Television

Comment: Is BCCI lbw on Star's sponsorship googly?

Why blame Virat Kohli & Co. for crumbling on a doctored pitch in Pune in the first Test against the visiting Ausssies? And, why should it come as a surprise? Indian cricket --- administrators, (most) cricketers, sponsors, various rights holders, other stakeholders, et al --- itself lives in a fairly land of its own making where games are played on dusty bowls and fiercely fought with no punches pulled. Star India’s latest googly to BCCI just goes on to amplify these. BCCI, though, has played the ball with a straight and dead bat.

A month before its contract for the Team India’s jersey sponsorship comes to an end in March 2017, Star India’s Chairman and CEO Uday Shankar has set the game up. “Given all the volatility, we are indeed concerned about the health of cricket in the days ahead. We have been very proud that our name is carried on the jersey of Team India. But given all the uncertainties, we have decided not to bid for it again. The commitments being asked for are too onerous without any clarity,” Shankar bared a marketing fang in an interview given to Times of India.

A veteran of many journalistic face-offs earlier and now a master corporate strategist, Shankar’s message to BCCI or Indian cricket’s administrative body was clear, if not politically loaded: forget Team India’s indifferent performances at times on field, we can live with it; it’s the off-field boardroom games that’s making us uneasy to risk our money.

If the government of the day believes that ‘desh badal raha hai’ or the country is changing, why should BCCI also not reflect that narrative? Finding itself in the throes of controversies, some which are self-induced and some inflicted by the Supreme Court, BCCI seems unable to extricate itself from conflicts with itself and those with the cricket’s international governing body, ICC. What with some past office-bearers threatening to oppose moves of the Supreme Court-appointed interim administrative body shorn of politicians, it’s a piquant situation worthy of a Bollywood potboiler. Especially when there are question marks over India’s participation in strong cricketing properties, including the Champions Trophy and the IPL prospects not looking so rosy.

Though some cricket observers feel that Star India is playing a who-would-blink-first game with BCCI, admittedly weakened by SC-induced structural changes, subsequent internal wrangling and flexing of muscle by ICC, presently led by former Indian chief administrator Shashank Manohar, others feel Star does have a point. A big financial point.

According to Espncricinfo.com, Star India had bagged the Indian team sponsorship rights for a four-year period, starting 1 January 2014 and ending 31 March , 2017, with a bid worth Rs 19.2 million (US$315,000 approx) per match for bilateral series and Rs 6.1 million (US$100,000 approx) per match for ICC-sponsored tournaments. This had brought to an end a 12-year partnership with Sahara.

Star, which also holds the broadcast, internet and mobile rights to Indian cricket until March 2018, had invested a few billions of dollars in Indian cricket overall, as per Shankar’s own admission to Times of India recently. Star’s jersey sponsorship contract that expires this March-end included the right to be called the official team sponsor and to display a commercial logo on the men's, women's, Under-19 and `A’ players and on their teams' kits.

Though Star obliquely may not be in favour of Test cricket --- “If there are millions of people…not so attached to Test cricket but are very excited about the T20, then there's a certain message that needs to be taken seriously”, says Shankar --- the exposure that it has got as the team sponsor of men’s and women’s Indian cricketers in Tests, one-dayers and other smaller format of the game also cannot be denied.

However, despite wanting to control things, Star India has been unable to influence much the twists and turns in soap opera called `BCCI’s transformation’, directed by the Supreme Court, which has raised uncertainties and question marks over return on investments for Star. Especially if Team India did not play in some tournaments or against certain country (like Pakistan) owing to not only India’s national political narrative, but also waning of support from other cricket-playing nations that Star describes as ebbing of India’s controlling power over international cricket despite being the biggest contributors.

That one of the biggest investors in Indian cricket was never consulted on matters cricketing (“I don't think we have ever been consulted or our views have been sought. This is a bit intriguing for us…as people committed to such high sums of contractual value, we have a point of view,” Shankar says) would have been rankling Star much. But that it still continued to invest in cricket, including Indian, also highlights the gains.

In this tug-of-war of investment vs. RoI, BCCI may seem to be on a weak wicket presently, but it cannot be denied that other stakeholders, including Star, are trying to put pressure in an effort to close the game early on this turning pitch. But don’t think it’s all over for BCCI if Star backs out as team sponsor. Even Star has left itself room to manoeuvre as Shankar in the TOI interview states: “However, given all the volatility in the cricket world, we will have to be very careful before making any further commitments.”

Remember what they say in cricket that the match isn’t over till the last ball has been bowled. And, the last ball remains to be still bowled in this game.

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