BCCI Vice-President Rajeev Shukla (right) stated that the board had no option but to cancel the contract with Nimbus due to default in payments © AFP
BCCI Vice-President Rajeev Shukla (right) stated that the board had no option but to cancel the contract with Nimbus due to default in payments © AFP

 

By Madan Mohan

 

A story that had been developing over the last month finally reached its climax and a seemingly swift conclusion. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) reportedly scrapped the broadcast deal with Nimbus Communications, better known as Neo Sports/Neo Cricket to viewers. In 2010, Nimbus Communications had been awarded the contract for a period of four years. There is still no statement from either BCCI or Nimbus to confirm the same, but BCCI vice president Rajeev Shukla is on quote, stating that the board had no option but to cancel the contract.

 

The news first appeared on December 12, but Neo cricket telecast a Ranji Trophy match on Tuesday. It’s believed arrangements are being made to secure broadcast of the tournament until its conclusion on January 23. If compromises are somehow brokered and things stay as they are too, it would not surprise me. But with the home season concluded, BCCI has ample time to select a new broadcast partner which may well have clinched the timing of the cancellation. That, however, also leaves room for some uncertainty on the horizon. What’s the price TV right will fetch come 2012?

 

The Nimbus-BCCI deal had run into rough weather for quite some time. Readers would recall that the telecast of an India-England ODI match was blacked out for the first three overs due to a dispute between Nimbus Communications and Prasar Bharati, the concerned government agency. Apparently, a request has also come in from Nimbus to delay one chunk of payments towards broadcast rights. At that juncture, both parties said they were working on resolving the differences and hopeful of reaching a solution. A solution, however, has not materialised and time will tell whether action will now shift to the legal world with arbitration and civil disputes.

 

This is one of a fair few setbacks on the financial horizon for BCCI. The “King of good times” has found his cup of woes is overflowing. With the airline in trouble, the Vijay Mallya-led UB Group would face a tough time juggling finances between Kingfisher Airlines, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Force India – the Formula One team. IPL-5 will reveal the exact import of these developments and how much of a blow it may deal the tournament.

 

Kingfisher Airlines may have been in the news for the wrong reasons, but the outlook is not exactly hunky dory for India Inc. What rates will television ad spots fetch in IPL5? How much sponsorship money will be doled out? And how will all this affect pay packets of players? These are questions that confront the business model the BCCI has shifted to in recent times. If I were running the show at BCCI, I would be scampering to seal a new broadcast deal and make hay while the sun still shines.

 

Though some of the India-West Indies ODI fixtures saw the crowds return, overall this must be one of the more anaemic home seasons for India in terms of spectator turnout. Indian viewers are used to the sight of Tests being played to empty stands, but for the first time in years, crowds also stayed away from ODIs. There is not much news on how the television ratings have been during this period. Chances are it is not highly encouraging either. If it isn’t, the new broadcast partner may eye its chance to earn a bargain. And that could well be the tip of the crumbling iceberg.

 

Meantime, news has also come in that former Indian cricketer and renowned commentator Sunil Gavaskar has not been paid fees of $1 million that he claims was promised to him by the BCCI for media activities involving IPL. Expect more of this in the days to come. The overflowing tap of liquidity has begun to run dry and astronomical payments with dubious commercial sense may not see the light of day. Disputes over money and crisis-stricken boards may become regular news items.

 

The BCCI had ostensibly sealed its finances with the Nimbus broadcast deal of 2010. Should that deal indeed fall through, BCCI, and in turn, cricket will step into unchartered waters. The heady days of 2008 will come to pass. Whether it is going to be a gradual slide or a violent crash will answer many questions about the future direction of the game.

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)