As more and more players join Subhash Chandra's Indian Cricket League, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has threatened the players. When the matter was raised in Parliament, BCCI president Sharad Pawar reacted sharply in defence.
However, the board may now be forced to shed some of its insouciance. Advertisers and markets, the lifeline of all sporting events, have begun to look at ICL as an opportunity. On an average, international cricket matches featuring India cost between Rs 100,000-200,000 for a 10-second commercial spot, depending on the channel and the team India plays. However, for Chandra's league, the cost is expected to be half of that amount.
The league kicks off in October this year with a tournament of 20-overs-a-side matches that will be telecast on the sports channel owned by Chandra's Zee Networks, Zee Sports, and the winner will receive $1 million as prize money.
Advertisers looking at the league include consumer durables maker s Videocon and LG, fast-moving consumer goods company Hindustan Unilever and even telecom service providers. These firms have some of the biggest advertising budgets in corporate India.
"We are definitely interested in associating ourselves with ICL. A committee is already in place and negotiations are on," said Videocon chairman Venugopal Dhoot.
Agrees Rahul Welde, general manager, media services, Hindustan Unilever, "We are exploring ways to associate with the league. If our consumers are interested in the Twenty20 format, we will definitely associate ourselves with the league."
LG's marketing head Sandeep Tiwari said the league was a vertical integration of cricket into a shorter and faster format. Future Brands CEO Santosh Desai added that anything to do with cricket would always find a market, unless it was mired in a dead format like Ranji and Duleep trophies.
There is also opinion that companies whose budgets are not big enough to sponsor cricket will find another avenue through ICL.
According to Manish Porwal, managing director India (west and south) of Starcom, the media buying outfit of communications giant Publicis Groupe, "The league provides a fantastic opportunity for corporates who want to invest in the game but do not have the mega bucks to bag title sponsorship deals in international cricket."
He pointed out that 90 per cent of the eyeballs for cricket in India was focused on international cricket, but expressed confidence that this would change. "The domestic cricket does not generate the amount of interest an international match does. ICL will reduce the gap."
Some express immense faith in Chandra. "He is a man who has a stomach for risks. All his ideas have been successful till now and I am sure that even this league will be successful. I am betting my money on him," said Meenakshi Madhvani, managing partner with media audit firm, Spatial Access.
Others were positive but non-committal. "Our clients are definitely interested and we are in discussions with Zee," said the head of a media buying agency who did not want to be named. The agency head declined to give specific names, saying that deals were still under discussion, but said there were advertisers across categories.Even as the advertising industry feels that cricket will never have a problem of money in India, ICL has its task cut out. "Money will pour in but the size of the deals will be smaller. ICL still has to prove itself. It still has to play its first tournament. The new format definitely has takers but the money invested will depend on the performance," said an executive from PDM sports, a leading sports marketing agency.