The Indian Premier League (IPL) is not only one of the most lucrative annual sporting assets in the world, but it is also one of the most resilient, with not even the looming shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic appearing to be able to halt the Twenty20 juggernaut.
The delayed tournament was moved to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last year, but the 14th edition will be held in India, where the coronavirus situation has deteriorated significantly in recent weeks.
The increase in new cases could jeopardize plans to hold the tournament in bio-secure bubbles at six venues across the country, beginning on Friday in Chennai and ending on May 30 in Ahmedabad at the world’s largest cricket stadium.
The Indian cricket board (BCCI), on the other hand, is optimistic about the chances of success.
“We did it successfully in Dubai last year. We are confident we are going to do it again this time,” BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly told Reuters news agency.
The eight-team tournament begins on Friday at MA Chidambaram Stadium, with Rohit Sharma’s Mumbai Indians and Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore leading the way.
However, both teams have already had COVID-19 cases in their camps, creating doubts about the efficacy of the bubble’s health security for the cricketers.
Players will be well paid for their time in India, as the IPL was worth $6.19 billion last year even without ticket sales, according to financial consulting company Duff & Phelps. In 2019, the figure was $6.78 billion, a decrease from the previous year’s figure of $6.78 billion.
If the BCCI had cancelled its flagship event last year, it would have been left with a $542 million hole in its finances, despite record TV and digital viewership.
With curfews in place in several Indian states, the IPL is projected to outperform last year’s viewership, with cricket fans in the world’s second most populated country glued to their televisions and mobile devices.
The IPL’s “tremendous” pull, according to Bhairav Shanth, managing director of global sport consultancy company ITW, has piqued advertisers’ attention this year, and he predicts a windfall for broadcasters.
“For a tournament that is having another edition barely six months removed from the last one, the appetite has been fantastic,” Shanth told Reuters.
“In 2020, there was a slight dip in deal volume and sizes. But now as we see this edition occupy the prime summer slot with nothing else significant on TV to compete against, we have already seen new partners come on board in the league at a premium of 30-40 percent from what it was last year.”
Also the recent increase in COVID-19 cases hasn’t deterred the best players in the world from flocking to India, which will also host the T20 World Cup later this year.
Ben Stokes, the all-rounder for the Rajasthan Royals, has been ecstatic to see so many of his England teammates competing in recent IPL editions.
“Being constantly exposed to that is a huge benefit to us as a team, especially with the T20 World Cup coming up at the end of the year in India,” he told Sky Sports.
“It’s a great chance for the English guys to get more experience in these conditions.”