The Indian Premier League cricket tournament attracted a record audience this year after coronavirus led to the competition being postponed twice, fuelling an advertising boost for Walt Disney-owned broadcaster Star India.

The Mumbai Indians were crowned champions on Tuesday after beating the Delhi Capitals in the United Arab Emirates, where the star-studded two-month tournament was held without spectators due to India’s coronavirus caseload.

TV viewer data for 58 of the season’s 60 matches from the Broadcast Audience Research Council, the latest available, showed a 24 per cent uptick from 2019 with a cumulative 383bn minutes watched. A record 200m viewers saw the opening match in September, with analysts estimating that millions more watched the tournament online through streaming platform Disney Plus Hotstar.

Disney, which holds the TV and digital rights for the IPL until 2023, has not provided advertising figures. But consultancy Media Partners Asia estimated that total advertising revenues rose 10 per cent from last year to more than $400m after the broadcaster increased rates ahead of the tournament.

“It has gone on to become probably the most successful IPL tournament ever,” Uday Shankar, Disney’s president of Asia-Pacific, told the Financial Times. “Coming on the back of the massive disruption of the economy and the advertising market, there was a real concern.

“We knew people were hungry for IPL and would consume it but we were not sure how much would be the appetite from the advertisers. But even that was absolutely astounding.”

Technology and new-economy brands that fared comparatively well during the pandemic were particularly enthusiastic advertisers. Advertiser interest was helped by the largely homebound audience, as well as the onset of India’s festive season, where several religious ceremonies — culminating in Diwali this weekend — boost consumer spending. 

“October, November, that’s where the big money is. There’s a lot of companies sitting on cash and saying, ‘now I need to spend this cash, I need to push my Diwali sales’,” said Joy Bhattacharjya, a sports executive and former director of the Kolkata Knight Riders.

It was uncertain if the tournament would go ahead at all this year, after plans to launch in March and April were scuppered by the onset of global lockdowns. The season took place in the UAE, with organisers creating “bio-bubbles” to house players and staff.

Several participants, including a number of players, tested positive before the tournament, though the outbreaks were contained. “This season has become a template,” said Santosh N, managing partner at Duff and Phelps in India. “The fact that this happened without any issues, there would be more comfort” in conducting future tournaments.

The IPL did not come out of the turbulent year entirely unscathed, however, with its main sponsor Chinese smartphone maker Vivo pulling out in August due to geopolitical tension between India and China. Its replacement, fantasy sports company Dream11, secured the 2020 rights at an estimated 50 per cent discount of Rs2.2bn ($29.5m).

Duff and Phelps estimated that the IPL’s near-$7bn brand valuation, which would have grown about 15 per cent had Vivo not pulled out, is likely to be flat to lower as a result.

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However, Mr Shankar of Disney remained bullish. “Whoever is looking to break into the mass market of Indian consumers, there’s nothing more compelling than cricket.”

Via Financial Times