Virus impact: Maharashtra wants IPL ties to be postponed
The spread of the novel coronavirus—declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday—looks set to impact the almost two-month long Indian Premier League starting on March 29. The Maharashtra government, which discussed outbreak, asked on Wednesday if IPL matches can be postponed, cancelled or even held in empty stadiums.
“BCCI is ready to hold the IPL tournament without audience. It means there will be no sale of tickets. However, we are yet to receive any official request. We will consider it after receiving. If necessary, the IPL matches can be postponed,” chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said.
Thackeray as well as health minister Rajesh Tope seemed to be in favour of not holding the matches. “No final decision is taken on the issue,” Tope said.
With the number of positive cases in India hitting 60 on Wednesday, there is fear that the large crowds at IPL games will pose a serious contagion risk.
BCCI, however, is in a fix.
“There are spectators for many matches being played in the country currently. That said, we are monitoring the situation. The IPL governing council is meeting on Saturday (Mar 14). That’s when we will look at all the factors and take a decision,” IPL chairman Brijesh Patel told Hindustan Times.
With defending champions Mumbai Indians due to host the season’s first IPL game against Chennai Super Kings in Mumbai on March 29, this is a major administrative challenge for the Sourav Ganguly-led BCCI.
It will directly impact Mumbai Indians, whose home matches are usually played before packed houses in the 33,000 capacity Wankhede Stadium. The government decision also covers Navi Mumbai and Pune, which rules out shifting the venue within the state.
According to industry experts, if the BCCI is forced to hold matches in empty stadiums across the country, franchise earnings will take a massive hit. “The leading franchises who stage their matches in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata would lose anywhere in the range of ~30-40 crore from gate receipts,” an ex-franchise official said.
Even franchises who play home matches in Jaipur (Rajasthan Royals), Mohali (KXIP) and Hyderabad (Sunrisers Hyderabad) would lose between ~16-20 crore in gate collection though the ticket revenue is not as high as the top five because of lower prices and relatively lesser demand.
“That apart, you lose money on merchandise and sale of confectioneries, although that does not amount to more than ~50 lakh to ~1 crore,” said another former franchise official from a team based in the north.
Other states scheduled to host IPL matches are yet to announce any measures to fight the spread of the virus; in fact, a three-match ODI series between India and South Africa, to be played in Dharamshala (March 12), Lucknow (March 15) and Kolkata (March 18), is going ahead without any restrictions.
Late on Wednesday, India also suspended all existing visas in their latest travel advisory, though official and work visas—which are used by the overseas players for the IPL—are exempt.
Franchises are already upset with the BCCI’s 50% cut in playoff fund amount for franchises (from ~50 crore to ~25 crore), and increased expenditure of ~1.4 crore a season, payable to staging associations.
Niranjan Shah, former secretary of BCCI and president of Saurashtra Cricket Association, said the association would be happy to host Mumbai Indians if required. “The coronavirus hasn’t impacted Gujarat yet. If we are offered, we will be happy to host the matches in Rajkot. But it all depends on how the virus impact unfolds,” he said.
A senior board official said it was not contemplating playing the entire IPL without spectators as of now. Efforts are on to see if alternate venues can hold matches if any state refuses permission. A Rajasthan Royals official said: “We’re not taking any call until we receive an official communication on coronavirus from BCCI.” At stake also is the ~16,347.5 crore Star India pays BCCI for the TV and digital rights of the league. Cancelling the IPL would hit the broadcasters to the tune of ~3000 crore. Postponing the tournament is also not possible given the cramped cricket calendar, non-availability of overseas players, and this being a World Cup year.
ICC meets in doubt
Some key ICC meetings scheduled in March-end in Dubai are set to be postponed due to the coronavirus spread in the region. ICC is expected to make it official soon. The Asian Cricket Council meeting, scheduled in Dubai, too could not happen on time because to the same reason.
The BCCI, undecided on who to send for the ICC AGM, would not mind the delay. The ICC was to discuss several contentious issues, including arriving at a consensus on the 2023-31 FTP.