Studying The IPL Revolution That Changed Cricket Forever

TAPAN UNADKAT | 20th March 2020

Birthed in 2008, the Indian Premier League, brainchild of the much maligned Lalit Modi was introduced to inject excitement, entertainment and enterprise into the cricketing industry like never before. The meteoric rise of the most watched cricket league in the world has reached a stage where it went on to generate 0.6% of India’s GDP in 2015. Yes, you read that right. Ergo, it’s even harder to digest the fact that if India wouldn’t have won the T20 World Cup in 2007, it wouldn’t have led to the inception of the first ever legitimate cricket league in the world. M.S Dhoni’s young brigade lifting the coveted trophy convinced everyone into believing that this format is here to stay as India, as a cricketing nation were fascinated as the gentleman’s game felt like it was on steroids. An ambitious concept to start a cricketing league has become an amalgamation of swashbuckling cricket, the glitz and glamour of Bollywood and seeing audiences drool at the marriage of the nation’s two most valued institutions: cricket and film. The IPL phenomenon today, knows no bounds and it doesn’t just bring all of India together, but makes the world sit up and take notice.  

The IPL on its own popularised T20 Cricket to such an extent that currently, every Test playing nation has their own cricket league which acts as a launchpad for not just Indian cricketers, but players from across the globe to break into the international circuit.

Mapping the impact

It’s been more than a decade since the IPL set foot into the cricketing sphere and its evolution has led to massive tectonic shifts in the game. It can be argued that while T20 cricket was conceptualized by the England Cricket Board in the early 2000s, it wasn’t till the IPL began in 2008 that it became the torchbearer of the shortest format of the game and cemented the fact that this indeed was a shock to the system as the shift that has been witnessed is one from a cricketing concept to a worldwide phenomenon. Talking just viewership figures, nothing beats the Indian Premier League to the point that Star Sports signed a Rs. 16,347 crore ($2.55 Billion) deal to broadcast the tournament for a period of 5 years, starting from 2018-2022. To put these figures in perspective, the previous broadcaster Sony had paid almost 1/3rd of the amount for ten years in 2009. If per match income from broadcasting is calculated, Star India is shelling out Rs. 55 crores for every single match. If these numbers haven’t blown your mind yet, that equals Rs. 23.3 lakhs per legal delivery bowled. This puts the IPL right amongst the greatest leagues in the world in terms of earnings per match, whether that’s the NBA which sees a revenue of Rs. 18 crores per match or the English Premier League, with a whopping Rs. 84 crore per match and the NFL taking the crown with Rs. 150 crores in their kitty per match.

The figures may sound outlandish, but it is the price Star India was willing to pay, considering the sheer quantity of viewership and quality of cricket at hand with the opportunity to reach every Indian household. These astronomical amounts ensured that irrespective of their team’s performance in a season, the franchises will walk out of the tournament without making losses and it can concentrate on building a strong and steady team for future campaigns, rather than worrying about the finances.

Viewership wise, the numbers are staggering to say the least as the first four weeks of IPL 2019 garnered an eye-watering 411 million viewers. However, the silver lining was the increasing interest from women and children. Sport and society have a dark history of closing doors on women in particular, who wish to soak in the madness of it all. The female viewership amounted to 10.1 million impressions in the 2019 season. This stat really brings it home as it defines the scale of the impact that the IPL has managed to cultivate, bringing in newer audiences and expanding the game beyond cultural and geographic boundaries.

As this article is being written, a 16-year old sensation Shafali Verma has become the No. 1 T20 batswoman on the globe. That’s the power of T20 cricket. Perspective.

Decoding these numbers reveal that the Indian Premier league has been able to garner such massive viewership numbers because it is aired in 8 different languages, across 24 channels. Moreover, Star India’s streaming service, Hotstar recorded a reach of over 300 million viewers which reached its peak during last season’s final between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings which was enjoyed by 18.6 million viewers. 

There are certain off-the-field antics such as illegal betting and match fixing that have soured the reputation of the competition, but it would be delusional to deny its scalability and impact on cricketing culture worldwide.

Setting pace for cricketing standards to reach newer heights

For one, it has injected a feeling of genuine fearlessness into the game.  Since throwing caution to the wind has become standard in T20s, this approach has transcended to the longer formats of the game as a team batting 2nd would now back themselves to chasing a target more than 350, whereas a team defending a total below 180 would back themselves to do it under any given circumstance in an ODI. Think back to June 2019 when England broke the record for consecutive 300-plus scores (7). The same team went on to win the World Cup and in as flamboyant fashion as possible. The same approach is consistent with Tests as well. Ben Stokes at Headingley, connect the dots.

This never-say-die attitude generated by playing continuous high pressure games has created a domino effect which has led to greater viewing experience, more people tuning into the live broadcasts, sponsors getting better return on their advertising bucks, higher employment generation, stadiums getting sold out and players getting better rewards in terms of financial packages as well as appreciation for impeccable performances with the bat, ball or on the field. Cricket has reached a point where what happens, both on and off the pitch has now reached a tipping point where the effects are seismic due to unprecedented financial and emotional investments from everyone involved.

Another major change that has occurred is that the expected performance standards, pre-IPL and what they have become now has seen a drastic difference. A fielder who was expected to cover a distance from point A to B under a given point of time in 2006 was far slower than what these athletes are now expected to produce. To give further context, Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh were considered as fielding unicorns as the standards they were setting were unseen. Look at the Indian team now over the years and the while likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina are the gold standard, the others within these sides have taken notes and tried to replicate this trio, something that was excessively ignored back in the day. Through the introduction of greater investments into the game, there has been a major leap in the role of technology, massive improvements in infrastructure and the involvement of international coaches and the most sought-after experts in taking the game to the next level.

Kohli, Jadeja and Raina will go down in history as one of India’s greatest fielders

Cricket is known to be a sport which is played between countries rather than franchisees. However, the IPL certainly changed these dynamics. Make no mistake, there is nothing that can ever trump the excitement of cheering your own country on when they play against the best teams in the world but the IPL has been a catalyst in making more people dare to dream due to the many rags-to-riches story that have been witnessed as a result of the tournament’s ability to be a breeding ground for talent.

Opening Doors

Before the IPL came to fruition, there was no real globalisation of cricket as compared to astronomical standards it has reached. A young boy from Ahmedabad with an unusual action could never have the opportunity to learn from a Sri Lankan bowling legend. Cut to the Indian Premier League making incredible strides and Lasith Malinga’s mentoring of Jasprit Bumrah has worked wonders as the apprentice is now considered a master at his craft. Similarly, two Australian legends in Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist could never even be in the same room as Rajasthan and Hyderabad’s finest young cricketers, let alone lead two tremendously young sides and win the championship with them. But as soon as icons of the game like Warne, Gilchrist Dhoni and Kumble were made to lead their respective sides which boasted of gifted young players from humble backgrounds, it became a nucleus for players around the world to spend time and learn the art from the best in the world. Moreover, these budding talents have gone on to shape their own legacies.

The master and the apprentice.

The then- lesser known players such as Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin to name a few worked under the masters of the game, on and off the field which has made them the world-beaters of today.

Players like Faf du Plessis, Shaun Marsh, Angelo Mathews, Manish Pandey and Glenn Maxwell are amongst the long list of players who became household names through the IPL. The tournament tends to produce the best performances from unexpected names because even the inexperienced lot must square up against the elite and come up with the answers or get chewed up and spat out like many other waning talents. The pressure is unimaginable, but so are the rewards.

The IPL introduced some of the most innovative initiatives in world cricket. The auction system gave every team an equal opportunity to acquire players, despite the crux of the tournament being extremely competitive, there exists a fair and equal purse system. Every franchisee owner sits in the auction with the same amount of funds, taking financial advantage out of the picture. This has ensured that pretty much all the 8 teams have enough firepower to lift the trophy.

But at the end of the day, what really is the IPL about? Bystanders would say it’s the glitz and glamour of it all. Critics would say it’s just a corrupt format that has blotted the gentleman’s game forever. Supporters would say it has produced performances on the pitch that have never been witnessed before from cricketing gladiators like Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum.

Chris Gayle is the IPL’s ultimate showman

You can decide which group you belong to, but one can never deny that a concept has become an entity that is almost so synonymous with the sport that it is impossible to imagine cricket without the Indian Premier League.