Pssst, did you even know the IPL is on?
Players and support staff of Kolkata Knight Riders celebrate with the trophy after their win against Chennai Super Kings' in the Indian Premier League (IPL) final cricket match in Chennai, India, Sunday, May 27, 2012. Kolkata Knight Riders won the match by five wickets. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
It features some of the best players in the world and its television rights were sold in 2008 for a staggering US$1.6 billion over ten years, yet in Australia you would be hard pressed to know that cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) is currently underway.
For the third successive year the highest profile Twenty20 league in the world is absent from television screens in Australia.
If you want to know what is happening – this year’s tournament kicked off on 6 April by the way – there is not much point looking for it in the Australian press as it seldom ever gets a run, and when it does it is particularly scant.
Free-to-air television news bulletins have given it a wide berth for many years now and you won’t find it mentioned in radio news bulletins either.
If you wish to watch the action live in Australia you have to do so through the internet.
It is the internet you also need to log onto if you want to access scores any meaningful news on what is happening.
While there is still a strong following for the IPL in India, it is largely a non-entity in Australia.
The biggest news story to have come out of the IPL this year as far as Australians are concerned was the signing of Glenn Maxwell in February.
He was the most expensive player signed this year.
Entering the auction with a reserve of US$200,000 on his head, his services were finally secured after a rigorous bidding war for a cool US$1 million.
It would be fascinating today to poll one thousand Australian cricket fans and ask them which franchise it was that paid the seven-figure sum for Maxwell.
I would guess that those who know the answer would be in the extreme minority.
While the IPL is being aired on TV around the world – in traditional cricket nations as well as places like Qatar, Eritrea and Burkina Faso – it seems that the absence of television coverage here is hardly causing a ripple within Australian cricketing circles.
You have to trawl the internet to find message boards or blogs bemoaning the absence of the IPL from our screens.
Right from the start, the IPL was viewed as a union that melded cricket and Bollywood.
Its birth was predicated by India’s win in the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa in September 2007 – interestingly a tournament that was staged on the back of just 19 international T20s to that point.
Just as Indian fans became enamoured with 50-over cricket after Kapil Dev’s side won the 1983 World Cup, the nation’s win in its inaugural T20 counterpart resulted in great fervour.
Hundreds of thousands of fans lined the route on Back Bay in Mumbai to catch a glimpse of MS Dhoni and his men with their trophy atop a double-decker bus.
Indian businessman and BCCI vice-president Lalit Modi saw the opportunity to seize on the newfound interest in the sport’s newest format, and was the driving force behind the establishment of the IPL.
There was no shortage of high profile Indian businesspeople and entertainment industry stars forming consortiums to snap up the eight franchises on offer.
They were snapped at a total cost of US$724 million.
Season one was launched in 2008 to great fanfare, having attracted leading players from around the world.
Glitz, glamour and noise were the key ingredients, with the cricket just one part of the complete entertainment package.
Eyebrows were raised in some quarters by the appearance of scantily clad cheerleaders who gyrated on the boundary in unison with rock music and fireworks whenever a six was struck – and that was a regular occurrence.
The younger, upwardly mobile Indian became besotted with this latest format of the game.
In many ways, the IPL mirrored the new India – a nation coming out of its shell with a massively growing middle class who had the financial resources to afford tickets.
Along the way the IPL has been beset by controversies with allegations of money laundering and spot fixing.
Modi lost favour with his fellow members on the board of the BCCI and was removed from his role as chairman and commissioner of the IPL in April 2010.
During his time on the BCCI board he was heavily involved in the commercial growth of the organisation with revenues between 2005 and 2008 increasing sevenfold, to the point that the BCCI boasted annual revenues in excess of US$1 billion.
One of the key drivers to its exponential economic growth was, of course, the foundation of the IPL in 2008.
The annual eight-week extravaganza continues to reap massive financial returns to the BCCI, but with each year that passes the television audiences in India have declined.
In the three years from 2010 to 2012 the audience dropped by 34 percent.
The early stage of this year’s tournament has also seen a further drop-off in TV audiences.
Some question whether, in the long term, the concept will continue to thrive.
From the perspective of the Australian players they play largely in anonymity in this country.
But would that concern them?
Probably not given the riches they receive for two month’s work.
Some cricket fans bemoan the IPL, believing it has too big a role in the sport. But one thing is for sure, it will not be going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
The most telling moment for the IPL will be when the next television contract is put out to tender.
Sony Entertainment’s current deal expires at the end of the 2017 tournament.
Whether the BCCI can reap the same return, or indeed more, from its next deal will be interesting to see.
In the meantime, some of Australia’s best players will continue to turn out for their respective franchises – this season there are 33 taking part – and they will do so largely unnoticed by most Australian fans.
By the way, if you haven’t already googled it – Glenn Maxwell is playing for the Mumbai Indians.
His captain is Ricky Ponting, but I am sure you already knew that anyway.
After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.
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