“No brainer!”

That’s how Star India chairman (then CEO) Uday Shankar had described the mammoth deal worth Rs 16347.50 crore ($2.55 billion) for Indian Premier League rights (2018-2023) last year.

In fact, this was his particular response to the question in an interview with The Indian Express if Star would renew their hold over Indian cricket’s international rights after getting the big honey pot.

“For us the IPL rights were not very expensive. For our internal benchmark, we compare it with the price we were paying for the BCCI rights, which is Rs 43 crore. You are paying 43 crores for a Test and that too not for select Tests against Australia and England. And you have to pay 10 crores more and get IPL rights. It’s a no-brainer,” Shankar was quoted as saying.

Over the next five years, India play a lot of cricket at home. Sure, they will tour away to the regular hotspots as well, but the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s policy has changed regarding their domestic schedule.

If you check who and when India will be playing during the Indian home season, the 2018-2023 Future Tours Programme (FTP) reflects a perfectly carved-out home schedule that sees intense activity during September-November and February-March every season.

As a result, India are inked in to play 102 matches at home. 22 Tests, which amounts to anywhere between 100-110 days of international cricket, along with 80 ODIs/T20Is. On top of this, the BCCI is always at liberty to schedule more internationals. For example, they have invited Afghanistan for a home Test in June, and who knows, Ireland might get such an invite during the next cycle as well.

At times, there is always the need to plug certain holes in the FTP and most cricket boards oblige the BCCI’s requirements.

So, when Star India bagged this broadcast deal for India’s home schedule from 2018-2023 on Thursday evening for a whopping Rs 6138.10 crore, the conclusion is again the same – a no brainer, indeed. Do the math here: Star are going to pay Rs 60.176 crore per match to the BCCI for every home game India plays – irrespective of format – over the next five-year cycle.

If Star is coughing up Rs 54 crore for an IPL game – which only lasts for three hours – then again they have only spent another Rs 6 crore extra to gain a foothold in terms of the longer formats as well. In other words, they are paying the same price – 60-odd crores for a five-day Test match as well as for 100 overs in every ODI that the Men in Blue are involved in.

At first glance, it would seem tough to recoup such money for every game.

But this is easier to understand in terms of Star India’s two-fold strategy in the build-up to this e-auction. First, along with Indian cricket and IPL rights, they also have ICC rights until 2023. India will play host to the 2021 Champions Trophy and the 2023 ODI World Cup, thus tying in those tournaments with the elongated Indian seasons.

A similar move is seen considering Star also own Asian Cricket Council rights (India will host the 2018 Asia Cup in September-October, subject to government nod). The second bit of their strategy is bit extensive.

How Star is outdoing Sony

Sony struggled to monetise the recent Ashes | Photo courtesy: Reuters
Sony struggled to monetise the recent Ashes | Photo courtesy: Reuters

Over the last year or so, the two major broadcasters – Star and Sony – held their cards close as a lot of major international deals came up for bidding. The key to unlocking this market were Indian rights, both IPL and international, of course.

Both broadcasters played a waiting game; there was no hurry to snap up international rights of Australia, New Zealand and England until their next respective home series came by.

When Star snapped up IPL, they then took a backseat by letting Sony get aggressive in the international market. The latter picked up Australian international rights for cheap, while Star made a move for New Zealand rights (for peanuts) only because India will be touring there twice – in 2019 for ODIs/T20Is and then in 2020 for Tests. Since then, Sony have also picked up England rights.

In summation then, before the Indian rights went up for sale, Sony had Australia, South Africa, England, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in their kitty. Star, in turn, had New Zealand and Bangladesh as well as ICC events.

Herein, focus on the Australian rights for example, and this sheds light onto why Star didn’t want these international properties. While Australian rights include the Big Bash League as well, they do not make for a wholesome return proposition for the Indian viewer.

In fact, Sony struggled to monetise even a high-profile series such as the recent Ashes and failed to attract advertisers. Remember waking up at 5 am to see England getting routed 4-0? Jog your memories a bit. Do you recall any adverts between the overs, of which we saw a deluge during the South Africa-India series?

A Star India source told this writer that Pro-Kabadi League re-runs on their channels garner more eyeballs than international bilateral cricket.

Star has a lot of such properties, across different sports including cricket (Karnataka Premier League, Tamil Nadu Premier League, etc.), which they float and maintain to keep the average Indian sports fan interested.

The digital battle

When the Indian Super League is on, international properties like tennis and Formula One – even European football to an extent – take a backseat on their primary channels, and are pushed on to their digital platform HotStar (wherein you need a paid premium account to access these niche sports).

In comparison, Sony do not pay equal attention to their digital platform Sony Liv. In fact, when the IPL rights came up, Sony didn’t even bother with a global bid (television plus digital rights) and opted only to renew their earlier broadcast deal, and eventually lost out.

It is not to say that Sony didn’t want digital rights this time either. In fact, according to a BCCI official, their last consolidated bid was Rs 6118.59 crore, before Star came up with the winning bid. It can be concluded that Star’s game plan – when both television and digital rights come into play – is stronger. So, when you tie in all of this with the fact that Star completely own Indian cricket now, getting returns on their investment doesn’t seem a difficult proposition at all.

For example, Star India has been able to distribute both broadcast and digital IPL rights globally for this 2018 season and earn chunks off them from the world market, even as it drives an advantage at home. This is just a start.

Perhaps the only criticism, from a neutral perspective, is against monopolization of the market. Then again, Indian cricket is the biggest pie in this business. Can you really blame Star for making such audacious moves?