Sahara pullout may cost BCCI dear

BCCI President N Srinivasan here seen with India's Coach Duncan Fletcher

Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President N Srinivasan is losing control over the game. Since taking over BCCI in 2011, he has alienated senior players, lost its domestic broadcaster, scrapped an IPL team and entered into a protracted legal battle with two other franchises-Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals. On February 4, he was on the verge of losing Indian cricket's most consistent backer, Sahara India, who threatened to walk out of IPL and a Team India sponsorship over not being allowed extra money to bid for a replacement for ailing Pune Warriors captain Yuvraj Singh. Sahara India spends Rs 560 crore on Team India's sponsorship and Rs 1,720 crore on its IPL team, Pune Warriors. Its withdrawal will punch a big hole in BCCI's annual revenue of Rs 4,000 crore and put a question mark over the continuance of the Board's cash cow, the Indian Premier League (IPL). Season 5 begins on April 4.

Srinivasan had to call veteran Jagmohan Dalmiya, president of the Cricket Association of Bengal, to mediate between him and Sahara India chairman Subrata Roy. Dalmiya will now meet Roy on February 12 at Mumbai's Sahara Star hotel along with ipl Chairman Rajeev Shukla. bcci will try to convince Roy to change his decision. Roy, it is reliably learnt, has agreed to retain his Rs 1,720 crore investment in the IPL team but he is scrapping the Rs 560 crore sponsorship of Team India. "We will not let a good partner walk out in anger," said Shukla.

If Sahara India moves out of Pune Warriors, the departure would mean fewer IPL matches and fresh deals at lower rates with broadcaster Set Max (currently paying Rs 820 crore per year for a 10-year deal signed in 2007), title sponsor DLF and other advertisers. "A much-hyped brand is now facing some tough questions from advertisers who want to know what's in store," says analyst and Future Brands MD and CEO Santosh Desai.

The current season is critical for IPL and if the T20 leagues do not fare well financially, it is in for big trouble. "Once, the inventory was sold five months in advance. Now the interest is very low," says managing partner Navin Khemka of Zenith Optimedia, a media buying firm. Ratings of ipl4 have dwindled to 3.94 from a high of 5.29 in IPL3 in 2010, according to TAM Media.

Former cricketers claim something must be seriously wrong with the way the board has allowed its ties with various stakeholders to deteriorate. "BCCI needs a drastic overhaul," says former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi.

Top BCCI officials have approached Bharti Airtel, India's top telecom company, for a quick deal for 18 months left over from Sahara India's three-and-a-half-year contract. In May 2010, Sahara India, the team sponsor for the past four-and-a-half years, had bid Rs 3.34 crore for every Test, one-day and Twenty20 match against Bharti's Rs 2.89 crore. What triggered the latest controversy? Sahara India's grouse was that the BCCI ignored some of its genuine concerns with regard to Pune Warriors. BCCI refused to add Yuvraj Singh's Rs 8 crore price to Pune Warrior's auction purse. The addition could have allowed the team to bid for a top player. Sahara India has also paid more for the team than older entrants Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers. Yet they played only 74 matches instead of the stipulated 94 promised by BCCI during the auction.

Sahara India's Head of Corporate Affairs Abhijit Sarkar says the group is studying the Board's conciliatory tone and weighing its options before the February 12 meeting. Even if the two sides patch up, a reunion looks difficult. "Sadly, we never found BCCI believing in genuine give and take," read a statement issued by the group. "Any relationship does not break over a single issue," an enraged Roy said. In London, Srinivasan's worst critic, former IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi is enjoying his discomfiture. He wrote on his website: "A carefully made edifice is being shattered by one man-Narayanaswami Srinivasan, who is unmindful of the consequences of his actions."

Reproduced From India Today. © 2012. LMIL. All rights reserved.

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