Indian Premier League adds anchor in US with ESPN 3-year deal

Cricket fans in the U.S. will be able to watch googlies skip by Indian Premier League (IPL) batsmen live on ESPN during the 2015 season after the Disney-owned cable net signed a three-year deal for rights.

The deal, which carries through the 2017 season, comes with a pretty modest price tag – just $12.4 million for the duration of the contract – represents a big play by ESPN to reach a substantial audience.

ESPN’s offer topped bids from Willow TV – which had held rights for the U.S. market – and Times Internet.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said the deal would provide the IPL with its broadest reach ever in the United States, where ESPN estimates there are more than 30 million cricket fans.

Cricket isn’t new to ESPN, which in 2007 bought the website Cricinfo.com, the now the most popular cricket site in the world with more than 12 million unique visitors monthly, including more than a million each month in the United States, ESPN said.

ESPN also has broadcast other cricket matches including the 2010 Asia Cup, the Caribbean Regional Twenty20 Tournament, some Bangladesh home matches and, last April, a live broadcast of the world T20 final between India and Sri Lanka.

It also has in place an agreement to show live matches from Champions League Twenty20 and International Cricket Council in the U.S. through 2015.

At the time, ESPN International’s executive vice president Russell Wolff told Reuters that “We think cricket has the chance to get out to a broader audience and be on a bigger platform.”

And, so, it has.

ESPN is in an estimated 96 million U.S. homes, and also is being made available on Sling TV, the live, over-the-top product just rolled out by Dish Network.

ESPN sees the average cricket fan in the U.S. as being someone with above average income and education… a prime audience for advertisers.

BCCI, meanwhile, said it was “delighted to have entered into a strategic partnership with one of the leading platforms of global sport.”

The 2015 IPL tournament is set to run from April 8 to May 24.

In 2010, YouTube launched a dedicated IPL channel that delivered live games globally online. Google put together a healthy dose of advertising to support that play, with eight major advertisers and a number of other advertisers buying time is specific markets like Great Britain, Australia and Southeast Asia.

The IPL is estimated to have more than 2 billion fans worldwide.

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Editor of Videomind and Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn