The Indian Premier League (IPL), founded by Lalit Modi and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in 2007, has been a huge asset since for world cricket. Its fast-paced, explosive, shorter format of the game, known as 20/20 cricket, has taken a sport criticised for slow, actionless entertainment and transformed it into something consumable and enjoyable to watch. The sheer scale of the IPL ranks among the top sports leagues in viewership and revenue, and the average salary per season is $5 million, second only to the NBA. In 2017, Vivo paid $290 million to sponsor the title for five seasons, in a deal far more expensive than Barclay’s Premier League title sponsorship. The IPL has grown hugely in popularity both in India and overseas, and investors are recognising the IPL as an opportunity to access the market in India. This has led to the revival that world cricket needed, however, the IPL has also brought problems, leading some to question whether the league has become too large for the game it plays.

The foremost reason for the IPL’s opportunity is India’s demographics; a population of 1.38 billion, a rapidly developing economy, growing standard of living, and an urbanising population, means that there is great potential for sponsors in India. 

The number of households  with access to television and internet, (currently at 560 million people, which grew by 10% from 2018/19), gives advertisers a unique opportunity to tap into this large market, that previously it did not access on such a scale. This number is continually growing, as the second infographic shows, and sponsors are recognising this, indicated by the 1000% increase in the sponsorship fee over 10 years. 

Secondly, the growth of the IPL is aided by the cultural role that cricket plays in India. Cricket holds special importance in India as its most popular sport. The IPL has been able to utilise this, with IPL matches have becoming an event in the calendar, attracting the best players from across the world to India. Its teams have followings of millions, and it has changed the landscape of the game, causing a shift towards the shorter, more explosive format of cricket, and away from traditional five – day test cricket.

As such, sponsors such as Vivo and Pepsi are eager to edge ahead in the race to expand into the Indian market, and the IPL has become the medium for this. 

Although it is the ICC (International Cricket Council) that governs all 105 cricket playing nations in name, the BCCI commands so much money and viewership that it can effectively manage other cricketing nations, and the IPL is complicit in this. As the first table shows, the IPL is the BCCI’s third highest source of income (approximately £21 million). This money from the IPL has enabled the BCCI to influence other cricketing nations, and this is harming the sport’s growth and its smaller nations.

Firstly, India effectively has a monopoly on the game; because its population size dwarfs other cricketing nations, it is the largest consumer of the game, and as such is able to command a huge share of profits, tv rights, and sponsorship money. Any decisions taken by the ICC cannot restrict Indian cricket, because any decision that damages Indian cricket is far worse for the overall game than any other nation. Therefore, India has huge influence in the decision making process of the ICC, and is able to pass or reject regulation that it feels is harmful to Indian cricket, even though in the long term, these decisions may help world cricket grow. 

India’s monopoly on the game has been facilitated by the IPL, which has meant that the BCCI has been able to pass regulations that are beneficial predominantly to Indian cricket. An example of this is the inclusion of fewer teams in the Cricket World Cup, which India heavily supported. In 2007, 16 teams played, but in the 2019 edition, this number decreased to 10 teams. This means that India can appear in more World Cup matches, which gives more money to advertisers in Indian cricket. In addition, whilst the ICC has been advocating for the inclusion of cricket in the Olympics, the BCCI has prevented this, due to fears that the revenues might be diluted towards the Olympic Committee instead of the BCCI. This stifles the growth of the sport in other nations in favour of more revenue received by India.

Secondly, the BCCI has been able to pressure the ICC into approving legislation that would harm smaller nations. In 2014, the “Big Three”, comprising of India, Australia, and England, attempted a cricket coup on the ICC, to seize control of its committees and fund distribution. Before 2014, each nation received an equal share of cricket revenue. In the new deal, the Big Three received the majority of cricket revenue, with India receiving over $500 million (33% of total revenue).

Cricket is no longer the sport it was 20 years ago. Gone are the 60-over One Day Internationals and the defensive style of play; the IPL is here to stay, for better or for worse.

The IPL has reshaped how cricket is consumed, yet in doing so has become too large for its own good. It has inadvertently become the vehicle through which the BCCI, sponsors, and officials, operate. Whether it is sponsors looking to grow in India, or decision-making driven by geopolitics, the IPL has become much more than a cricketing league. The BCCI’s current policy of weaponising the IPL for short-term gain is inherently unsustainable. Cricket cannot survive if it does not adapt and grow. By hindering this, Indian and world cricket will lose money in the long term, as fewer countries play the sport, fewer people are watching it worldwide, and it is no longer a global sport. 

The IPL on paper has certainly been a force for good, by metrics of revenue, sponsorships, and media rights. However, until the BCCI can sacrifice short- term rewards, for its responsibility to ensure a sustainable cricketing future, the IPL will ultimately be a curse for world cricket.