Fate of the IPL hangs in the balance

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From the razzmatazz, it is now time for the brass tacks. The Supreme Court’s decision to suspend two Indian Premier League (IPL) teams has left brand IPL tethering from a cliff. From inception to escalation of crisis, the IPL has weathered one storm after another. This time the gust of wind has knocked two powerhouses off their pedestal. Questions abound, is there a way forward for the beleaguered league? False bravado and marketing gimmicks aside, if truth be known, the IPL – the BCCI’s veritable golden goose - is hanging by a fragile thread. Why else would the BCCI convene an emergency IPL Governing Council meeting instead of calling for a SGM (Special General Meeting) of the BCCI to take cognizance of the Supreme Courtappointed R.M. Lodha Committee verdict? If the IPL managed to make it through eight seasons since its initiation in 2008, it has been largely due to some heavy investment on the part of franchise owners and a handsome share of audacity on the part of cricket administrators. Deny as they may, the brand has taken a huge hit image wise following the spot fixing and betting scandals that rocked season six of the IPL in 2013 and the suspension of two established IPL teams by none other than the Supreme Court would have only meant that the IPL now stands on shaky turf. Once considered recession proof, the proof of the pudding being in the eating will now come most prominently to bear.

 

THE VERDICT
If the IPL Governing Council and indeed the BCCI find themselves in a thicket of problems, it is largely because of their selfinflicted inaction that has prompted intervention from the country’s apex judicial body. For not having grabbed the opportunity to get its own house in order, the BCCI now stands precipitously on the edge after the Supreme Court appointed R.M. Lodha Committee decreed, in the first of its reform plans for the cricket body, that the two franchises of the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals – India Cements Ltd. and the Jaipur IPL Pvt. Ltd, stand suspended for a period of two years with their respective owners/officials, Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra, banned for life from all BCCI related cricket activities. The BCCI is now left grappling about possible ramifications given that the IPL, as a result of this verdict, has now been reduced to a six team league, as opposed to the original design of eight teams at the time of the league’s inception in 2008. Dependent on the eight team IPL business model for determining revenues as well as franchise fees as well as the media and internet and broadcasting rights, etc., the BCCI is looking at a rather critical juncture in the IPL structure and functioning. With dissensions emanating from other franchises over their being overlooking in important decision making pertaining to the IPL, more recently the culling of the Champions League Twenty20, the BCCI would need to tread carefully. With Rs.8,200 crores deal with Multi Screen Media (Sony India) till 2017 for an eight team tournament and a minimum of sixty matches, the BCCI’s structure for the IPL collapses under the six team format that will barely push past thirty matches per tournament and thereby, fall short of the inked deals and agreements. The players of the two suspended franchises are unattached at this time, which means that come the IPL auctions early next year, players will be in contention to be picked up by other remaining team franchises. But herein lies a complication. The major player shuffle is schedule only for 2017. This means that almost all teams have covered their slots with the mandated allotment of players and will have to offload a few players to make space for new and enticing picks from the forthcoming auction. In the event of six teams, there is also the danger that the players who are likely to get marginalized and offloaded or not picked altogether would be those at the lower end of the spectrum which would include uncapped players and domestic cricketers, which is a huge drawback for a tournament that claimed to be inclusive as part of its fabric at the time of its inception. With the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Shane Watson and Brendon McCullum becoming available, it is an imminent threat to the original IPL design.

 

THE VIABILITY
The notion of transferring N. Srinivasan’s shares and the ownership pattern of the Chennai Super Kings from the India Cements to a wholly owned subsidiary and of Raj Kundra surrendering his 11.6 per cent shareholding pattern in the Rajasthan Royals proved no reprieve for either man or franchise and failed to bail out either franchise. The present situation that see a reduction of teams from eight to six is not similar to the situation even a couple of years back when for various reasons Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab were terminated by the BCCI only to have the decree stayed by the courts or the Deccan Chargers terminated over ownership status and Sunrisers Hyderabad inducted or the Sahara Pune Warriors India and the Kochi Tuskers Kerala terminated over franchise fees not being adjusted on a pro rata basis. The basic IPL business model focused on an eight team sellout on a franchise basis wherein the franchises would pay fees over a ten year period to the BCCI in lieu of the promise of a minimum of sixty matches per season. With several other equations including a hefty broadcast deal in place, the BCCI would essentially forfeit if it were to go ahead with a six team model. The franchises would see red (literally and metaphorically speaking) as would the media and broadcasting rights which would result in huge financial ramifications for the BCCI. Compounding the problem at the moment is the fact that BCCI may also be well advised to maintain a holding pattern and adopt a wait and watch approach as the two franchises contemplate their respective next moves. While the word from the Chennai Super Kings franchise is that they consider the two year suspension too harsh and are open to contesting the verdict which could mean further long drawn litigation, the Rajasthan Royals may not find their pockets altogether too deep to entertain similar notions in which case the BCCI, as clarified by the Supreme Court, is free to terminate either or both teams outright as opposed to a two year suspension.

 

THE ALTERNATIVES
The Lodha Committee decision turned the IPL tables on its head. In the event that a six team league is financially unpalatable, the BCCI will look to maintain the status quo of the IPL at eight teams which would mean looking to fill up two spots now vacant as a result of suspension of the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals franchises in the immediate aftermath of the verdict. The idea of not holding the IPL for a season or two is not a comprehensible option for the BCCI that would be left reeling financially not only as a result of forfeit but also, would have the remaining six franchises up in arms given that they are only two years away from having paid out the entire sum of their franchise fees as determined in the inaugural year in 2008. The most logical solution for the BCCI would be to launch two new teams via another team bidding whereby new cities and franchises can be added to the remaining six teams in the tournament. That would mean that after two years, the Chennai and Rajasthan teams can stage a comeback, if they wish to do so to bring it to a ten team league. The other alternative at the BCCI’s disposal is to terminate outright the two teams and continue on with the model of eight teams with two new bidders, taking the IPL 9 forward. The players from the two suspended teams would be available via auctions as also, players that the existing franchises decide not to retain. Another suggestion that has been floating around, somewhat without merit, is for the BCCI to run the two teams under the management of former Indian cricketers. That would keep the Chennai and Rajasthan teams intact and carry on the work of the franchises until such time as suspension is served. This though seems like a rather farfetched idea hastily thought through.

 

THE COMPLICATIONS
One of the most obvious problems for the BCCI as far as managing the Chennai and Rajasthan teams would be the question of conflict of interest. Even if it were to leave the charge and day-to-day management to the senior former Indian cricketers, this would be a conundrum they would continue to face. And since the crux of the problems has emerged with the conflict of interest issue taking centre stage, the BCCI would be wary of entering into a similarly complicated situation. Although the Rajasthan Royals franchise appears to be weighing its options, the Chennai Super Kings franchise officials have come out in criticism of the Supreme Court verdict and have indicated they are not averse to appealing it. Although highly unlikely to repeal a Supreme Court verdict, a possible stay on verdict for one or both teams could complicate matters for the BCCI should it float two new teams in the intervening time unless they are able to readjust the model on the go. The now defunct Deccan Chargers franchises are eying solace with their arbitration coming up shortly given that the Kochi Tuskers Kerala won their arbitration against the BCCI and are entitled, as per the decision arrived at by Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti, to earn in the region of rupees 550-600 crores not accounting the interest accrued at the rate of 18 per cent over the four year period since their termination in 2011. The BCCI could offer the Kochi team a return to the league in lieu of the guarantee fee that they encashed or will have to fork out the penalty. If the Kochi Tuskers Kerala were to make a reentry, that would bring the number of teams to seven in which case the BCCI would have to float bids for only one new franchise. The BCCI and the IPL governing council appear confronted with several plausible scenarios, which they would need to take into account before drawing up the designs for a realigned league on the original blueprint.

 

THE CONTENTION
For the IPL and its largely brazen administrators and organizers, the Lodha Committee decision, although a bitter blow, is yet another hurdle in the running of India’s premier domestic Twenty20 league. Ironically Twenty20 that received a rather repulsive reaction from the Indian cricket administrators prior to India lifting the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 under maverick skipper, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in 2007 became the cash cow for the BCCI in 2008 as coffers began to brim with shimmer and Lalit Modi, its self appointed czar, gained prominence. However, the league, which faced immense opposition over security reasons, forcing it to be staged partly in South Africa in only its second year, was in deep turmoil off the pitch towards the end of the 2010 season. Modi was sidelined by a perturbed BCCI who seemed worried about more skeletons in the closet coming out and claiming a few more prominent personalities in the bargain. Embroiled in one controversy after another, the IPL has stumbled from season to season and yet maintained the aura of robustness and invincibility in the face of packed spectator crowds and bombastic commentators on the payrolls of the BCCI. But the controversies never really disappeared and neither did their protagonists which would explain why the IPL stands at such a pitched fork road at the moment.

 

THE CONUNDRUM
The dillydallying that followed the emergency IPL governing council meeting called by the BCCI was appalling but expected. It was precisely the kind of indecisiveness that has cost the BCCI face before the Supreme Court. That the R.M. Lodha Committee verdict has divided the house over the imminent termination of the two franchises over the suspension order has meant that little was expected to come of the meeting other than to surmise over the general summary of the Lodha Committee order. The BCCI may have bought time in the interim by appointing another panel – a working group under Shukla and possibly include Anurag Thakur, Ajay Shirke, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and BCCI’s lawyer, Ushanath Banerjee, to report to the BCCI working committee in six weeks - to ‘study’ the report as it were and advise the BCCI on the further course of action with regard to the IPL. However, of greater concern is the near apathy emanating from those that constitute the board. The need to maintain the status quo seems paramount over and above the intention to clean up the image of the tournament and the sport. How it will affect and hurt the broadcasting and sponsorship interests and ultimately sentiments, only time will tell.


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