The apex body for Indian cricket, the anachronistically named Board for Cricket Control in India (BCCI), has always been beyond the law – domestic and often, international too.
The Lodha committee recommendations have tried to shake things up, but even there, things are far from smooth sailing for the landmark judgement. Do note that no less than the Supreme Court has intervened in the matter, and it is still unclear whether things will ever come to pass or not.
At the risk of using a cliché, sport in India has always been about cricket, which is why things must change. Some sections of the media believe that the current head of the body, Anurag Thakur, a one-game first-class cricketer and current day politician, will be able to deliver in this time of need. There is also a rather extreme camp that seems to think of the Lodha committee as nothing more than an eyewash, much like the days of Jagmohan Dalmiya when accusations of misdoings were met with playground guffaws and boyish slaps on the back.
And that is why the latest twist in the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) TV rights doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the business of Indian cricket.
First, a flashback to the days of 2011 when Nimbus Communications was stripped off its rights to broadcast Indian domestic cricket. The bone of contention was an India-Pakistan series that had been called off. The BCCI thought nothing of the matter. Nimbus wanted compensation. BCCI cited a missed payment of Rs 50 crore and pulled the plug on the entire partnership. There was also some murmur of a hockey show being discussed on Neo that was supposedly annoyed some of the games bosses. Little wonder that the BCCI now has contracts that include what the commentators can and cannot say about the game and its administrators.
Nimbus had been the home for Indian cricket since 2006. Yet, it was tossed aside for officially missing a payment, the value of which would have been a speck compared to the profits in the coming series. In 2015, the BCCI was directed to pay Rs 12 crore for wrongful termination, the payment of which is still pending.
That should make the current owners of the TV rights for the IPL, Sony Pictures Networks India less than hopeful about fair treatment. As of this weekend, the BCCI announced that it would be seeking bids for the next decade of IPL rights starting with the 2018 tournament.
Despite the fact that they seem to be on legal terra firma, Sony Pictures must be in a very nervous state. Their contract for the IPL already has a first-right-of-refusal written in to it and a right to match the highest bidder. Yet, the BCCI will be ready to call upon several financial technicalities to decide upon the best offer, as this story on ESPNCricinfo also seems to suggest.
The meaning of this is very clear for all of those involved with cricket – the Lodha committee report is going to be a minor hitch in the functioning of the BCCI. You can rest assured that there are several legal and political minds to be found on its various sub-committees, they have spent enough time figuring out the loopholes to operate in. It is worth pointing out in this context that it was World Sports Group that had actually sold on the rights to Multi Screen Media Satellite (one of the avatars of Sony Pictures), and had to be decided by an order of the Supreme Court. No wonder then that the BCCI maintains that it doesn’t want a party that is in litigation as the new rights holder.
Remember that Star Sports already owns the rights for digital and most of the overseas market, and is primed to snap at this backdoor once it becomes available. That said, there is no doubt that Sony Pictures will not give up its marquee cricket property (not to mention cash machine) without a financial and legal fight.
With the franchises not required to pay any franchise fees starting from 2018, it could mean a far greater appetite for the teams to spend across media as well. It would also mean a few extra crores of advertising or content solutions for the new rights holder.
It’s an interesting time for Indian cricket for sure. The way things unfold in the IPL broadcast rights saga will tell us a few things. One, if the Lodha reforms will actually become a landmark judgement it ought to be. Two, if the administrators of the game are genuinely interested in the game and its billion plus supporters. And three, if the BCCI actually wants to help itself become a body that genuinely does the right thing. Although, in a country like India, that finality comes in several shapes and sizes.