As expected, the Indian Premier League (IPL), now in its 13th season, is enjoying a good run on its home turf. What comes as a surprise, however, is the interest it has drawn in the UK. Indeed, in an encouraging sign of its growing international appeal, the cricket tournament has even surpassed the viewership of the English Premier League (EPL), perhaps the most popular sporting event in the country.
According to data by Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB), the organisation that compiles audience measurement and television ratings in the UK, the IPL is gaining in popularity in that country.
Sky Sports Cricket, a UK pay-TV broadcaster that has the rights to air IPL matches, recorded 17 lakh live viewers between October 12-18 for IPL matches.
In addition, the cricketing league is being watched by over two lakh viewers every day in the UK. As many as 30 lakh viewers in the country watched the IPL in October.
Winning the numbers game
The highest watched EPL matches, Liverpool versus Sheffield United and Arsenal versus Leicester, recorded 110,000 and 140,000 viewers, respectively.
The opening match of the IPL, between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, was watched by around 168,000 viewers, according to Sky Sports data. In 2018, the opening match between the same teams was viewed by around 90,000 viewers.
It helps that the IPL features a number of players from England, including Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jason Roy, Jofra Archer and the Curran brothers Sam and Tom. England won the 2019 One Day International world cup, beating New Zealand in a thrilling final at Lord’s, and that memorable victory in London may have played a part in piquing viewer interest in the shorter forms of the game.
In 2019, Sky Sports was unable to reach an agreement with Star India and the league’s rights were secured by BT Sports, a group of pay television sports channels. But this year, Sky Sports managed to ink a three-year deal and has regained the IPL rights.
An expert from Blueclaw, a digital marketing agency based in the UK, said that while the IPL’s popularity is growing, the EPL has faced a backlash this year due to its pay per view scheme.
Be it IPL or EPL matches, a viewer in the UK has to subscribe to channels that air coverage of a particular league. A viewer who subscribes to Sky Sports, which airs both IPL and EPL matches, will have to shell out anywhere between £39 to £52 per month.
However, the expert pointed out that extra EPL matches are being hosted on a separate PPV (pay per view) channel, which costs £14.95 per match.
“The fact that viewers have to pay on top of their usual subscriptions is definitely why some of these EPL fixtures have been watched by so few people. It is the first time this PPV scheme has been used in the EPL and it has been very unpopular with the public, with a lot of fans choosing to donate to charity rather than pay the £14.95 to watch matches on a one-off basis,” he said.
But the expert pointed out that “it’s not right to say that the PPV scheme for EPL has caused IPL viewership to increase.”
While experts say that the IPL has a long way to go to catch up with the overall value and popularity of the EPL, the cricket league is definitely one of the fastest growing brands.
According to a 2019 report by independent brand valuation and strategy consultancy Brand Finance, the top five teams in the IPL have a combined brand value of $321 million, whereas the brand value of the top five teams in the English Premier league stands at $6.5 billion.
English football, however, has been an international staple for much longer, with the EPL in place since 1992. The IPL began in 2008.