Almost four months after a One-day International between Australia and New Zealand at an empty stadium in Sydney, international cricket restarts in Southampton on Wednesday with the England-West Indies Test series.
Live football is back but cricket stays the most-watched sport in India. According to a 2019 report by the Broadcast Audience Research Council, cricket got 58 per cent of viewing minutes of live broadcast across sports channels. So it fits that advertisers and sponsors would welcome resumption even if it is behind closed doors.
The three-Test series in England already has three co-presenting sponsors, six associate sponsors and two more companies who have bought ad spots for the India broadcast. More are in the works.
"We Indians love cricket and live cricket is coming back after 120 days. There is already a massive interest around the series and advertisers are also responding to it very positively," says Rohit Gupta CRO - Ad Sales and International Business, Sony Pictures Networks India, the official broadcasters.
What's unusual is that this is for a series that does not involve India. Sony bought the media rights from England cricket board for five years (2018-22) for an undisclosed sum but the majority of its value would be for the three India tours during this period. "For every India match overseas, it's estimated an Indian broadcaster pays $5 million. Non-India cricket comes practically free," says a leading industry executive who did not wish to be named.
Among series that don't involve India, Ashes is the most attractive property. Sony holds the rights for cricket in England and Australia. "For non-India cricket, we haven't seen anything like this in the past and this is even better than what we get for the Ashes series," says Gupta.
With no clarity on when cricket - the cash-rich Indian Premier League included - will start in India and the Virat Kohli's team not scheduled to travel to Australia before December, two months of non-stop international action in England (the West Indies tour will be followed by Pakistan) has led to a spike in interest.
Also, for fantasy gaming platforms live cricket is good news. "Both the West Indies and Pakistan series in England provides us with visibility. So, we will look to extend our association for both," says Avik Kanungo, director at Games 24x7, whose My11Circle is one of the co-presenting sponsors for the series. "We have seen in the past, even for non-India matches, the interest in fantasy gaming is very good. We will have participants engaging with our brand ambassador Sourav Ganguly who will be picking his own fantasy team."