The razzmatazz of Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket is coming to a television set near you next week, after ITV picked up the rights out of the ashes of the collapse of Setanta Sports.
ITV announced yesterday it had secured the UK broadcasting rights to this year's IPL Twenty20 cricket competition, which gets underway in a week. It will showcase some of the sport's biggest stars, including Kevin Pietersen, Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar.
The deal marks the first time ITV has had the rights to screen cricket for "a number of decades", according to a company spokesman, although the exact date of the last cricketing broadcast on the channel seems shrouded in mystery. "ITV is a very different company from the 1970s," the spokesman said. "It is not easy to find out."
This is the third season of the IPL, with the previous two seasons broadcast in the UK exclusively on Setanta. After the pay-TV sports broadcaster was forced to wind up its operations in Britain last June, the rights were once more up for grabs.
Yesterday's announcement comes after several weeks of negotiations between ITV and Lalit Modi, the chairman of the IPL. Neither side would reveal whether ITV paid less than Setanta for the rights, which are for one-year currently, with an option to be extended.
ITV will show 59 live games over the 45-day tournament, which begins next Friday, on its ITV4 channel, as well as its website, ITV.com. Zai Bennett, director of digital channels and acquisitions at ITV, said it was an "exciting acquisition for one of the UK's fastest-growing digital channels".
ITV4 is available to 90 per cent of the country and has previously shown sport including FA Cup matches, Europa League football, Tour de France cycling and Guinness Premiership rugby. Rival free-to-air broadcaster Five considered bidding, but couldn't clear its schedule, while BSkyB, Eurosport and ESPN were also interested in a deal.
Mr Modi said he had been keen to appeal to a wider audience than those offered by the pay-TV channels. "Lots of people were interested, they had heard of the IPL but only had limited experience of watching it. Now the entire UK can see the games," he said.
The announcement comes after Google-owned video-sharing website YouTube announced it had signed a deal to show IPL matches around the world in January. The website has set up a dedicated channel to show the matches, which will run slightly behind the broadcast on ITV.
Mr Modi said that matches being shown on YouTube would not be a problem for ITV. "People want to watch sport live," he said. "I don't think there will be any issues."