Coronavirus impact: IPL considers a season behind closed doors
Empty stadiums may now be the new normal, even for the glitzy IPL, usually played to packed audiences. The league is considering a closed-door edition in an effort to avoid a complete cancellation of the 2020 season, slated to begin March 29, after a government directive asked for fans to be kept away from all sports events to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Ministry of Sports’ communication to BCCI makes it clear that the IPL cannot afford to allow spectators into stadiums.
“You are advised to adhere to the advisories issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and ensure that no public gathering takes place in any sporting event. In the event, the sporting event cannot be avoided, the same could be done without allowing gathering of people, including spectators,” the Sports Ministry said in a letter to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and all national sports federations, including the BCCI.
Reacting to the new developments, franchises say they have no option but to accept playing matches behind closed doors. “It’s better than having no IPL. That would be a bigger hit. Things will become clearer after the IPL governing council meets,” CEO of Chennai Superkings, Kashi Vishwanathan said.
The IPL governing Council will meet at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai on Saturday to decide the fate of the league. “We will discuss all the options available and decide the best course of action,” IPL Chief Brijesh Patel said, even as the BCCI maintained its silence over the issue.
The franchises are especially keen to find out if the GC will account for the financial hit franchises will have to take.
“Our sponsors have been asking to re-negotiate terms. With no fan engagement, no exposure to spectators, the sponsorship value comes under pressure. The deals are signed keeping in mind not just the broadcast eyeballs, but all other on-ground activations,” a franchise official said.
No ticket revenue
For the big city teams like Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai, the gate money losses will be heavy if the matches are played behind closed doors. They earn between 35-40 crores from ticket sales alone. Smaller teams earn between R18 to 20 crores. The BCCI reserves the gate sales from the playoffs games for itself; last season, the board is said to have earned around R20 crore from that. In comparison, broadcaster Star India is said to have earned over R2000 crore in advertisement revenue from the 2019 IPL season, something that would make the possible loss of ticket sales revenue easier to absorb.
No foreign players?
The other challenge BCCI is faced with is the possibility of an IPL without its foreign stars, or even the support staff, commentators, cameras crew, and event managers of the league, who come from various countries. India has suspended all visas till April 15, with the exception of visas in the diplomatic, UN, Employment and Projects (those working on large infrastructure projects) categories.
Most leading overseas players—from England, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia and West Indies—are playing international cricket and are scheduled to come to India four or five days before the league, or after missing a few of the initial days. Only the South Africa team, currently playing an ODI series, and Afghanistan team are in India currently.
Franchises are still waiting for clarification on whether the visas for foreign players are exempt from the suspension order. Usually, overseas players for the IPL come under the Business or “B” category, which is not exempt. In 2018, the government introduced a category called B-Sports specifically for foreign players in commercial leagues like the IPL.
“It’s not clear if B3 visas, which players seek for entry in India for IPL are exempted or not. We will know soon,” said one top franchise official. PTI quoted a “BCCI official” saying that foreign players will not be able to come into the country till April 15.
“We have kept all bookings on hold as of now,” said a franchise official.
One of the suggestions likely to be explored by the IPL GC is to postpone the league—if the situation improves, then have a cramped schedule with more double headers. In the current schedule the double-headers are restricted to one per week on every Sunday.
Despite the uncertainty, many franchises like CSK and RCB have begun conducting coaching camps and net sessions. MS Dhoni, who currently doesn’t play international cricket, has hit the ground running from March 1 in CSK yellow at Chennai.
(With inputs from Sanjjeev K Samyal)