Indian Premier League and Sony India have been the best companions during a glorious, path-breaking 10-year journey for cricket’s biggest commercial property. The unprecedented values Sony offered for the broadcast rights of a ‘domestic tournament’ ten years ago were ambitious, challenging to the extent of “unrealistic”. The Sony sales team, driven by Mr Rohit Gupta, surpassed all targets year by year as the bar kept rising with each passing season.
Ten years down the line, Sony is faced with their biggest ever IPL challenge. To retain the property that has become synonymous with Brand Sony’s growth in India. In a candid talk with InsideSport.co, Mr Gupta, President, Sony Entertainment Television, revisited the Sony-IPL journey and shared the importance of the IPL for the broadcaster. Here are the excerpts:
InsideSport: Sony acquired the Indian Premier League media rights in 2008 when the other ‘sportscasters’ were giving it a cold shoulder to the league. Where did Sony get that faith from to commit an unprecedented Rs 8,200 crore for a ‘tournament’?
Rohit Gupta: The team had evaluated the product. It was a well-calculated move and we were confident about its success. Sony has been into cricket broadcast before that. IPL could be described as a tournament then. But there were factors to establish IPL as a grand property. BCCI had grand plans around IPL. There was a drop in the viewership of long formats of cricket. IPL offered a quick three and half hour entertainment. All Indian stars and world’s best talent were there to participate. There was no doubt in our minds. We were always confident about IPL.
IS: It needed a big commitment from you as someone who was directly entrusted with the task of generating the revenues for this big project. What gave you the confidence of committing to such unprecedented targets?
RG: It was a team effort. We had a road map and we were confident about it. We were to meet these targets over the years. We knew as the project would grow, market will have better acceptance. We were always convinced about what we were committing.
IS: What was the market reaction for the first time. What was your first pitch to the clients?
RG: Our goals for the first season were realistic. Our strategy was to approach limited but good brands. We went to them with certain commitments. We provided exclusivity to our clients. They were posing faith in our property. We had to ensure that their rights are protected that the product would grow to create a demand in the market. We had only seven brands in the first season of IPL. Vodafone, Godrej, Hyundai and Coca-Cola were among the brands.
IS: IPL sales grew from Rs 300 crore in 2008 to Rs 1,430 in 2017 over the 10 years. There were new challenges every year. How did you gear up for these challenges? How was this journey?
RG: This was an extremely fruitful journey. As I said, our goals were always realistic. It was a team work and we were always successful in meeting our goals. It was Team Sony’s effort. Everyone had a defined role. There was aggressive marketing, programming and campaigns. There was a consistent growth in revenues except for one season. It was season seven, 2014 was the (general) election year in India. Global economy was dealing with a slowdown. These factors did affect us. That was the only time when IPL revenues declined in comparison to the previous year. Otherwise, there has been a steady rise in our goals and sales.
IS: IPL has played a key role in strengthening your distribution. How much did IPL contribute to Sony’s affiliate sales?
RG: Yes. It did. IPL’s contribution was tremendous. From the beginning we had faith in IPL. This is our prime property, which drives many growth factors.
IS: For the past few years you have been exceeding your IPL sales targets. How did this happens? Please take us through that.
RG: IPL is the biggest property. Across all genres. IPL viewership has grown consistently over the years. The reach is unprecedented. You must have seen new advertising categories coming up. Brands want consistency. IPL is a part of marketing calendar for brands. There is a six month process for IPL sales.
IS: Can you please share a wall park percentile figure on what will be ROI on your year to year IPL investments?
RG: I am sorry. Sony has a policy. We do not divulge commercial numbers.
IS: Isn’t it unfair that the broadcaster that created IPL as a brand is denied its contractual right for “first right of refusal” to renew contract and you are being subjected to the bid process?
RG: I have no comment to make on this. We are working on the bid to retain IPL rights.
IS: Sony also used IPL as marketing tool to promote its other properties like Fifa, movies, etc. This worked really well for you to establish Sony’s other platforms?
RG: Yes. Sony has benefited from IPL in all aspects. Marketing is one of these. Results from marketing through IPL were very good.
IS: At this stage how crucial is it for Sony to retain IPL rights? How big can be the setback in a worst case scenario?
RG: These rights are very crucial for us. We are going all out to retain our rights. There is no negativity on our minds. The entire team is focused on the bid process. We are confident of retaining IPL at Sony.
IPL 10 has topped each chart that can be a parameter to gauge the success of a sporting property – from TV broadcast and digital platforms. BCCI will be seeking a combined bid for all IPL media rights (TV broadcast and digital) for a five-year cycle. The BCCI last year had floated tenders inviting bids for 10 years of TV broadcast and five years of digital rights. Tremendous competition to acquire this hot property, coupled with viewership and revenue growth, penetration into new markets and better broadcast spectrum to boost digital market, is likely to see between 200% and 300% jump in the IPL media rights values.