If Indian cricket in pandemic-hit 2020, marred by series postponements and cancellations, was all about staging IPL and staying afloat, 2021-22 will be judgement time again for the business of cricket. The media rights of three major properties 2023 onwards—IPL, BCCI (bilateral cricket in India) and International Cricket Council (ICC) events will be up for grabs.

Currently, Star India holds all these rights for approximately R36,500 crore. In what is essentially a two-player broadcast market, Star’s rivals Sony sounded a note of caution that would not go unnoticed by BCCI and ICC. “There will 100 percent be a correction in valuation. All the properties were bought at a premium and are not making any money. Everybody will have to think through that before putting any numbers on the table,” Rajesh Kaul, CRO Distribution and Sports Business head, Sony Pictures Networks, said.

“The landscape is definitely going to change because I don’t think one person can buy all the rights now.”

With BCCI looking to expand IPL to 9 teams, and 10 in the long run, broadcasters will have to shell out more. This year’s record viewership will boost IPL’s commercial viability. However, the value of Indian cricket rights and ICC rights could come under pressure.

Star loosened its purse strings in the last five-year cycle to wrest control of the two most sought after properties in cricket—IPL and Indian cricket. There is trepidation in the market whether the rights value can remain unaffected in a post-pandemic world. Sony say they “have demonstrated that they remain a serious player” but with “what we feel are competitive numbers.”

The last IPL bid wars were fiercely fought. Sony, despite making the highest individual bid for the broadcast rights (R11,050 crore), lost out in a strategic battle. Star clinched the deal with a consolidated bid (TV + digital) of R16,348 crore, merely 3 percent over the highest bid value in all categories.

Sony has stayed in the game, picking up rights for cricket outside India. When India goes abroad—like currently in Australia—those series become a big draw due to the Indian viewer base. Kaul says they have sold 75 percent inventory, target R400 crore, and are “expecting huge viewership as India’s men in blue return after a 9-month long pandemic-induced break.”

Can digital players queer the pitch in future? Amazon recently won the rights to live stream New Zealand cricket in India. The previous highest bid for IPL digital rights had come from Facebook, with Airtel and Reliance Jio also posting bids.

“It is purely my opinion, they (digital players) may show some interest in IPL, but that’s just for one property,” opines Kaul. “I genuinely don’t see them expressing much interest in Indian cricket and ICC rights.”

One industry voice, former IPL COO Sundar Raman, remains upbeat at least about IPL’s future valuation. When the highest ever rating for an IPL opening game was registered this year, he tweeted: “Sets up well for USD 4-5bn media rights for the next 5-year cycle.” It’s still early days for the buzz around the upcoming rights acquisitions to pick up, but new collaborations could be in the offing.

Star India refused comments at this stage.