Nonstop action lasting just three hours. A cacophony of the latest pop tunes. Cheerleaders. A blur of color. Film stars in the house. Glitz. Glamour.
It all feels very much like being at a sports game in the U.S, where a continual whirlwind of 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.
Welcome, to the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The world’s premier Twenty20 competition stops the cricket-crazy nation for seven weeks annually. Since starting in 2008, the lucrative IPL has turned the staid British sport on its head. Being innately British – conjuring stereotypical connotations of spectators picnicking in plush green villages – cricket long pushed back against the type of manufactured entertainment that underpins sports in the U.S.
In a throwback to a bygone era, being at longform matches - which can last a duration of a five-day work week but are often poorly attended – is a tranquil experience. The diehards soak in the action, which Australian comedian Wil Anderson aptly summed up as “on-field chess”.
When the play meanders, spectators will sometimes read a book. Or even doze off. It’s a sporting event where you can socialize – conversations can be had while casually watching. Some indulge in drinking too much alcohol – for a section of fans, that’s their primary reason for attending the cricket.
The sleeker IPL is different. And much louder. Crowds skew younger. It is frenzied entertainment both on-and-off the field. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Twenty20 leagues are seen as instrumental in developing cricket beyond the heartland and has been mimicked by nearly every major cricket nation.
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Even though there have been notable successes, the Big Bash League (BBL) in Australia being a prime example, the IPL remains the gold standard. And its overwhelming success has recalibrated how the sport is followed.
Traditionally, cricket has been most popular at its international level – country vs country - but the IPL created fanatic fandom through domestic franchises much like sports in the U.S. and most other parts of the world.
After initial skepticism, it has been accepted as a genuine sporting league and now become an integral fixture of the cricket calendar. With fans seemingly having genuine loyalties to teams – a major stumbling block in any newly created league – the IPL has undoubtedly been a marketing triumph.
There is unbridled hype over the IPL in India and it has endured much more than a fad which cynics initially thought destined. Even corruption scandals have failed to curb the enthusiasm.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), ever protective of its gold mine, does not fixture any international matches during the IPL – unlike what happens in Australia, for example, where the country’s top stars essentially can’t play in the BBL due to scheduling clashes with the national team.
In another nod to the BCCI’s heft, it does not allow its players to play in other Twenty20 franchise leagues around the world.
Top players are lured by enormous pay packets with a slew of stars earning over $1 million. Virat Kohli, the Indian captain and world’s best batsman, is the highest earner in the current edition with a salary of $2.4 million.
Attendances have been astounding and in 2014 ranked sixth by average attendance among all sports leagues globally. The IPL's ability to be a money spinner was confirmed when in 2017 Star India bought the broadcast rights for a dizzying $2.55 billion.
Star outbid Sony, the previous rights holders with a 10-year contract worth $1 billion, and 12 other bidders to grab the TV and digital rights from 2018-2022.
Even though it had a mammoth television rights deal, the IPL pales in comparison to the NFL, the world's most lucrative league.
Still, IPL chiefs believe it can challenge the global sports giants. But to do that, the IPL needs to summon enthusiasm and interest beyond India. Even in cricket countries, the IPL has struggled to resonate and create much attachment unlike the NBA and English Premier League which transcend borders.
"It can match any league," a bullish IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla told AFP. "In (Indian) cities where we don't host matches, we organize fan parks where we invite people to watch the match on the big screen. So 20,000-30,000 people are coming to the fan parks.
"Now we are planning to take it overseas, to places like Dubai, the UK and also America."
Still in its infancy, obviously, there is room for major growth. The IPL only has eight teams, which seems thin for a country with over a billion people. The teams play each other twice before the playoffs and the format is locked in for the duration of the current television rights.
Perhaps some IPL games can be held abroad. In 2009 and 2014, the IPL was held overseas due to national elections, but creating more of a global brand could be harnessed by playing games in key markets.
Maybe, just maybe, one such destination could be the U.S. – a coveted market that has long been mouth-watering for cricket administrators.
Which would be fitting considering the IPL’s innate American characteristics.