Aurora Magazine

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How PSL 2019 trumped war hysteria

Published in May-Jun 2019

PSL triumphed against the odds.

As the closing ceremony for PSL 2019 came to an end, we started walking out of the stadium. We, as in team Blitz, TransGroup and PCB-PSL were physically and mentally exhausted, although none of it could detract us from the sense of tremendous accomplishment we felt. Turning Pakistan Super League 2019 into a reality had been nothing short of a miracle.

From the start, we knew it would be a challenge, if only because we had to raise the bar by setting new standards compared to what had been accomplished in the previous three seasons.

However, there were other challenges we did not anticipate.

Firstly, an aggressive bid for the broadcast rights by the Consortium (Blitz and TransGroup), resulted in a winning bid that was 359% higher compared to the first three seasons. As a result, it was going to be very difficult to sell airtime given that the industry was down by almost 21% (year-on-average growth) added to which was the fact that plenty of international cricket was going to be played right after PSL, including the key Pakistan vs. Australia and Pakistan vs. England series, followed by the World Cup. Furthermore, we had an extremely limited window to sell airtime given the fact that the bidding process had been delayed four times. Moreover, this season Blitz had the added responsibility of delivering the partner TV channels (in the first three seasons this had been PCB’s responsibility) as well as the creative. The campaign this year featured a star-studded anthem followed by a series of cricket-based tactical ads.

Then, just when we thought it was going to be smooth sailing from here onwards, the Pulwama attack suddenly put Pakistan on the brink of war. Topping all this, a major crisis emerged when IMG Reliance backed out of their agreement to televise the matches and suddenly there was a strong probability that the opening matches of the Sharjah leg would not be broadcast, thereby causing irreparable loss to PSL’s equity and Pakistan’s image. Panic ensued. In the end, Blitz volunteered to take on the responsibility. This meant going from producing 30-second TV spots to a top-quality live sporting event overnight, which meant arranging for two production kits. Given the busy global cricketing schedule and the IPL taking place right after PSL, this was a herculean task. Despite the risks, we went ahead. However, once we managed to arrange the production kits, the next challenge sprang into action – no international company was ready to provide insurance for the production kits without which, it was impossible for the equipment to be shipped to Pakistan. It was a historic day for us when the first match went on air.

Given the prevailing war hysteria, there was no let up in the challenges that presented themselves. Security concerns were jeopardising the final stages of the PSL taking place in Pakistan. There was uncertainty about whether international players would come to Pakistan (they did) and in the end, all the matches had to be moved from Lahore to Karachi.

Yet, despite the panic and seeming chaos, PSL 2019 broke its own audience records set in the previous seasons, proving its worth as the most effective sports marketing investment for all sponsors. This year, a record 160 million (78%) Pakistanis watched the PSL matches on TV making it the biggest event to date and TV viewership increased by 15% on PSL match days.

Season 4 managed an average rating of 3.4 on GEO Super and 6.7 on PTV Sports. The final, played between Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators was the highest viewed match in PSL 2019, with an average rating of 8.3 on Geo Super and 14.5 on PTV Sports (source: Kantar).

The livestream fetched over 72 million views from Pakistan and around the world, compared to 37 million last year. The number of unique viewers increased from six to over nine million, with YouTube accounting for 80% of these views and scoring over 3.6 million views. It is phenomenal to see such a rapid increase in the reach of digital and we are proud to say PSL played a pivotal role in driving this growth.

Cricket has been a key passion point for Pakistanis and it is safe to assume there is no content bigger than cricket in the country. PSL’s performance on key metrics is superior when compared to other key international cricket events such as the World Cup or The Champions Trophy – and this had primarily to do with the limited number of matches of interest, the broadcast schedule and the venue of the matches. For example, during the World Cup 2015 in Australia, the matches were played at 03:00 a.m. PST, so that viewership compared unfavourably with the The Champion’s Trophy 2017 held in the UK that played at 04:00 p.m. PST. The quality of the cricket that is played also matters. Low scoring matches, early results and one-sided games drop viewership and increase switching, whereas crunch games with extraordinary performances have audiences glued to their screens.

Without a doubt, PSL has the potential to become the biggest brand in Pakistan and we look forward to Season 5.

Ahsen Idris is CEO, Blitz Advertising.