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Not a league of its own

The IPL generates huge public interest. For its own sake, it’s best to be transparent.

india Updated: Apr 22, 2010 17:59 IST

The third season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has established that cricket can be a hugely paying proposition. It is commendable that the league has broken even in its second year of existence and things can now only get better. Dipping into a national obsession to make profits comes with its share of responsibilities though. The intense media spotlight on the six-week event raises the bar on transparency in deals cut by the managers of India’s largest sporting event. What can pass muster as confidentiality surrounding the run-of-the-mill contract does not hold true here. This is highlighted by the public spat between minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and IPL commissioner Lalit Modi. Since IPL makes money on the number of eyeballs it attracts, the brains attached to them have legitimate reason to wonder at the conflict of interest inherent in shadowy ownership of the playing clubs.

If the IPL gets free press from the public auction for players, it cannot justifiably deny a similar interest in the less public auction for clubs. Messrs Modi and the grey eminences in the Board of Control for Cricket in India need to work this out. Till then, a via media is for the owners to take their clubs public. This serves the purpose of getting a proper fix on how much each club, and hence the IPL franchise, is worth. At the same time it imposes disclosure requirements that ought to satisfy both the legalistic and public scrutiny imperatives. The framers of the rules for the IPL have allowed listing from the third season and there is media speculation that at least one club is actively considering it. More should follow, if for no other reason than the fact that there is not enough advertising going around to sustain a growing media circus like the IPL without upsetting corporate media buying for the rest of the year.

That does not take away from the fact that the franchise’s managers have cast their net wide to tap new revenue streams. The brand building cannot be faulted, what can is the intrinsic value of the offering. The English Premier League is the pre-eminent sporting event it is because of the level of soccer played in it. The cricket on display in the IPL after three seasons is not significantly higher than what is available in the T20 format in lesser brand conscious tournaments around the world for the rest of the year. Shorn of the hype, that is what will lift the IPL to its place among the great sporting events in the world.