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BCCI suspends IPL 2021 as more players test COVID-19 positive

Beleaguered Season 14 of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been suspended after two more players have tested positive for COVID-19, breaking through the bio bubble. This was confirmed by Rajeev Shukla, Vice-President, BCCI, to ANI.

The latest players to test COVID-19 positive are Delhi Capitals’ Amit Mishra and Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Wriddhiman Saha. Earlier, two players of Kolkata Knight Riders – Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier – have tested positive. Three staff members of Chennai Super Kings have also tested positive for COVID-19 and are under isolation. They include CSK CEO Kasi Viswanathan, bowling coach L Balaji and a bus cleaner. 

Also read: COVID-19 woes: Fate of IPL 2021 hangs in balance; what are the options for advertisers?

When IPL 2020 was held in October-November last year, after several months of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the world, it came as a very welcome distraction amid a sombre situation. With no other sports activity taking place at that time, viewership and advertiser participation in IPL 2020 was high. The sentiments at that time were positive as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country were declining and people were looking forward to a new year where vaccine hopes were high.

Just five months later, the situation has worsened. Since March 2021, the country has been in the grip of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, even as globally the cases were declining. Today, India has become a global hotspot for the virus and facing a serious health crisis – overburdened hospitals, lack of oxygen, ventilators, Remdesivir. The visuals of numerous burning pyres in cremation grounds have had a sobering effect. Lockdowns and curfews are back in several states and cities.

Hence, holding of Season 14 of IPL in these conditions is no longer a welcome relief. And this is beginning to show in the viewership and reach of the tournament, as well as the advertiser sentiment.

As per BARC data (India 2+/ TV Only/ Live Matches Only), the viewing minutes for the first 17 matches of IPL 2021 stood at 6.62 billion, as against viewing minutes of 8.34 billion for the first 14 matches of IPL 2020. Meanwhile, the first 17 matches of IPL 2021 attained a cumulative reach of 105 million viewers, compared to a cumulative reach of 116 million viewers for the first 14 matches of IPL 2020.

As per TAM AdEx data, count of advertisers and brands decreased by 3% and 9%, respectively, for the first 22 matches of IPL 2021, compared to IPL 2020, while the number of categories decreased by 2% in IPL 2021, compared to IPL 2020.

Also read:

Number of advertisers & brands in first 5 matches of IPL 14 see decline: TAM AdEx

Number of categories that advertised in first 13 matches of IPL 14 up by 8%: TAM AdEx

COVID-19 2nd wave impacts IPL 2021 reach and viewership

This is the second consecutive year when IPL matches are being played in empty stadiums. Due to the COVID-19 conditions the number of venues have also been reduced. The franchise teams are being kept safe in separate bio bubbles. In the last few days, we have seen a few players, mostly Australians, withdraw from the tournament due to the pandemic.

Despite all the precautions, in a latest development BCCI has postponed the match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore, which was to be played on Monday (May 3), after two players of KKR – Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier – tested positive for COVID-19.

This apart, three staff members of Chennai Super Kings have also tested positive for COVID-19 and are under isolation. They include CSK CEO Kasi Viswanathan, bowling coach L Balaji and a bus cleaner. 

Moreover, umpire Paul Reiffel, who had decided to withdraw from IPL, could not return home to Australia as all flights from India have been currently suspended.

All these are bound to affect the morale of the players, which could, in turn, reflect in their performance and also that of their respective team’s show in the tournament.

So far, the BCCI has said that IPL 2021 will continue and doesn’t have any plans to call off the tournament. However, as per various media reports, BCCI is reportedly in talks to shift the remainder of the tournament to a single venue, most likely to be Mumbai. As is known, the final is scheduled to be played in the newly constructed Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad.

However, what happens in a scenario where BCCI has to cancel play in India mid way through the tournament? Will shifting the remaining matches to the UAE, where the IPL 2020 was played last year, be a viable option? Experts are highly doubtful whether shifting the tournament mid way to the UAE will be possible. There is a nightmare of logistics to be considered here, besides keeping safety as the topmost concern. The cost of the tournament will definitely skyrocket, hence the ROI will come down drastically.

What happens to the advertisers who have invested heavily in the tournament? The advertisers don’t have an exit clause. And, as a leading media professional told Adgully, “No spots, no payment.”

As per industry sources, advertisers are beginning to get concerned about the decline in viewership and reach of IPL 2021. Due to lack of an exit clause, advertisers are now looking for revising the ad deals, the sources said. This is mostly in terms of additional air time on Star group channels.

Moreover, each of the eight IPL franchise teams has their own group of sponsors. How their deals work out? What kind of arrangements they have to address such an exigency is not known?

There are several questions, but very few answers. It is not a time for knee-jerk reactions. A leading media expert remarked, “These are tough times, where everyone is suffering and need to come together. Brands and advertisers will need to bite into their share of the same. It is time for brands to sit out for a while till the pandemic cools off.” On the other hand, another media expert said, “Overall businesses are in trouble. So, moving to digital and better ROI-driven platforms will be the key to go.”

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