The Next Big Thing: Cricket

Photo courtesy of Reuters (bat and ball used in conjunction with a wicket during the game of cricket)
Photo courtesy of Reuters (bat and ball used in conjunction with a wicket during the game of cricket)

The Indian Premier League (“IPL”) is already a top fifteen professional sports league in the world bringing in a little less than a billion dollars a year in revenue ($980 million) with each of its eight franchises earning $71.25 million per year.  The IPL sits between the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB, the Japanese professional baseball league) and the Australian Football League (AFL) (rugby), but above Major League Soccer (MLS).  The top three leagues in the world in terms of value are the NFL, MLB, and NBA, with the English Premier League (EPL) and international soccer leagues rounding out the rest of the top fifteen. 

With a population of nearly 1.4 billion people (1,393,409,038) in 2021, India is prime for economic growth.  By comparison, the population in China is 1.4 billion (1,444,781,976) and in the United States, 332 million (332,915,073).  However, the country with the highest fertility rate among the top three is India, with an average of 2.2 children per family (the U.S. is 1.8, China is 1.7). The remaining countries with over 200 million in population are Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, and Nigeria.  Bangladesh is next on the list with 164 million people.  The four most popular cricket-playing countries in the word: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka (population of 21,501,168), and Bangladesh.  Moreover, India has a 100% regional popularity ranking for the game of cricket. 

The problem in the United States for cricket lovers is that it is hard to find IPL and other cricket league broadcasts, which may also be the familiarity and popularity dilemma with the sport.  In America, access is not as simple as your basic cable package or streaming service.  However, in India, one might be surprised the that official broadcaster and streaming partners are owned by Disney.  Disney+, Hotstar, and Star India are all owned by The Walt Disney Company as part of its $71 billion dollar FOX acquisition.  Disney+, Hotstar, and Star India currently control the worldwide digital rights to IPL, for which The Walt Disney Company paid $2.55 billion dollars beginning in 2018.  Between Disney+ and Hotstar, there are over 150 million subscribers.

The above is impressive, but when one considers that Disney+ was launched in November 2019 and the IPL in its current form began in 2008 and there are only eight franchises, the growth opportunities have been and are tremendous.  Per Statista, “the average annual cost for the India Premier League’s broadcasting rights stood at $510 million U.S. dollars between 2018 and 2022. This was a phenomenal increase from just over $100 million between 2008 and 2017.”  The $2.55 billion dollar five-year deal is five times the value of the rights between 2008-2017.  The current IPL deal also ranks as one of the ten most expensive sports broadcast deals in history.  The IPL’s highest paid cricketeer is Virat Kohli, who earns $24 million per year and appears on Forbes 2021 “Highest-Paid Athletes List”.   

Sports investment company Redbird Capital has noticed the opportunity and purchased a fifteen percent stake in IPL franchise, the Rajasthan Royals.  Redbird’s investment overseas mirrors the massive investment in the United States.  In 2019, USA Cricket and ACE invested $1 billion dollars to create a developmental and eventual professional league in the United States, which is now aptly named Major League Cricket (MLC).  The strategy is one of building the infrastructure and developing the talent.  With a population of 5.4 million South Asian’s for 2021 in the United States and the growth of Disney+/Hotstar internationally, cricket is bound to grow.  

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