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It was business as usual for team owners on Wednesday as they plotted to outwit and outbid each other in the race to get the best players. Photo: Getty Images
It was business as usual for team owners on Wednesday as they plotted to outwit and outbid each other in the race to get the best players. Photo: Getty Images

IPL auction: Betting controversy fails to dim enthusiasm

SC-appointed Mudgal panel had held BCCI chief N. Srinivasan's relative Gurunath Meiyappan for spot-fixing but team owners seemed unaffected

Bangalore/Mumbai: Even a scathing report pointing to betting and ownership issues and the uncertainty around the venue cannot diminish the enthusiasm for the Twenty20 (T20) cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Amid the controversy surrounding the seventh edition of the IPL, it was business as usual at the player auction on Wednesday as team owners including Vijay Mallya, Nita Ambani, Preity Zinta and others plotted to outwit and outbid each other in the race to get the best—and the most marketable—players.

On Monday, a Supreme Court-appointed committee headed by Mukul Mudgal, a former judge, alleged that Gurunath Meiyappan, son-in-law of N. Srinivasan, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), was engaged in betting and match fixing, and criticized cosy relationships between team owners and their players.

“It (scandal) happens in every sport. I can say one thing for sure: all of us would not be sitting here if we were not excited by the IPL, if we were not committed to the IPL, and if brand IPL was not growing in value," said Mallya, owner of the Royal Challengers Bangalore franchise. “It’s unfortunate that such scams happen from time to time, but the core of the IPL is sound and we should all protect it."

The Chennai Super Kings franchise is owned by India Cements Ltd, a company controlled by Srinivasan. The report by the Mudgal committee also said allegations that the owners of the Rajasthan Royals team were involved in betting and fixing need “thorough investigation".

That had no impact on the auction.

“There are few other platforms like the IPL that enable advertisers to reach out to the public on such a large scale," said Varun Gupta, managing director at the Indian unit of American Appraisal. “It’s almost as if the IPL is too big to fail now."

The T20 cricket tournament still remains an attractive event for advertisers and sponsors owing to its popularity with viewers, and its franchise brands are together worth over $400 million, Mint reported on Tuesday, citing a study by American Appraisal India Pvt. Ltd, a brand valuation and tax and finance advisory services company.

American Appraisal estimated the value of the IPL enterprise at as much as $3.2 billion, and team owners on Wednesday were overwhelmingly positive about the business and entertainment potential of the tournament.

Even so, most of the eight teams were more cautious this time on the first day of the auction of players than in previous years because of the addition of “uncapped" players in the auctions, team owners and coaches said.

“There was a lot of good cautiousness in spending today because owners see a lot of good uncapped players available. There’s a lot of value for money to be had there," said Krishnamachari Srikkanth, part of the management at Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Still, among the top 10 most expensive buys, only four were Indians, unlike in the past when players such as the Pathan brothers and Gautam Gambhir were eagerly sought-after by franchises.

Unsurprisingly, as many as five Australians featured in the top 10 after an Ashes whitewash of England. Kings XI Punjab paid 6.5 crore for fast bowler Mitchell Johnson and 6 crore for batsman Glen Maxwell.

The players’ price was determined in the Indian currency this year, as against the dollar earlier.

Some of the highest grossers of previous years—Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan and Saurabh Tiwary—all suffered significant dips in value. Yusuf Pathan was retained by Kolkata Knight Riders at 3.25 crore compared with his earlier price of $2.1 million (around 13 crore today) while Irfan Pathan was bought by the Sunrisers Hyderabad for just 2.4 crore, down from his earlier price of $1.9 million.

For Sri Lankan batsman Mahela Jayawardene and Australian all-rounder David Hussey, another two players who were among the most expensive in previous years, there were no takers.

Other well-known T20 players who were ignored on Wednesday included pace bowler Praveen Kumar, New Zealand batsman Ross Taylor and Sri Lankan opener Dilshan Tilakaratne.

To be sure, team owners can ask for “unsold" players to be brought back to the table on Thursday, the final day of the auction.

Marketing value

The record price for Yuvraj Singh, who was dropped from the most recent Indian team, indicates that players are bought not just for their sporting ability, but also for things such as their popularity with the public, experts said.

“The ability to attract sponsors is also very important, along with your cricketing talent. Winning on the field is of course important, but the amount of money that you get from sponsors also depends on the brand equity of the players in your team. Basically, if the players are loved by the public, then you will likely get higher sponsorship money," said Gupta of American Appraisal.

“Apart from Royal Challenger Bangalore’s buy of Yuvraj Singh, who has been a bit of a vanity buy, this year has seen a big shift in mindset," said Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer, Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

A vanity buy is a term used to describe a purchase in which brand appeal counts for much as performances.

Earlier, teams would pay a premium for big names, irrespective of their ability to deliver on ground. This year the price of most players is justified by keeping in mind their current cricketing form, Blah added.

The second day of the IPL player auctions will be held on Thursday. Among the eight teams, Royal Challengers Bangalore have the least left—1.8 crore with which they need to buy at least four players more. Kings XI Punjab have the most left—14.2 crore.

“To my mind, Kings XI Punjab and Sunrisers Hyderabad have done well for themselves this time round in the auction and have shopped pragmatically. Their research has been thorough and they have been able to snap up some good buys, such as George Bailey (Punjab) and Aaron Finch (Hyderabad)," former Indian cricketer Aakash Chopra said.

At least some part of this year’s IPL will coincide with the general election in India, and officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have indicated that some matches may have to be played abroad. A decision on the matter is likely to be taken after the dates of the election are released.

Controversy

Despite the general upbeat mood on Wednesday, team owners and coaches were peppered with questions about the controversy surrounding the IPL and its impact on the image of the tournament.

“A lot of work needs to be done behind the scenes and during the tournament. It’s a big tournament so there are going to be controversies," said Rahul Dravid, coach of Rajasthan Royals. “It’s a challenge—it’s a challenge for everyone involved in cricket, but I believe there are a lot of good people involved in the system and a lot of good comes out of the IPL for a lot of people."

Kings XI Punjab owner Zinta said the Mudgal report was a “positive" step. “It doesn’t worry me. I’m happy. If anything needs to come out, it should come out," she said.

Note to readers: The story has been modified from its original version

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