Why Jeff Bezos Is Fighting Asia’s Richest Man Over Cricket

The Indian Premier League, with its corruption scandals and over-the-top entertainment, is the richest cricket club in the world.

Apr 6 2022, 11:34am

Two billionaires. The world’s richest cricket league. And a power tussle to own streaming  rights to a game worth $5 billion in a country of 1.4 billion people obsessed with the sport.  

When it comes to numbers, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is replete with superlatives, including one of the highest viewerships in professional sports. 

This June, the men’s cricket league will see Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s owner and the world’s second-richest man, face off with Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, over its lucrative streaming rights.

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For the first time ever, India’s cricket board BCCI opened bids for streaming rights to its next five seasons: from 2023 to 2027. Bidding is going to start at $7 billion, according to anonymous sources cited in a Bloomberg report.

By separating broadcasting rights between online platforms and TV, the BCCI finally opened its doors to American streaming services such as Bezos’ Amazon Prime in India, Bloomberg reported. Times of India quoted a BCCI source saying American tech giant Apple is expected to bid too. 

As a professional sport, the IPL is in a league of its own. The cult status accorded to cricket in India has propelled the 14-year-old cricket club into becoming a key player in the top global sports ecosystem. 

Infographics courtesy: Statista

The league is defined by its star-studded investors, from top actors and politicians to industrialists putting what senior Indian sports journalist Pradeep Magazine calls “obscene” amounts of money into it. Despite the pandemic disrupting its matches, the IPL’s brand value was $4.7 billion in 2021. 

“The IPL is a popular sporting brand and, by making a distinction between television and online broadcasting rights, it will make much more money,” Magazine told VICE World News. A big share of the money pumped into IPL goes to the BCCI, which is expected to earn $106 million just this year. 

“Naturally, there are people who are willing to bid [for the broadcasting rights] and it’s a win-win situation for the BCCI,” said Magazine. “The franchises, in turn, see this as a way to make their returns.” The franchises, or IPL teams, are backed by the rich and famous. The BCCI and the franchises have a 60:40 share of the central revenue. 

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While IPL matches have been streamed before, Magazine expects online streaming platforms to add “different gimmicks” to pull in more viewers.

Australian sports journalist Tristan Lavalette, in his piece on Forbes, noted how when it comes to big money, IPL is the “gold standard” across the world. “Its overwhelming success has recalibrated how the sport is followed,” he wrote. 

Broadcasting is big business in the IPL. Infographics courtesy: Statista

Bezos’s Amazon Prime has the second-largest subscriber base in India, with 22.3 million users out of the country’s total 80 million paying subscribers. At the same time, Ambani’s telecom company Reliance Jio is the largest operator in India, having made cheap, high-speed internet connection available to millions of Indians. Ambani’s wife Nita already owns the richest IPL team, Mumbai Indians, which is valued at $80 million. 

There are concerns that the IPL is slowly killing the traditional formats of cricket such as test matches. “What the IPL means to traditional cricket is to be seen, because the more popular it gets, the more it eats into the time of traditional formats,” said Magazine. 

Cricketers playing in the IPL earn salaries incomparably higher than what domestic or international matches can offer. The highest earning IPL cricketer was Virat Kohli, an Indian player who earned over $2.6 million just for one season. “If the IPL carries on like this, after 8–10 years, there may not be any traditional cricket left,” said Magazine.

Beyond the money, there have been allegations of corruption and tampering at IPL matches, none of which has tarnished its popularity. Another infamous aspect of the IPL is the literal “auctioning” off of cricket players to the highest bidders among the franchises. “It’s like a market,” said Magazine. 

In his article, Lavalette noted similarities between the IPL and an American sports game where “entertainment is at the core of the fan experience.” “A gaudy player auction, one of its headlining staples, has a twist on drafts and trades that are intrinsic in U.S. sports,” he wrote. 

This isn’t the first joust against Ambani for commercial power for Bezos in India, who lost a two-year court battle to Ambani last month. The arduous litigation ensued after a foundering Indian retail business, which Bezos and Ambani both vied for, took Bezos’s money but then sold the debt-riddled business to Ambani for $3.4 billion. Ambani is also one of the most powerful people in India, with close ties with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his political party.

Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.

Tagged:

amazon, India, jeff bezos, south asia, indian premier league, ipl, mukesh ambani, worldnews

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