Feb. 4: The Indian cricket goose that was supposed to lay golden eggs forever has come face to face with a loud proclamation of disenchantment.
Sahara India has threatened to pull out of its sponsorship deal with the cricket board and the Pune IPL franchise, citing multiple reasons but prompting suggestions that financial compulsions are beginning to bite after years of profligacy on the game.
The announcement by Sahara that it would end its 11-year association with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is so far a declaration of intent. The threat was issued just before the auction for players for IPL-V — it will be played from April 4 to May 27 — got off the ground in Bangalore.
Till late this evening, BCCI sources said, the board had not been informed that Sahara was terminating its contracts. Both sides also dropped hints that they were not averse to exploring options to salvage the relationship or at least a part of it.
As in any marriage on the rocks, Sahara listed multiple reasons for weighing a divorce(see chart above). Along with financial matters, “emotional” issues such as denial of tickets to a Lord’s Test are also said to have played their part in widening the distance over the past few months.
Sahara cited Yuvraj Singh’s unavailability because of “critical” illness to request permission to buy a new cricketer after transferring an amount equivalent to the swashbuckling player’s price to the team’s auction purse. Citing rules, the BCCI disallowed such a transfer, which is being mentioned as the flashpoint.
Sahara sources claim that a senior BCCI official, who is also an IPL leading light, had promised their chief Subroto Roy and his Pune Warriors captain Sourav Ganguly over dinner on January 21 that the team would be allowed to have a higher purse value. “But the BCCI ditched us,” a source claimed.
Contacted, the BCCI official said he was getting on a flight and was unable to respond.
Pune had sets its sights on Mahela Jayawardene who, along with Ravindra Jadeja, was teamless after the Kochi Tuskers Kerala IPL franchise was terminated. Under IPL rules, Pune could have spent up to $2million at the auction. But after the team re-signed Ganguly, $400,000 had to be deducted, leaving the team with $1.6million.
Sahara wanted Yuvraj’s price to be added to the purse to make it almost $3.4 million. Since the BCCI did not allow this, Sahara did not take part in today’s auction where Jayawardene was bought by the Delhi Daredevils for $1.4million — $200,000 less than the $1.6million Pune had in hand. Sahara sources said the price would have gone up much higher had the Pune team also taken part in the auction, in which case it would have come up short.
Other BCCI sources suggested that Sahara had stretched itself too thin by investing heavily in IPL as well as Formula One and was looking for an exit option. Pune Warriors, the team Sahara bought last year, is the most expensive in the IPL line-up at Rs 1,700 crore. Such investments take time to recoup.
Besides, the Sahara group is also pursuing in the Supreme Court a case whose outcome will decide if it will have to refund as much as Rs 17,000 crore raised through debentures because of a ruling by Sebi, the markets watchdog.
Sahara sources suggested that they might not be keen on continuing the team sponsorship at a time the economy is sluggish and cricket TRPs are headed south.
But Sahara’s Roy pooh-poohed such suggestions. Roy pointed out that if he was in a liquidity crunch, he would not have earmarked Rs 1,000 crore for welfare schemes in sports, including cricket. “Money is no issue,” Roy said.
However, by putting the sponsorship deal at stake (every game fetches the BCCI Rs 3.34 crore from Sahara), the group appears to be banking on the impact of the economic downturn to turn the cricket board around.
“At a time when few corporates were ready to put in big money in BCCI, we had come forward because of emotional reasons. With IPL came big money and the BCCI’s attitude towards us changed,” said a Sahara source.
Sahara’s announcement comes at a time the BCCI is struggling to find long-term sponsors — things can get even more difficult in the aftermath of the Indian team’s drubbing in Australia.
A source in the BCCI marketing committee said back-channel talks had started with one of India’s leading industrial groups with deep interest in cricket — especially IPL — to step into Sahara’s shoes.
Reacting to the Sahara announcement, BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale said in a statement: “We intend to contact Sahara Adventure Sports Ltd as soon as practicable to clarify its intentions.”
Hours later, when Sahara’s Roy addressed a media conference in Mumbai, he too left open a window for reconciliation.
“We will pay our sponsorship fee for the next few months, giving time to the BCCI to find a new sponsor. We don’t want to create any problem for the BCCI — they will definitely take two-to-four months to get a new sponsor and we will continue paying the sponsorship money till then,” Roy said.
A BCCI official, however, described the move as an attempt to avoid legal entanglements.
Sources said no Pune player was consulted on the decision to pull out of the IPL. The Maharashtra Cricket Association is also fuming because it had readied for Pune Warriors a home ground, the fate of which is now hanging in the balance. The association’s revenue calculations based on prospective matches could also go haywire.