The battle for talent among the eight Indian Premier League Twenty-20 franchisees is expected to be restricted to some key cricket stars--former England captains Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff and Australian vice-captain Michael Clarke--as they ready for the second round of player auctions on the balmy beaches of Goa on February 6.
The three stars, say franchisees, could overtake the record held by Mahendra Singh Dhoni for whom the Chennai Super Kings bid $1.5 million (Rs 7.2 crore) in last year's auction.
And despite a slowdown, media planners say advertisers are pouring in over Rs 600 crore (nearly half the ad budget for cricket in 2009). This represents a more than 10 per cent increase over last year's spends on television, co-branding of teams and marketing, among others.
Set Max, which will telecast the matches, is already asking for a 30 to 50 per cent premium on its spot rates--at Rs 3.5 lakh per spot --against Rs 2.5 lakh last year. The 45-day tournament will begin in May this year.
"Set Max is also looking at holding some of its inventories for the semi-finals and the final match and rates for that could go anywhere above Rs 5 lakh," said a Sony TV insider.
With English players joining the IPL bandwagon, however, the number of international players on offer --43--far outweighs requirements of about 24.
Moreover, with spending by each team capped at $2 million (Rs 9.6 crore), other players are unlikely to attract huge premiums given the high reserve prices of Pieterson and others.
"You won't see the same rush as last year as each team has a maximum of two to three slots to fill even after Pakistan's players decided to stay away. There could be bidders for the key players and it is possible that their auction prices exceed last year's records," said Amrit Mathur, CEO of GMR Sports, which looks after the Delhi Daredevils team.
V B Chandrashekhar of the Chennai SuperKings agreed. "There could be a fight for a couple of the players, otherwise everyone knows what he wants, and we need to fill only two slots," he said.
Chandrashekhar added that as a result of the $2 million cap a team looking for any of the big three might be able to add in just a single player in the team.
All the same, advertisers see IPL as a value-for-money connect with consumers. "FMCG, automobiles, telecom, and the beverage firms are likely to spend a bit more than what they did during the last IPL. This will happen mainly because the last time, IPL attracted women viewers in large numbers," said Chandradeep Mitra, president, Mudra Max, the media arm of ad-agency Mudra.
"Cricket and Bollywood are the biggest passions in India and IPL combines them in one. For a beverage company the matches also coincides with our peak summer season. We are looking at various possibilities," added Venkatesh Kini, vice-president marketing of Coca-Cola India.
Last summer, IPL generated an average high television rating of over 6 per cent, higher than some of the soaps and general entertainment shows.