For all of their billions of dollars and hundreds of millions of fans, when sports giants such as the IOC, NFL and FIFA go to market with sponsorship opportunities, they don’t simply hold an auction and wait for the highest bidder to emerge.
Although those organizations do engage in an auction-like process for their media rights, recruiting brand partners continues to require experienced partnership sales teams to source and research prospects, build packages of relevant rights and benefits, and negotiate price and other critical details.
Which makes the Indian Premier League’s current search for a title partner all the more remarkable. The franchise-based professional circuit run by the Board of Control for Cricket in India is wrapping up its request for bids process for league naming rights for 2024-28, and if news reports are correct, it is in line to increase the value of those rights from the current $40 million per year to $60 million annually.
The BCCI issued an Invitation to Tender just over a month ago, and according to The Times of India has attracted an offer of $300 million from Mumbai-based global conglomerate Aditya Birla Group. With a January 19 deadline, it’s not publicly known whether there are other bidders or the amounts of any other offers.
The contents of the ITT document are also not known, as interested parties were required to pay a non-refundable $6,000 fee merely to acquire it. But just the published terms and conditions themselves demonstrate the IPL’s unique position of strength.
Conditions include prohibiting the following categories from bidding: “alcohol products, betting, cryptocurrency, real money gaming, tobacco,” and any industry “likely to offend public morals such as, including but not limited to, pornography.” With the exception of the last two, you would be hard pressed to find another major rightsholder that rejects revenue from such active spenders.
Additional media reports indicate that the ITT states that bidders must not be incorporated in a jurisdiction with which India does not have a friendly relationship, and that companies associated with countries perceived to be unfriendly to India should submit additional documents. This has been interpreted to mean that the BCCI would reject sponsorship from Chinese companies. The rights holder booted former title partner Vivo, the Chinese tech company, following border skirmishes between the two countries in 2020.
The BCCI also informed interested parties that incumbent title sponsor Tata has the right to match any offer and retain its role for the next five years. This is an increasingly less frequent practice among properties, as most are uncomfortable with the idea of both sides committing a great deal of time and effort to negotiate a deal simply to have to turn the new partner away at the last second. But in the BCCI’s case, the tender process eliminates much of that concern.
In addition it is likely that the IPL expected a significant increase in the deal value (although perhaps not as much as the reported 50 percent it stands to get from ABG), limiting the possibility that Tata would execute its right to match.
None of this should be a surprise, of course, as the IPL’s $1 billion-plus in annual media rights revenue puts it in the top five among sports leagues globally despite featuring just 10 teams playing 74 matches in a two-month season. (The league will expand to 84 matches per season in 2025 and 94 matches in 2027.) Compare that to the NBA, where 30 teams play 1,230 games per seven-month regular season.
Even with a minimal amount of on-pitch competition, the IPL was watched by over 500 million viewers on broadcast television (an average of 6.76 million per match) and almost as many on digital platforms in 2023, according to Bloomberg. The NBA averaged 1.59 million viewers on broadcast and cable TV last season.
While the other international sports giants dwarf the T20 cricket circuit in total revenues, live attendance, merchandise sales, etc., on at least one front—being able to auction its top sponsorship rights—the IPL stands alone.