COME SEPTEMBER and trouble breweth. In the new aggressive BCCI, money matters the most and keeping in line with its hawkish marketing strategy, the board is set to make changes to the terms and conditions of player contracts, due in October-November.
The problem: the potential changes could well see another battle between the Indian players and the BCCI over individual rights to endorsements in the not-so-distant future.
"We've opened up a new marketing strategy and in this, it's not just the players who matter," BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah told HT on Friday. "We've to look after the interests of our sponsors."
Shah said the board's new player contracts would see a rethink in the terms and conditions vis-à-vis their endorsement deals. "We cannot do anything about pre-existing contracts but new contracts will have to be approved by the board while new players will be told what contracts they can and cannot enter into," he said.
For the moment, the players don't know that the changes are happening. "We've heard murmurs but haven't been told anything yet," a senior Indian cricketer told HT. "But if the contracts do get changed, then we hope the board discusses those changes with us in advance and realises that there're players around who see the bigger picture."
Shah said the BCCI would talk to the players and see their point, "within reason". "The current contracts are defective in the sense of our marketing plan because of the potential for conflict with player endorsements," he said. "And ultimately, the board takes precedence over individual players. We cannot consult players on every contract -- only a few players have contracts. We look after many more things and cannot think about the interests of a select few."
What Shah has indicated is that players -- who till now had to show the BCCI the conditions of personal contracts (minus the financial terms) after they had signed them -- will now have to do it in advance.
An Indian player said: "But our player terms also state that we've the right to scrutinise deals the board gets into. So they'll have to consult us."
This incidentally, did not happen when the BCCI signed a mega five-year deal worth Rs 196.66 crore with Nike last December. The players were not consulted before the deal and as a result, there was trouble in Pakistan when the BCCI expected the players to wear trousers bearing the Nike logo. (While Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina are contracted to Adidas, most of the rest are with Reebok.)
While Shah said the deal included trousers, according to the players it was only supposed to be for the Nike logo on the non-leading arm (shirt). "We weren't consulted and we raised the issue with the board," said a senior player.
"Then, as a goodwill gesture of sorts, and because Nike was putting in so much money for Indian cricket, we agreed to the trousers bit."
He said sometimes players gave in because of the bigger picture. "But legally, if an issue ever arises, we're on very solid ground and it doesn't mean we'll agree to just anything (the board does) in future," said the player. "In any case, it's important people realise you cannot have one or two people monopolising the market."
On the face of it, one fails to see the need for a change in terms simply because BCCI sponsors are known in advance and are restricted to activities on the field. Sources said the problems had arisen because of two reasons. One: the board being worried about not getting potential future sponsors as too many players have contracts with too many individuals. Two: pressure from various current sponsors to ensure that they get better visibility.
Meanwhile, there is more unhappiness around the corner for players' sponsors. The Champions Trophy is on in India in October-November, and television viewing will be at a high. It is also the festival season, and normally, there is a lot of advertising in the run-up to Dusshera and Diwali.
But all advertisements with Indian cricketers in them that are in conflict with Champions Trophy (ICC) sponsors will have to be taken off air and print between October 7 and November 5.
In basic terms, this means that, say, MS Dhoni's ads for BPCL, TVS, Reliance and Videocon cannot be screened or printed as Indian Oil is an official ICC sponsor while Hero Honda, Hutch and LG are the ICC's global partners. Images of the swashbuckling keeper from the event though, can be used with other Indian players to promote the "official" sponsors.