Chandra jubilant; ESS irked

Mumbai: Zee Telefilms chairman Subhash Chandra was in a jubilant mood in Chennai on Sunday evening even as the network bagged the BCCI cricket telecast rights for the next four years.

Speaking to Chandra accepted the congratulations graciously and said that all formalities that the BCCI had asked for would be completed. Even the initial amount of $20 million within the next 48 hours. And the bank guarantees for a further $75 million by 15 September.

"We will be signing a letter of intent with the BCCI," he said.

He added that his network would be speaking to Turner Broadcasting Asia about a proposed collaborative effort to launch a sports channel tomorrow. "Today is a Sunday," he said. "We will be moving ahead aggressively."

Earlier while speaking to Zee News Chandra said that his network was well geared up to get the channel off the ground by 2 October for the Australian series. "The channel will be youthful," he told Zee News. "Sports is entertainment. We will provide more excitement than before. Our network infrastructure is strong and we will get adequate distribution."

He added: "Cricket has become a religion in India. We will give a boost to other sports also through our channel. We will work hard on improving the production quality."

Chandra says that all formalities that the BCCI has asked for will be completed. Even the initial amount of $20 million within the next 48 hours. And the bank guarantees for a further $75 million by 15 September

Earlier, BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya had told media persons in Chennai that the contract had not yet been awarded to Zee TV, but they had accepted Zee TV's revised bid.

"Formalities have to be completed," Dalmiya said. "Bank guarantees have to be furnished, who will be doing the production etc has to be clarified.."

He, however, added that he had no doubt that Zee would be able to meet with the conditions the board had set for it. He said that "the Letter of Intent will be extended to Zee soon after receipt of US$20 million by the Board."

Dalmiya told media persons that the tender had not been reopened but that rival bidder ESPN had agreed to pay $308 million at yesterday's meeting. Zee had been given an opportunity to bid since it was the highest bidder. And chairman Chandra agreed to match the bid put up by ESPN-Star.

BCCI spokesperson Amrit Mathur, while speaking to Zee News, added that the board expected domestic cricket to get a spurt. "The Ranji Trophy, junior cricket... you will see it all getting a shot in the arm," he said.

Meanwhile, ESPN Star Sports managing director Rik Dovey is believed to have issued a statement in which he has stated.

"I am disappointed to learn that Zee had been even offered the cricket rights and that the BCCI had changed the entire process of bidding in violation of rules set by BCCI themselves."

"Yesterday [4 September] we were asked by the BCCI, after they met Zee, to provide clarifications on our original bid, which we did in light of their statement to us, that such clarifications would be used by the Committee to conclude the process. The Tender Committee had clearly expressed that they wanted the bidding process to stop there."

"Today we were asked to attend a meeting to provide what was described as further clarification. However, when we met the committee we were informed that the BCCI `Tender Committee' had changed their position from yesterday. We were informed that BCCI had just given Zee the opportunity to increase their bid and that providing Zee met certain conditions, not all of which were disclosed to ESPN-Star Sports."

"We feel that today's proceedings clearly are a denial of natural justice and a violation by the BCCI of its own tendering process."

One will have to wait to see how the ESPN-Star management will react. On 4 September, Chandra had threatened the cricket board with legal action if "inspite of being the highest bidder we are deprived of the telecast rights."

Will ESPN-Star now take the legal route? Watch this space!

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