The Indian cricket board awarding its team sponsorship rights for the next three years both reflects the current shaky economic situation as well as the sports body's penchant to court controversy. The BCCI sold the rights to its broadcast partner, Star India Pvt Ltd with the successful bid worth a reported Rs. 203 crore.
However, the decision by the BCCI marketing committee on Monday has again raised allegations of arbitrariness by the board after the Sahara Group, the current shirt sponsors at Rs. 3.34 crore per match whose deal runs until December end, were left seething.
The Sahara Group, which fell out with the board over the termination of its IPL team, Pune Warriors, has alleged the process was "stage managed" to leave Star as the only bidder despite Sahara's bid worth about Rs. 253 crore.
The ineligible bid
The BCCI statement only said Sahara's bid was ‘ineligible', this after a distinct lack of interest from sponsors. Seven bid documents were sold, for Rs. 2 lakh each, but only two - Star and Sahara - eventually submitted bids.
The BCCI secretary said in a statement the rights to Star would cover "BCCI Events, ICC Events and ACC Events, for the period 1st January 2014 to 31st March 2017" and its commercial logo would be sported by the senior, U-19 and ‘A' teams as well as the women's team.
The sharp decline in value seems to reflect the economic slowdown as well as a reassessment of the team's value by marketing groups since the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar, the last of the batting stalwarts. And probably anticipating a dip, the board had brought down the base price for the shirt sponsorship to Rs. 1.5 crore per match.
Image taken a beating
While the Indian team's image has taken some beating because of its failures on major overseas tours, the game has also been mired in controversies within the country.
The IPL spot-fixing scandal that led to the BCCI president, N Srinivasan's son-in-law — who was the face of the Chennai Super Kings — being charge-sheeted by the Mumbai police over betting allegations, has not helped improve the image.
Sahara spokesman, Abhijit Sarkar, was scathing. "We were told our group is in dispute with the BCCI over IPL and hence our bid is disqualified. When we asked why we were not told earlier, the board's legal representative didn't have an answer." Srinivasan then told Sahara that its views have been heard but the decision would stand.
If that is the case, the BCCI should have asked Sahara to pull out as team sponsors when the IPL row erupted in May, but Sarkar feels BCCI "did not act earlier as it was not sure" it could find a sponsor in case Star was not keen.
Sponsors have shown in the past that they won't hesitate to look elsewhere, Airtel switched from being title sponsors to the Indian Formula One Grand Prix.
The financial future could depend a lot on strong performances by the team and how cricket handles competition from other sports, with the Fifa U-17 World Cup coming to India in 2017.