Mumbai: West Indian all-rounder Kieron Pollard and New Zealand fast bowler Shane Bond fetched the highest price in the relatively low-key player auction ahead of the third season of the Indian Premier League, or IPL. Pakistani players—part of the 2009 world T20 championship winning team—found no takers.
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Only 11 of the 66 players up for auction were sold, and teams spent an average of $331,818 (around Rs1.5 crore) per cricketer. In 2009, the 17 foreign players were sold for an average $450,000, and in the inaugural year of the league, 67 foreign players earned an average $571,343.
The fall in average price was not entirely unexpected since all team owners have their squads in place and wanted only a player or two to plug key gaps. However, with the league returning to India, after the general election last year forced it to go to South Africa, sports marketeers expect advertising spends to increase significantly in tandem with the robust recovery in the world’s second fastest growing economy.
In 2010, advertising spends on cricket are expected to be at least Rs1,400 crore, up 40% from the previous year; a lion’s share will go to the IPL, according to Prasanth Kumar, managing partner, Central Trading Group (CTG), GroupM India Pvt. Ltd.
Sports marketeers say that the stakes will get bigger next year, when two more teams are introduced. For one, the number of matches each team plays will go up to 18 from 14, increasing the total number of matches from 60 to 94. Moreover, it will change the composition of existing teams too, fetching some players higher salaries.
Mukesh Ambani’s Mumbai Indians team picked up Pollard for at least $750,000 while filmstar Shahrukh Khan’s Kolkata Knight Riders bagged Bond for the same amount. Mumbai beat Chennai Super Kings, Bangalore Royal Challengers and Kolkata for Pollard, who was clearly the top draw. All other players saw much less bidding in comparison to the last edition, when players such as Bangladesh bowler Mashrafe Mortaza went for $600,000 or 12 times his reserve price.
Pollard and Bond were the only two players whose bidding went into a tiebreaker. This is how the tiebreaker worked: The teams had up to $750,000 each to bid for the players. Once this limit was reached, the teams had to place a separate bid—which had no limits—for the player. The highest bid would win, but the amount over $750,000 (the original cap) wouldn’t go to the player, but IPL.
IPL is the richest domestic tournament in cricket and was floated by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the world’s richest national governing body for cricket, on the lines of football leagues in Europe. It earned about Rs9,000 crore from selling broadcast rights and sponsorship deals in 2008, the first year of the championships.
“You could have players (A-listers) who feel that they are not attracting significant money as part of certain franchises and may want to be sold or transferred to another team,” said Mahesh Ranka, general manager-India, Relay Worldwide, Starcom MediaVest Group’s sports marketing arm.
Currently English players Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen are paid $1.55 million each, the highest in the league.
“Pollard was also available full time. Availability had a huge role to play,” said Nita Ambani, wife of the industrialist, who was present at the auction.
Availability of players is a key concern for team owners as IPL clashes with other cricket tournaments, especially the English domestic season. It was also, perhaps a key factor, why the teams ignored the Pakistanis. It certainly was the biggest surprise of the day that no Pakistani player was picked including players such as big hitting Shahid Afridi, who was man of the match in last year’s T20 World Cup and Sohail Tanvir who played a crucial role in the Rajasthan Royals’ win in the first edition of IPL. This, despite, most franchises pressing for Pakistanis in the auction list.
“We were not sure if the Pakistanis will get visas and we did not want players who won’t be available,” an unnamed franchise official told wire service AFP. “Besides, there is also the security issue. No one was willing to take a chance.”
After the November 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, Pakistan denied its players permission to participate in the 2009 or second edition of IPL because of growing political tensions with India. Another problem that dogs the domestic cricket competition this time is the decision of the Shiv Sena to boycott it—especially teams with Australian players—because of racist attacks on Indians in that country.
“The BCCI would discuss the matter with the political party and reach on a consensus,” said IPL commissioner Lalit Modi and assured that there were no issues or worries on the security front.
The third edition of IPL will start on 12 March.
Graphics by Rahul Awasthi/Mint