Four days before the start of the Indian Premier League -- the latest initiative of the Board of Control for Cricket in India -- and the negatives are piling up.
In an extensive interview to the Kolkata-based Anand Bazaar Patrika, Shah Rukh Khan, who owns the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise, said he is "quite disappointed" at the poor audience response.
"The first day, when I heard this, I was really surprised that only 237 tickets had been sold at the counter," Khan told the Kolkata paper. "I am truly finding it difficult to accept this. I have never, till date, requested my fans to go and see my films. Never ever done it. I am a bit surprised as to why, despite keeping the ticket prices low, people are not showing any interest."
Khan said he is "very tired" by the IPL experience. "I never thought so many problems would crop up when I bought the Knight Riders. I was not prepared for these circumstances. A rosy picture, removed from reality, was painted to me," he said.
One element in that rosy picture was that the franchise owners would be allowed to stage various forms of entertainment at the venues, in order to woo the fans. Apparently even that has run into trouble -- apparently the Kolkata government, unlike governments of states hosting other franchises -- has refused to provide tax exemption.
"How can I do it [hold an entertainment package] unless the entertainment tax is waived?" Khan told the ABP. "The tax has been exempted at all the other centres in India except in Kolkata."
He said officials of the franchise have met government officials and appealed, but thus far, he has no word on whether exemption will be granted. "Involvement with the Knight Riders is giving me sleepless nights," a clearly disgruntled Khan told the ABP.
The interview comes as the final straw on what has been a bad week for the IPL. The Press Trust of India late last week announced that it will boycott the event in protest against the draconian conditions laid down by IPL for the media.
The PTI boycott is a potentially devastating blow. In its inaugural year, the IPL needs as much publicity as it can get; PTI is the agency smaller, out of town newspapers and the vernacular media that cannot afford to send correspondents to cover the event live -- or may not get accreditation, given the pressure on space -- will rely on for news, information and features. The boycott by PTI virtually ensures a near total blackout, therefore, of the IPL in the medium and small scale segments of the media -- thus preventing the league from drumming up interest and support in the grassroots communities.
The same is true for international coverage. The News Media Coalition, an umbrella body that incorporates global news and photography services such as Reuters, Associated Press (AP), Agence France Presse (AFP) and Getty Images, have also said that in view of the IPL's restrictive clauses -- most notably, the proscription on news agencies selling content and photographs to websites -- the Coalition will boycott the event; thus reducing or in some cases eliminating international coverage of the much-touted league.
Shah Rukh Khan, and other franchise owners, are reportedly concerned over the threat of a blackout by some sections of the media. Cricinfo reported late last week that franchise owners plan to voice these concerns to IPL commissioner Lalit Modi, and ask that he resolve the issues.
'If the issue escalates to a point where media or sections of the media will choose to ignore the IPL, we will have to step in, meet with IPL and seek clarifications. We need to find an amicable solution,' Cricinfo quoted Charu Sharma, chief executive of the Vijay Mallya-owned Bangalore Royal Challengers, as saying.
The website also quotes Fraser Castellino, CEO of Jaipur's Rajasthan Royals, as saying they had invested heavily in the venture and would like the entire media on board, to ensure that the event "reaches every heart".
"For that, we need the entire media on our side," Castellino said. "We hope the two parties, like two sensible people, will sit across the table and resolve the issue. We really have no time but we, as a franchise, are willing to step in and help resolve this situation."
Castellino's wish is unlikely to come true. Getty Images, a global photography service, has taken the IPL off its list of assignments for the month; equally significantly, PTI did not apply within deadline for accreditation, which effectively means it will not be present ringside to send in reports and features.