Crazy for cricket
If there is one thing that unites all of India, it is cricket. Played amongst all ages, religions, and ethnicities, it is the most popular sport in India and is played across the country. With its historical roots from the British colonial days, fanaticism for the sport has been described by some people as a religion. Names like Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, and Rohit Sharma have achieved prestigious status in modern Indian culture. The streaming and TV rights for the Indian Premier League, the world’s richest cricket competition, has been sold to Star India, a subsidiary of Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) and Viacom18, a joint venture that involves Paramount Global (NASDAQ: PARA). The deal reportedly was worth $6.2 billion, making it the world’s second most valued sports league in terms of value per match.
A bat and ball game that is puzzling to watch for many non-Commonwealth countries has its roots in England. The British East India Company introduced the sport to the subcontinent in the early 18th century, as colonialism was ramping up and taking the world by storm. Also described as a game of strategy with its countless rules, two opposing teams made up of 11 players take turns in batting and fielding. The batting team tries to score the most runs, while the fielding team tries to stop them. The team with the most runs wins. The highest standard of cricket matches usually happens over multiple days.
So what made cricket so popular in India? In essence, it is a simple game to learn and pick up, where even two people can enjoy the game. Street cricket is a popular pastime for kids, taking up whole blocks to play games. Perhaps a more apposite reason can be seen through an anti-colonialist perspective. The British sought to “civilize” their colonies through sport, displaying English values – pompous uniforms, slow pace, and genteel decorum. Ironically, India and other colonies such as the West Indies turned the sport into a weapon of revolution, beating and dominating their “masters” and, in turn, developing national pride, self-esteem, and unity.
The Indian Premier League consists of 10 teams based in different cities or states of India. Being the second most populous country in the world and with its exponential growth of the middle class and internet adoption, it is understandable that Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) and Viacom18 are competing to capture this market. The growing base of subscribers to Disney streaming services is being attributed to Disney+ Hotstar, Disney’s Indian streaming service, which is reported to have added more than half to Q1 subscriber counts. The newcomer Viacom18 is planning to release streamed matches with Paramount+, the streaming service for Paramount Global (NASDAQ: PARA). By taking away some of the markets on the already established Disney streaming service, we see the extravagant amount spent to capture Indian audiences, showing the future optimism and growth for the subcontinent.
Followed by over 2.5 billion people around the world, cricket is the second most popular sport in the world, behind football. India’s rise to the world stage with the growth of the middle class, internet adoption, the rich history, and pride for home-grown athletes shows a growing demand for spectating the popular sport in the country. In the future, we may see more streaming giants compete for this lucrative market. It is famously said that “cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the English.”