Mumbai Indians team players celebrate with the trophy after their victory against Chennai Super Kings in the 2019 Indian Premier League Twenty20 final cricket match at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad on May 13, 2019. Photo: AFP

Autumn in India is usually associated with the Hindu festival of Diwali. For cricket fans, however, the festive season may come early this year, as the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) has a window of opportunity to start playing in September.

The pandemic forced the T20 Cricket World Cup, which was to be held in Australia from October, to be postponed to next year. The IPL lost its April-May slot to Covid-19. On Friday, the IPL Governing Council will decide the dates and venue for the 13th event.

The IPL attracts the world’s best players, a few commanding fees as high as $2 million, and profitable TV endorsements. It is watched by millions of fans across cricket-crazy India and the rest of the cricketing world.

Star India, a Walt Disney subsidiary, has the broadcasting rights for 2018-2022, paying $2.55 billion. Prior to Star, Sony had the rights for 10 years at a cost of $1 billion.

The 2019 event was telecast in eight languages and drew 462 million viewers, up 12% on the previous year. About 55% watched it in Hindi, 22% in English, and the rest in other local languages.

The large number of eyeballs watching the sport for long periods is a great opportunity for advertisers. With half the viewers being women and children, advertisers promote jewelry, cosmetics, home appliances and home decor.

From 82 advertisers marketing 138 brands in 2016, the number surged to a 123 advertisers marketing for 247 brands in 2018, according to Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC).

The atmosphere in cricket stadiums is usually like a carnival, with players in multicolored attire and advertisements plastered on every possible space. Every wicket or run scored is a cause for celebration with cheerleaders showing the way to stadiums packed mainly with young people.

But that doesn’t deter franchise owners including Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s wealthiest man and among the world’s top 10 richest, from being present and cheering his team along with his family members.

Franchises spent a total of 1.403 billion rupees ($18.8 million) to rope in 62 players, of which 33 are local and 29 from overseas, for the 2020 season. Australia’s Pat Cummins was bid at $2.1 million, the highest amount for any player this season. He was picked up by Kolkata Knight Riders.

The IPL is to the cricket world what the PGA is for golf and the NBA for basketball. The sport has also attracted top industrialists and Bollywood stars as part-owners.

With the pandemic continuing to ravage India, the IPL could be held in the United Arab Emirates, which has a big expat population, including a large number of residents from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, who are known for their insatiable passion for cricket.

In India, the IPL is played at 10 venues across the country, spreading the sport to regions hitherto ignored in the past. Played between eight franchise teams of 11 players each, the tournament is conducted under the watchful eye of the local cricket board, the ICC and its anti-corruption unit to ensure everything is above board.

Each team is permitted to have at the most four overseas players on the field, thereby attracting some of the best global talent from top playing countries such as Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.

In India, the IPL is usually held between April and May, when school and college exams are over and many families take a break from the scorching summer. More than half the matches are played under artificial lights and end near midnight.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus across India and the lockdown from March 25 made it impossible for the organizers to hold the tournament on schedule.

The pandemic has spread far and wide across India. There have been 1.15 million cases, 28,000 deaths and 725,000 recoveries recorded. The number of cases continues to surge – more than 35,000 a day. India has banned all cricket tournaments – 38 teams in different age groups compete each year – until December.

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