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IPL Survives But Needs Reforms

Doubts about the feasibility of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has risen every year since it was launched in 2008

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I’ve been plagued with queries about the Indian Premier League (IPL) this season. Is spectatorship shrinking, have eyeballs for television viewership declined, are sponsors reconsidering their position on the tournament? Essentially, has the league lost its sheen?

Most of this can only be answered by data that will be available after the tournament, though I must add that the obviously reduced ground spectatorship this year could be attributed to the fact that the T20 World Cup finished a little over a week before the IPL.

That apart, for diehard supporters of the league, doubts about the feasibility of the IPL have arisen every year since it was launched in 2008 and took the world of sports by storm. Naysayers have always been around, predicting its downfall.

This was more pronounced when the second season was shifted to South Africa because of the general elections in India. In 2009 also came the global financial meltdown. Add recurring controversies, one of which in 2010 saw chairman Lalit Modi having to not only step down from the governing council, but also leave the country.

But in spite of these the IPL not just survived, but thrived. Within a couple of years, it became the sixth most-valued sports globally, spawning in its wake cricket leagues all over the world though none matches its scale.

The IPL completes a decade next season. This will mark a flurry of activity around it, notably in the bidding for television broadcast rights. A battle royale is expected between current right holders Sony, ESPN and Star Sports for there is no doubt it is the most coveted property in cricket.

Yet there are challenges ahead. Every business proposition has to deal constantly with threats. And the IPL comes under greater peril because it is so successful. But what should concern the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is that these threats are from outside as well as within.

The external aspect is manifest in the rapid rise of leagues in other sports that have started to nibble away at cricket’s near monopoly over spectatorship (live and TV) and sponsorship in India. However, inability to internally address the corruption scam that erupted in 2013 with fairness and speed has been the BCCI’s big undoing.

While spectatorship, TV viewership and sponsorship hasn’t shown a sharp fall, the IPL (by extension the BCCI) suffered a massive crisis of credibility that hasn’t yet been completely overcome. Essentially, it revolves around lack of transparency in administration and has landed the BCCI into a direct confrontation with the country’s judiciary.

This has already caused two teams to be rusticated from the IPL for two years and two presidents to remit office prematurely, albeit for different reasons. The BCCI elects its new president — the second within a year after the death of Jagmohan Dalmiya — in the fourth week of May. But how it will adopt the Supreme Court appointed Justice R.M. Lodha panel’s reforms agenda — which the BCCI has been contesting — is still unclear.

The SC order in the matter is to be delivered on June 29. Given the frequent admonishments of the bench whenever the BCCI has argued against the reforms suggests that the judiciary is in no mood to relent in its attempt to overhaul the cricket administration.

What impact this will have on the IPL is anybody’s guess.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Ayaz Memon

The author is consulting Editor, CNN News18

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