Friday, October 9, 2015

Will Pepsi's reported desire to pull out of IPL finally knock some sense into BCCI?

If you think that FIFA banning its president Sepp Blatter for 90 days the week after four its largest sponsors called for him to step down is a coincidence, then there’s a bridge I’d like to sell you.
As with most areas of life, money talks the loudest. Which is why the Indian Express report that Pepsi wants to pull out as lead sponsor for the IPL could force the BCCI to at least tidy up the way it runs the league, even if it doesn't lead to full scale reforms (though one hopes the Lodha Committee will do that).
The reasoning is simple: The BCCI owes its dominant position in world cricket to the IPL. Over the first eight years of its life, the IPL’s coffers have been immunue to a growing number of scandals – from match-fixing to under the table payments to team suspensions and eliminations to court cases.

When one sponsor stepped away, another was waiting in the wings to step in. Pepsi’s deal with the IPL, signed in 2013, was touted as the evidence of the league’s teflon exterior at the time. How could the IPL’s reputation be damaged when a company with Pepsi’s reputation and scale wants to be part of it?

In some years, the board makes more money from the league then it does from international cricket. That’s why it could threaten to walk away from the ICC and world cricket - because it knows it has the resources to survive. Other international boards are not so lucky. Without international cricket, they would wither and die.

But now that Pepsi has reportedly sent a notice to the BCCI saying it wants to withdraw its sponsorship, worth Rs 396 crore, because of issues that brought the game into “disrepute”, there is nowhere for the board to hide.

If that spigot were to start drying up, the BCCI’s monetary position would be weakened and it would make it harder for the board to throw its weight around, especially if other sponsors follow Pepsi’s lead.

That prospect, at least in theory, should hopefully motivate the BCCI to start running the league in a less arbitrary and capricious way. For one thing, it needs to tackle the issue of Sundar Raman, the IPL COO, who is under investigation by the Supreme Court. Even a simple suspension, like FIFA has done with Blatter and UEFA boss Michael Platini, both of whom are under investigation, would send the right signal, though that can’t be only step they take.

“I think it is a serious problem because Pepsi has been one of the marketers who has constantly been supportive of cricket,” Sridhar Ramanujam, the founder of Brand-Comm, a brand management agency, told Firstpost.

“If you see from the days of Kapil Dev, they have really been supporters of the game. They have lent a lot of credibility and value to the tournament itself. If I have a major sponsor, that has its own positive impact on both the brand and the sport," he said.

New board president Shashank Manohar, who took over last Sunday, already has a host of issues to deal with and has announced a number of reforms. Pepsi’s desire to exit the league – which currently has only six teams – is another complication, and a large one at that.

“Over the last year or two years, while the BCCI has been protesting loudly, it is the worst kept secret that it is a very badly run organisation,” Sridhar said. “Now if they don’t respond by doing
something constructive, which is serious and of long lasting impact, then the writing has to be on the wall."
“This is something like a body blow to BCCI,” he said.
Cricket fans around the country can only hope it is finally enough to knock some sense into the BCCI.

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