Of all the questions arising out of the Sahara Group-owned Pune Warriors India’s withdrawal from the Indian Twenty20 League, the most interesting one is the timing.
The Indian cricket board could have certainly done without another controversy when they are neck deep in grappling with the menace of spot-fixing in its Twenty20 League. On the face of it, it looks like the latest episode couldn't have come at a worse time for the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
It was interesting to note that it was the Board that went ahead and encashed PWI’s bank guarantee, knowing fully well that Sahara would then withdraw from the tournament. Hence, some feel it could be a masterstroke for it deflects some attention from all the negative press that the Twenty20 League is getting in the wake of the fixing scandal.
While the timing can be debated, some sources feel it is a call the Board had to take. There had been strong indications from the Pune franchise owners that they were not interested in continuing.
With or without Sahara | The other sports | Sponsorship to Team India
At the heart of the issue was the amount that Sahara had bought the team for in 2010 — Rs. 1702 crores for 10 years — an amount way above the current market value. “It was a bubble created by Lalit Modi (former chairman) about the League’s valuation and both Kochi and Sahara fell for it. They were paying Rs. 170 crores per year while the new franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad are paying almost half the amount (Rs. 85 crore per year).
Naturally, there will be a lot of heartburn,” a top Board member told HT.
Asked about the timing of the move, the senior member said: “What happens if they pull out of the League, then we cannot encash the bank guarantee. It’s not happened out of the blue, we have been sending them regular reminders and have been corresponding with them.”
Sahara, in its statement, said it had first written to the Board president and later to the league chairman, Rajeev Shukla, saying that it wanted a reduction in the bid price or else wished to pullout. “In Delhi, our chairman (Subroto Roy) had requested in person to Rajeev Shukla, that if BCCI cannot accept arbitration (on reduction of bid price), we then want to amicably exit,” read an official statement from Sahara Group.
It is understood that the franchise was looking at an exit route. The returns (mainly from their share of central pool, merchandising, sponsors and ticket sales) compared to the amount being invested (Rs. 170 crores as annual ownership fee and another Rs. 70-80 for running the team) was very low.
Apart from recovering their annual fees, the BCCI will use the encashed money to pay the contract amount due to any player whose payment has not been honoured by the franchise.
Sahara’s withdrawal will also not affect the future of these players as there will be an open auction for all the players in the next edition and they will all be free to join in. Overall, it means Sahara Group’s long innings with the India cricket has come to an end as they have also decide to withdraw from the national team’s sponsorship by the end of the year.