Jeff Bezos and Mukesh Ambani (Image Credits: Twitter)
Jeff Bezos and Mukesh Ambani (Image Credits: Twitter)

Two of the world’s wealthiest men, Jeff Bezos and Mukesh Ambani, are about to duel once more. This time, the battle is over media rights to cricket’s Super Bowl, one of the fastest-growing sporting events in the world, with 600 million spectators and a brand worth of about $6 billion. 

The billionaires’ companies are expected to be the top two bidders at an Indian Premier League (IPL) auction on June 12th, which is expected to attract a number of bidders for separate five-year telecasting and internet streaming rights in various geographies.

Walt Disney And Sony Group Also In The IPL Broadcast Rights Race

Tata IPL 2022 Trophy
Tata IPL 2022 Trophy. (Photo: IPL)

According to those acquainted with the situation, the tycoons are drafting aggressive game plans to assure victory. Walt Disney Co., which had the rights until last year’s just-ended season, and Sony Group are two other formidable competitors.  

For the two first-timers, there’s a lot more on the line than just becoming the most powerful media player in a country of 1.4 billion people. In the former British colony, the English sport has a cult-like following.

Both Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. and Bezos’s Amazon.com Inc. are wagering that the game will help them achieve their ultimate goal: dominating an increasingly online Indian consumer market.  

“The bidding action will be a bet on the India story over the coming decade,” said Karan Taurani, a media analyst at Mumbai-based Elara Capital. 

 “Bidders are putting money on the promise that data-consuming Indians will dictate the fortunes of every business, from retail to banking, and from travel to education.”  

Mukesh Ambani Recruiting For The Role Since Mid-2021

According to people familiar with the situation, Ambani, 65, has been evaluating and recruiting seasoned leaders for the role since mid-2021. Anil Jayaraj and Gulshan Verma, who helped 21st Century Fox Inc. seal the previous acquisition in 2017, are among them. 

According to those familiar with the situation, Reliance’s war room also includes Ambani’s loyal lieutenant Manoj Modi and his older son Akash Ambani. A recent partnership with Uday Shankar, the former chief of Fox’s and later Disney’s India and Asia Pacific divisions, will give the team even more heft.  

Mukesh Ambani (Image Credits: Twitter)
Mukesh Ambani (Image Credits: Twitter)

According to a separate group of insiders who asked not to be identified because they were discussing internal deliberations, Amazon, which has chosen IPL as one of a half-dozen global sports franchises it is interested in, is similarly motivated to win.

One guy stated that the thinking is against being conservative. The retail behemoth has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on European soccer rights, as well as a $1 billion-per-season deal to broadcast Thursday Night Football in the United States until 2033. 

Disney is flying top executives from its Burbank, California headquarters to Mumbai for the auction, according to people familiar with the situation. Disney needs to decide how much it’s willing to pay. If the US entertainment behemoth fails to keep the rights it received three years ago from Fox’s $71 billion acquisition, it stands to lose a lot of money.

Hotstar Gave Disney Boost In Indian Market After Entry In IPL

Hotstar, a popular streaming service among cricket fans, was included in the deal, giving Disney’s relatively new presence in the Indian market an immediate boost. 

The Disney+ streaming service has 138 million paid customers worldwide, with Disney+ Hotstar accounting for more than a third of those. In the quarter ending April 2, Disney+ added 7.9 million new customers, while Netflix Inc. struggled. More over half of those came via Disney+ Hotstar, a streaming service available in India and Southeast Asia. 

Disney Hotstar, Tata IPL (Image Credits: IPL)
Disney Hotstar, Tata IPL (Image Credits: IPL)

Gaurav Gandhi, the head of Amazon Prime Video in India, declined to be interviewed for this piece, and Amazon did not respond to an email seeking comment. Disney, Reliance, and Sony representatives all declined to comment. 

Apple Inc.’s iPhone was just a year old when IPL began in 2008, and live streaming was still sporadic. Digital rights are expected to command a high price as more Indians view material online, including on smartphones. 

The IPL is a multi-week cricket event that takes place every year in April and May. Ten teams, largely from the British Commonwealth, compete in three-hour matches, a shorter and more exciting version than the traditional five-day test cricket style.

IPL Third Most Popular Sport In The World

According to its organiser, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the annual IPL competition is the third most popular sport in the world, behind only English soccer and the National Football League. 

Duff & Phelps, now known as Kroll, evaluated IPL at $5.9 billion in 2020. According to Santosh N, managing partner of D and P India Advisory Services, that number might possibly be 25% higher. 

Hardik Pandya
Hardik Pandya. (Photo: IPL)

The BCCI will auction the broadcast and streaming rights to the IPL separately for the first time. Four contracts are up for grabs in the Indian subcontinent and abroad, covering a wide range of television and digital rights, as well as a selection of significant matches.

Elara’s Taurani predicted that overall bids will reach 600 billion rupees ($7.7 billion), more than tripling the 163 billion rupees raised in 2017. 

Reliance And Amazon Could Come With Open Purse

With the rising battle between Amazon and Reliance in the Indian retail business, the stakes are likewise high. 

The two corporations were most recently embroiled in a protracted legal battle over the management of faltering local retailer Future Group. 

Neither of them was successful. 

Following that impasse, some are referring to the cricket rights battle as Ambani v. Bezos 2.0. 

“As for Disney, the chances of a reasonable bid are seen to be receding, a person with knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be identified discussing internal matters.

Aggressive bidders like Reliance and Amazon could come with an “open purse,” making the price nonviable in terms of future ad revenue returns,” the person said. 

Rights Likely To Exceed 1 Billion Every Year

According to the source, Disney will bid for both broadcast (both domestic and international) and digital, but may forego broadcast in favour of increasing its live-streaming offer. 

According to multiple sources following the firms’ progress, top officials at both Amazon and Disney’s headquarters will decide on auction strategies and prices. 

IPL Final 2022 (Image Credits: Twitter)
IPL Final 2022 (Image Credits: Twitter)

According to them, the ultimate figures for the highly wanted rights are likely to exceed $1 billion every year. 

“The aim of winning the auction isn’t grounded in the conventional profit and loss logic, but a hypothesis that a few hundred million internet users will become committed users of a variety of digital businesses,” said Tarun Pathak, a research director at consultancy Counterpoint Technology. 

“Amazon took commerce and built the Prime Video content business on top of it,” Pathak said.

“If Reliance wins, it’ll take the opposite approach — building commerce on top of content to make Jio a household name,” he said, referring to its technology arm. 

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