This time, every year, Indian cricket fans who cheer for the national team otherwise, shift their loyalties to their own favourite IPL teams. The Indian Premier League – the city-based Indian domestic T20 tournament – has been the biggest showpiece event in the sport ever since its inception in 2008.
Come April, international cricket takes a backseat as players from all the leading cricketing nations come together to take part in this cricketing extravaganza.
As IPL 2017 is set to get underway in less than a fortnight, we take a look at the few reasons why this 10-season old tournament has become a big hit among the public.
#1 Indian Premier League - A pioneer of T20 leagues
We have all, at some point in our childhood, daydreamed about our favourite players from different nationalities playing in the same team. Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya were, in their prime, destructive openers who sent the bowlers on a leather hunt at the start of an innings.
What if they once walked to bat together in a T20 – that would be an absolute nightmare for the bowlers, and a joy for fans. This and many more such crazy dreams of the cricket fan remained on paper for a long time, with the exception of the odd exhibition game here and there. In making this once supposedly crazy dream a reality, the Indian Premier League was a pioneer of its kind, ironically.
Ironically? Yes, that was indeed what it was, coming from a nation that initially gave a cold shoulder to the T20 format. In fact, when the Twenty20 World Cup was first envisaged, India were first reluctant to even participate and later sent a second-line squad of young talent, as legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly opted out of the tournament. Rest, as they say, is history.
The young group led by the new captain MS Dhoni went onto clinch the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa. The bowl-out against Pakistan, Yuvraj’s 6 sixes, Joginder Sharma’s over in the finals and many more such memorable moments from the tournament, caught the fascination of the cricket-loving Indian public.
India’s title triumph at the tournament emboldened the BCCI to cash in on the post-tournament euphoria and launch a domestic T20 league of its own.
Starting off in the summer of 2008, the tournament was gifted a great start by Brendon McCullum, who lit up the Chinnaswamy Stadium, cracking a 73-ball 158 against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the inaugural game of the tournament. Though the match ended as a one-sided affair, it had been a perfect advertisement for the entertainment the tournament had in store in the seasons to come.
#2 Availability of top international stars of the game
One of the early challenges for the organisers of the IPL was to find a window in the international calendar for the T20 league. For the tournament to catch the eyeballs, it would require the cricket loving public’s favourite entertainers available on the ground in its entirety or for the most part. This would require the Indian players, first and foremost, and those of other countries to have no international commitments for a period of two months.
Over the years, the IPL has been able to carve the IPL a window of its own, in between a tightly packed international calendar. This ensured the availability of players from across the world, something that T20 leagues like the Big Bash, Caribbean Premier League, Natwest T20 Blast, Bangladesh Premier League or the Pakistan Super League don’t enjoy.
Though these leagues do feature overseas players, the top stars of the game have mostly stayed away from these tournaments that clash with their international commitments and those that have gone on to play are in the fag end of their career or out-of-national reckoning. In fact, most of the Australian and England players themselves do not appear in all of the games in the Big Bash and T20 Blast, respectively.
In contrast, all Indian stars play the entirety of the IPL and all top-flight international stars (with the notable exception of England and Pakistani cricketers) participate in the tournament to rub shoulders with and against the best of their contemporaries.
#3 TRPs and stadium attendances boosted by vacation season
Another major plus for the tournament is its timing. Every year, the IPL starts in the first week of April and concludes by the end of May, a two-month period coinciding with the vacation season in India.
Families throng the stadiums to watch their favourite players in action, while those who can’t make it to the stadium to have plenty of time on their hands to watch it live on television. According to figures from the official IPL broadcaster, Sony Pictures Entertainment, about 335 million are said to have watched the event on the television last year – great numbers that vouch for fans’ loyalty towards a tournament that is now approaching its tenth season.
Typically, IPL matches are played and aired live on prime-time television, with the exception of afternoon matches played on weekends. Over the years, the ‘cricket-ainment’ that the tournament offers has been able to attract audience attention from prime-time family soaps and reality shows.
#4 Aggressive marketing and huge investment
The success of the IPL and its huge numbers is thanks to the star power on the field but also the aggressive promotional campaigns prior to the tournament - an aspect the Indian Premier League scores over its other counterparts by a distance.
Be it the ‘India ka Thyohaar’ campaign of 2015, the ‘Pista..Sumakira’ anthem of last year or this season’s ‘Das Saal Aapke Naam’ tribute to the fans who have loyally followed IPL over the 10 years since this inception. The IPL’s marketing gurus always have something up their sleeves to connect with the fans and get them excited.
In the stadiums, television and on social media, every year, this cricketing carnival captures the imagination of cricket fans, young and old, for the entire two long months. Leading companies and brands thus look forward to the six-week long tournament as an avenue to reach out to their target audience by launching their own campaigns to engage with the fans.
According to various reports, the IPL is estimating advertisement revenue to the tune of Rs. 1300 crore this year.
#5 Highest quality of cricket on display
When it was first launched, the Indian Premier League was looked upon as a fun tournament with a mix of cricket and Bollywood. However, as the seasons progressed, the tournament has taken shape as a very fiercely competitive T20 league.
With all the top international stars available for the tournament and playing with a lot of freedom, the matches consistently throw up exciting contests, exceptional batting and bowling displays, moments of brilliance on the field and tight finishes, often of a higher standard than seen in international T20 matches.
After the razzmatazz, glitz and glamour, and once the ball rolls, it is serious cricketing action of the highest quality that has kept the followers of the game glued to each and every season.
The IPL is a dream destination for many top international stars who look forward to showcasing their skills and earning a fortune in quick time. The Indian Premier League has also become a platform for young talents to catch the attention of the national selectors and make an easy route to the Indian team.