Published by Arab News:
Suddenly, attention has shifted from both men’s and women’s cricket to T20 cricket and is set to stay there for some months.
The immediate focus is on preparation for the men’s ICC T20 World Cup, which begins on Oct. 16 in Geelong, Australia. In the meantime, the Asia Women’s T20 Cup is taking place in Bangladesh, with the final scheduled for Oct. 15. Australia’s Big Bash League will run between Dec. 13, 2022 and Feb. 4, 2023. This will be followed by the two new franchise T20 tournaments in the UAE and South Africa, the Bangladesh Premier League and the Pakistan Super League, all crammed mainly into January and February 2023.
Asia’s Women’s T20 Cup reached its semifinals stage on Oct. 11, with India, Pakistan, who beat India in the round-robin stage, Sri Lanka and Thailand emerging. It seemed that, despite a brave attempt by the Thailand team to reach the last four, including a victory over Pakistan, it would be edged out on net run rate by Bangladesh.
However, because of rain, no play was possible in Bangladesh’s final match against the UAE. This meant that, dramatically, Thailand ended in fourth place, instead of the host nation. Thailand will face India, who dismissed them for only 37 in the group stage match, hoping to avoid another low score. The UAE secured only one victory, over Malaysia, which lost all of its matches.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the UAE men’s team will compete in the Group Qualifying stage for the T20 Men’s World Cup, playing against Sri Lanka, Namibia and the Netherlands. A second group comprises the West Indies, Scotland, Ireland and Zimbabwe. The top two teams in each group will join the eight automatic qualifiers in the Super12 stage, starting on Oct. 22, and culminating in the final on Nov. 13. Prize money of $5.6 million will be shared amongst participating teams, with $1.6 million going to the winners and $800,000 to the runners-up.
In the buildup to the tournament, a plethora of matches is being played in preparation to fine-tune both form and selection. Each of the teams involved in the group qualifying stage played matches in Melbourne between Oct. 10 and 13 against teams in the other qualifying group. Those teams which automatically qualified are testing themselves against each other in Canberra, Brisbane, Perth and Christchurch.
The number of T20 matches which have already been played this month, the number due to be played up to mid-November and those which will be played between mid-December — after a break for the FIFA World Cup — and the end of May 2023, has all the appearance of being a surfeit. It should not be forgotten that the last men’s T20 World Cup Final was held as recently as Nov. 14, 2021, having been delayed from 2020.
T20 cricket does not depend on spectator attendance for its financial success. As reported in previous columns, the Indian Premier League will garner a colossal $6.2 billion in media rights for its 2023-2027 cycle. At e-auction, last June, these were split almost equally between TV and digital rights, with Disney Star retaining TV rights.
Late in August, the International Cricket Council (ICC) held its auction for TV and digital broadcasting rights of ICC men’s and women’s events on the Indian subcontinent. Disney Star was the preferred bidder for a four-year cycle of 2024 to 2027, beating bids from Viacom18, Sony and Zee. A base price of $1.44 billion had been placed by the ICC for a four-year deal. It is understood that this was substantially exceeded, perhaps by more than double.
In reaffirming its holding of IPL TV rights and ICC TV and digital rights, Disney Star has established itself as the premier media channel for cricket in India. It also has digital rights with Cricket Australia between 2023 and 2031 and with Cricket South Africa from 2023-24. This dominant position will be on show for the upcoming T20 World Cup, as the Star Network has television rights in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
Viewing in Pakistan will be via the Pakistan Television Corporation and ARY Digital Networks, whilst Gazi TV and Rabbithole will telecast and live-stream matches in Bangladesh. Sky Sports will televise and stream games in the UK, with Fox Sports, Channel Nine and Kayo showing matches in Australia. The Times Internet-owned Willow TV will show the matches in the US, targeting the diaspora from the Indian subcontinent. Given that the 2024 T20 World Cup will be hosted in the West Indies, media companies are eager to build this market in advance. This strategy will bear even more benefits should the ICC be successful in its bid to have cricket included in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.
The huge investments which will be made into T20 franchises and ICC marquee events between 2023-4 and 2027 by media companies demand a return on that investment. This is generated by subscribers and advertisers. As an example, the video content streaming platform, Disney+ Hotstar had 58.4 million subscribers in India and Southeast Asia midway through 2022. This was an increase from 45 million at the same point in 2021, 8 million having been added in the second quarter of 2022 when the IPL was played. A subscription for an annual premium account in India is $18, so more than $1 billion could be generated each year from this source alone. The Indian market is viewed by media companies as one that will continue to grow, with Disney forecasting 80 million subscribers by 2025 for Hotstar.
By June 2023, the effects of multiple T20 tournaments should be apparent. Apart from a spotlight on winning teams and most valuable players, the attention of investors and organizers will focus on viewing numbers. These will determine marketing and communication strategies during the cycle to 2027 and the appetite for engagement thereafter. Currently, there seems to be no end to this appetite, but fashions and customer tastes can reach saturation point. The coming five years will determine cricket’s next evolutionary stage.