What next for IPL after Lodha verdict?

MS Dhoni for Chennai Super Kings and Shane Watson for Rajasthan Royals find themselves without a team
A little under two months ago, on a mild Kolkata evening, Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Mumbai Indians contested the final of the eighth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). A couple of hours into the match and with almost half his side dismissed while chasing Mumbai Indians' 202, CSK's captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was waging a lone battle. Towards the end of the 14th over, he belted a boundary and sent one ball soaring into the Kolkata skyline in quick succession. Just then, Lasith Malinga struck, hoodwinking Dhoni with a slow yorker that the Indian skipper had little clue about. CSK's talisman had made his exit and taken his team with him.

There was a sense of dejà vu when the Supreme Court-appointed Justice R M Lodha Committee earlier this month suspended CSK - along with Rajasthan Royals (RR) - for two years from IPL on charges of corruption. Just this time, it wasn't Dhoni but a few high up in the CSK hierarchy that had faltered, leaving the franchise staring at an uncertain future. Dhoni, along with fellow Indian teammates Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane, is now in no IPL team.

BCCI’S OPTIONS
  • Terminate CSK and RR and call fresh bids for two new teams
  • Rename CSK and RR and run them under its own banner
  • Challenge the order  and obtain a stay order against the verdict

Damage control

On Sunday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) set up a four-member working group that will carefully dissect the Lodha Committee verdict and put forth its recommendations in five weeks. Rajeev Shukla, who will head the working group, also made it clear that the 2016 season of IPL will be held according to schedule and that too with eight teams. BCCI will have to work its way through a web of complex legal angles to make that possible.

That is primarily because a six-team league will mean substantially less revenue for BCCI. Its current broadcast deal with Multi Screen Media says that each season must have at least 60 matches. In the last season, with eight teams, there were 60 matches; with six teams, there would be just 34 matches.

For most, the righteous thing to do in this situation would be to terminate the contracts of the two franchises and invite fresh bids for two new teams. The other option for BCCI is to challenge the verdict in court and get a stay on the order issued by the Lodha Committee. Rahul Mehra, Supreme Court lawyer and sports activist, says that knowing BCCI's history, the possibility of the latter happening is quite strong. "They will try their best to dilute the order. Although terminating the two teams is the ideal thing to do, BCCI will most likely challenge this in court," says he.

But abolishing the two franchises is also likely to have repercussions. BCCI will be desperate to avoid a repeat of the Kochi Tuskers Kerala fiasco. The southern outfit appeared in just one season (2011) before it was terminated by BCCI for breach of contract. BCCI, earlier this month, was asked to pay the Tuskers Rs 550 crore after an arbitration court ruled in the latter's favour. In fact, the Tuskers say that they are not keen on the compensation, and would prefer a return to the league instead. With two potential spots opening up, BCCI might have to seriously consider that possibility now.

Another Supreme Court lawyer, who does not wish to be named, says that the sensible thing for BCCI to do would be to infuse two new teams for the next two seasons and field 10 teams once CSK and RR serve out their suspension. "There is no doubt that if CSK and RR are suspended, they will go to court, which means that BCCI might have to pay heavy compensation to the two franchises if the court rules in their favour," he says.

Another possibility that is being floated - described as ludicrous by many - is that BCCI should revamp the two teams and run them under its own banner for the next two seasons. The two franchises will have to pay a fee and all their operations will be run by BCCI. Former BCCI President Shashank Manohar, who is also a lawyer, is of a different view and says that the rules do not allow it to adopt teams and run them. "There are no provisions that allow BCCI to take over teams like this. Moreover, this will lead to a major conflict of interest. How can BCCI officials sit at the auction and bid for players," he asks.

Unviable deal

Varun Gupta, managing director (India), American Appraisal, the company that annually evaluates IPL as a brand, including separate brand valuations for the eight franchises, says that the financial cost of adopting the two teams is something that BCCI will not be able to afford. "First, they'll have to buy players. Then, they'll have to pay their match fees. Add to that the burden of running such a rigorous tournament. BCCI would not want to do all this," he says.

However, most parties, including the top official of a franchise, agree that the tournament as a brand has received a jolt. The official, who wishes to stay anonymous, says that sponsor confidence has taken a severe beating. "IPL will sustain this onslaught because it is such a powerful brand. But the short-term effects of this verdict will be drastic," he says worryingly. Gupta adds that the brand value of the league will diminish if CSK and RR are to leave. The departure of CSK - among the league's most popular and successful teams - will force major sponsors to take the exit route.

"Even if you keep everything the same and just change the name of the team, the brand value will decline. We saw that when Deccan Chargers became Sunrisers Hyderabad," says Gupta. "Deccan Chargers was renamed Sunrisers Hyderabad after it was acquired by Sun TV network in 2012. The franchise's brand value has shrunk drastically since." According to American Appraisal, IPL's brand value is likely to depreciate 15-20 per cent. With the departure of CSK and RR looming large, viewership numbers may also dwindle. More important, the league will have to prove its credibility once again.

For the next season, Dhoni might be donning the blue of Delhi or the red and gold of Bangalore; or chances are that he will still be wearing resplendent yellow and leading the Super Kings - albeit under a new name.

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