Bengaluru-based edtech startup Unacademy has reportedly bid for the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) title sponsorship rights, after Chinese phone-maker Vivo’s hurried exit. While Vivo and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had signed a deal worth INR 2,199 Cr in 2018, giving the former title sponsorship rights of the tournament for five years, the persistent anti-China sentiment in India after border clashes between the two countries in June meant that calls were made to remove Vivo as title sponsors. Vivo’s exit has opened up the field for Indian companies, as the BCCI looks for a replacement with just a month left before the tournament gets underway in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on September 19.
“I can confirm that Unacademy has shown interest and picked the bid papers. I have heard they will be submitting a bid and are pretty serious. So Patanjali, if they bid, will have competition,” a senior BCCI official told PTI.
After Vivo’s exit, a host of memes went viral on Twitter over the possibility of Patanjali being roped in as title sponsors and the competition being rebranded as ‘Patanjali IPL’.
As part of Vivo’s deal, it paid BCCI INR 440 Cr annually for IPL sponsorship rights. Reportedly, the BCCI is now looking at a lesser value in the range of INR 300-350 Cr.
Other Indian companies such as fantasy sports platform Dream11 are also in the running to become title sponsors for the league. Dream11 is the official partner of the IPL. However, title sponsorship rights are different, as the company’s name will be displayed on umpire’s jerseys and various other branding material for the league such as stadium tickets, billboards, fan merchandise, among other things. The league’s name itself is rebranded to include the name of the title sponsor, as in ‘Vivo IPL’.
Among the other major Indian companies who may possibly be in the running for the league title sponsorship, edtech platform BYJU’S and Dream11 have Chinese investment. Both companies have received investment from Chinese internet technology company Tencent in the past. The same is true for foodtech company Swiggy, and payments company Paytm, which are also among the sponsors for the competition. BYJU’S, which is the world’s most valued edtech company with a valuation north of $10 Bn, may have a slight edge over its competition, given the fact that it’s the main shirt sponsor for the Indian national cricket team. Although, it’s unclear if the company has or will bid for IPL’s title sponsorship.
On August 10, the IPL released a form for ‘Invitation For Expressions Of Interest (“IEOI”) For IPL Title Sponsorship Rights’. The document states that the BCCI shall not be obliged to award the title sponsorship rights to the highest bidder. “BCCI’s decision in this regard will also depend on a number of other relevant factors, including but not limited to, the manner in which the third party intends to exploit the Rights and the potential impact of the same on brand IPL as also the fan/ viewer experience, which will be examined/ evaluated by BCCI in the course of discussions/ negotiations with interested third parties who submit an EOI,” the document states.
The Jio Buzz
Speculations were also rife about Reliance Jio earning title sponsorship rights for the league this year. However, since Jio’s parent company Reliance is the owner of one of the teams in the league — Mumbai Indians — the common ‘Conflict of Interest’ clause will in all likelihood, not allow Jio to bid for the title rights.
IPL Gives Foothold For Global Presence
The IPL title sponsorship rights may be a perfect opportunity for companies looking to expand their global presence. Given the global nature of the IPL and the fact that it will be one of the very few sporting competitions which would be happening around the time could mean that viewer interest would be very high. The tournament is broadcast in more than 30 countries, besides digital streaming in even more countries through Disney+ Hotstar. The brand value of the IPL was $6.7 Bn in 2019, according to financial consultancy firm Duff and Phelps.
If Chinese investment in Indian companies indeed proves to be a deciding factor, Unacademy may win the race, as it doesn’t have a single Chinese investor.