulties being experienced, lives being lost to the pandemic, I think it is more appropriate to focus on that then on commercial issues for now. I’m sure the commercial issues will get discussed and resolved in an appropriate manner.”

While she said that the suspension will amount to substantial business impact for a lot of the stakeholders, Neena Dasgupta, CEO and Director, Zirca Digital Solutions also stated that she would not be in favor of it resuming at a later date. “There is definitely going to be a substantial business impact on all associated with the annual spectacle. It’s not just Star and BCCI that would be losing revenue but other people as well whose revenue is linked to IPL. Media agencies, digital agencies who were riding big on IPL would now have to look for ways to compensate for the lost revenue opportunity. While it is being said that the tournament would resume during better times, no one should place their bets on it. As a business I would not be in favour of the decision, but looking at the current scenario, saving human lives is top most priority. I would like to say to all my fellow colleagues across the industry, “Hang on and stay safe, this too shall pass,” she said.

Pointing at how the first-time advertisers would perhaps be the least daunted by the development, Ashish Khazanchi, Managing Partner, Enormous Brands said, “Suspension of IPL will certainly have near-term adverse impact – both in terms of business objectives of advertisers and even more importantly on the market sentiment. Heavy investments may be held back because there’s going to be unpredictability on how the returns on investments may turn out to be. The first-time advertisers however are probably going to be the least daunted going by my extensive work with them. For a few important reasons. One, their businesses are heavily digital-enabled. That part of the world will roughly continue unfazed and may actually gain shares at the expense of the traditional business models. Two, they have a much higher risk appetite than traditional business. The older businesses are usually in a consolidate mode, while all start ups are in an aggressive growth and acquisition mode. They may actually take advantage of lesser media saturation to build share of voice. The cancellation is somewhat likely to cast a little shadow of uncertainty even on the World Cup. But only the next few months will tell us the way for sure.”

Chetan Asher, Founder & CEO – Tonic Worldwide said, “IPL is a major vehicle for visibility for startups in India and brands associated with the event can become a household name, from a marketing perspective. While the suspension derails the opportunity for them, given the current context that’s unavoidable and a step in the right direction. However, they can channelise their investments and energy in trying to make a difference by partnering with NGO’s providing relief during Covid-19.”

Earlier this year, a report from Duff & Phelps had revealed that the value of the IPL ecosystem witnessed a 3.6% dip in 2020. So how will the suspension this year further impact its value? Varun Gupta, Managing Director and Head Valuation Advisory- APAC, Duff & Phelps, A Kroll Business said, “If the tournament had merely been suspended and restarted within a week or two, it might not have much of a difference to the revenues of the IPL or that of the franchisees. However, it appears that that the tournament is postponed indefinitely, which would have the following impact – Firstly, IPL would suffer significant revenue losses for the current season. There will be loss of sponsorship and broadcasting revenues for BCCI. The league was already coping with loss of revenues from ticket sales and in-stadia F&B, besides the loss of revenue last year due to VIVO pulling out for the 2020 season. Secondly, the teams will also suffer revenue losses on account of reduced revenue from the central pool and loss of team sponsorship revenues. Having said that, one must also acknowledge that while it was ongoing over the last few weeks, the IPL provided 3-4 hours of much needed diversion and relief to the Indian masses who are reeling under a barrage of bad news on the Covid front. IPL’s ability to pull TV audiences continues unabated. Secondly, the value of any enterprise is based on its future cash earning capacity. To our mind, while there will be some revenue loss this year, the future revenue generation ability of the IPL is undiminished.”

Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO of Mirum India said that while the move will have an impact on brands, it also gives them time to rethink their communication strategies. “The suspension of the IPL, then, is going to hurt all those brands. Many (such as CRED, for example) would have invested significant sums in new creatives. Others would have planned campaign schedules and connected the same to product demand forecasts and inventory placement in stores. These plans will all get impacted, as finding alternate spots to run that kind of ad inventory will not be easy. On the other hand, many businesses and their customers are themselves impacted due to the second wave of Covid and might see this as a sigh of relief in a way, as they might save money for ad inventory that is not run. Also, at a time when the mood of a large number of citizens is very low, having “in-your-face” advertising urging you to purchase something as if life was normal, was a little jarring too. Maybe this break gives them time to rethink their creative strategies, for communication in the midst of the Covid challenges,” he said.

Ambika Sharma, Founder & MD, Pulp Strategy added, “The battle with Covid-19 which started a year ago has disrupted the operations across the globe. In India, with its huge populace it has become a daunting task to overcome despite safety and Covid-19 protocols. The IPL which is an extremely popular event that everyone looks forward to, should not have been allowed as the charm and excitement of watching and engaging on the ground cannot be matched with watching it at home without your friends and dear ones and right now you see only devastation in either your neighbourhood, family or anywhere. The high stakes of IPL should have been looked into, especially when we see players falling to Covid infections. The infection can have multiple manifestations on the health of the players which can lead to serious lifelong illness. While we stare at huge losses, be it for the Sponsors, Broadcasters and BCCI, the environment is least conducive to host these matches. A mutually agreeable formula by key stakeholders can be adopted transparently to arrive at a decision, especially when the medical experts are warning us about the Covid peak.”

Speaking about the impact of the move on brands as well as agencies that have worked on campaigns for their clients, Shradha Agarwal, COO and Strategy Head- Grapes Digital said, “This is definitely going to affect the marketers. There are creative works, campaigns that are yet to be launched as brands were waiting for the IPL to enter its second phase. In May many brands would have come out with ads and campaigns because the IPL advertising inventory is sold through long term contracts that are signed before the tournament begins. This will also impact digital agencies that are ready to launch their campaigns with influencers based on IPL. There are few possibilities, firstly, the IPL is suspended and not dropped hence, advertisers will wait for the league to resume or some clients would cease the campaign and work on Plan B because the budget was allocated for a specific period, and if the quarter changes they will back out. Small advertisers might take the route of moving to regular inventory instead of investing for the remainder of the season in one go.”

What route the broadcaster takes in the next few days to rejig its advertising deals with brands and sponsors is something we will need to wait and watch. Business Insider India

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