Sports

Why cricket is worth $5.3 billion — in just one country

Baseball may be considered a staple sport for Americans, but the game of cricket actually generates way more cash in sponsorships than Major League Baseball.

The rise of cricket

Cricket has been around for centuries, since the 1500s. With 104 nations as official members of the International Cricket Council, it's one of the world's most popular sports.

But cricket is most profitable in India. The Indian Premier League, or IPL, is a relatively new league. It’s only in its eleventh season and has already generated more money from sponsorships than Major League Baseball. According to advertising media company GroupM, the IPL made $1 billion in sponsorship money in 2017. Compare that to the $892 million the MLB made in sponsorships in 2017, according to IEG, a sponsorship evaluation firm.

In 2017, the IPL was valued at $5.3 billion, according to financial advisory firm Duff & Phelps. The IPL saw a 26 percent increase in its value from 2016, thanks to new broadcasting deals, the value of its title sponsor Vivo, and an increase in brand value for all of the teams, Duff & Phelps said.

A twist on the traditional sport

The sport is rich in tradition, but recent changes have been made to shorten playing time, which has helped boost its commercial success.

Traditional cricket matches known as test matches can go on for days. The longest cricket match lasted 10 days between England and South Africa in 1939.

Leagues like the IPL have adopted a streamlined version of the sport known as Twenty20. These games can last up to three hours, making matches easier to watch, and allows for more matches to be played. Hundreds of millions of viewers are now watching this new version of cricket.

The IPL's global rights

Over six weeks, eight teams in the IPL play against each other in a series of matches that culminate in a championship match with the final two teams. During the first week of IPL’s 2018 season, it pulled in 371 million total viewers, according to Star India.

The hundreds of millions of viewers have caught the eyes of major U.S.-based media companies. In 2017, there was a bidding war for the global broadcasting rights for IPL. Companies like Fox, Facebook, and Sony threw their hats in the ring to get the rights.

The winner was Fox, which struck a five-year $2.55 billion deal for the rights. Those rights may end up finding a new home if Walt Disney succeeds in its attempt to buy Fox. The combined company would have the global rights to the sport. (CNBC's parent, Comcast, had also made an offer to buy Fox.)

IPL’s popularity extends well beyond India’s borders, making its global broadcasting rights important. Cricket players around the world typically play in more than one Twenty20 league each year. The Twenty20 matches aren't just shorter, the seasons are shorter too. Twenty20 players from Australia's Big Bash League or Pakistan's Super League can play in the IPL, while also playing for their national teams or others. Since IPL's season only lasts just over six weeks, there is little overlap with other Twenty20 leagues.

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