x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Modi 'sold IPL rights too cheaply'

Sport's officials allege US$71.2 million deal to broadcast tournament in cinemas and other public venues was not enough.

The cinema showings of IPL matches were a huge success in the Emirates.
The cinema showings of IPL matches were a huge success in the Emirates.

DUBAI // The suspended chairman of the Indian Premier League was handed another notice yesterday, this time for allegedly underselling the theatrical rights of the tournament last November to a company with interests in the UAE.

Lalit Modi's lawyer received the show-cause notice, the third one to be sent to Mr Modi after he was suspended on corruption charges by the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) in April. Earlier notices had cricket officials accusing him of irregularities in broadcasting rights and rigging bids of team franchises for the hugely popular league, which plays the quicker T20 version of the game. Mr Modi has also been accused of trying to set up a parallel Twenty20 league in England and Wales in which the eight existing IPL franchises would bid for nine counties in the UK.

Mr Modi denies any wrongdoing. The latest notice involves Entertainment & Sports Direct (ESD), which won the theatrical rights to 10 seasons of the league matches, starting with the 2010 season, for $71.2 million. The main cause for concern raised by the cricketing board is that the deal was underpriced. A partner in ESD claimed yesterday that it was a fair bidding process and the company followed all the procedures.

"We have no idea what is the context of this show-cause notice. We followed the bidding process procedures in every way," said Arun Rangachari, the chairman of Dar group, which is the dominant investor in ESD. Dar is a private equity firm with its office in Dubai. It also has branches in India, the US and Malaysia. The deal gave ESD the exclusive exhibition rights for audiences in cinema halls, stadiums, hotels, restaurants, malls and all other public venues.

There was one other bidder, Triplecom Media. Explaining the bidding process, Mr Rangachari said: "In the end of the bidding process, there were just two companies. First there was a technical bid and then a financial bid. "All the processes we were asked to follow were adhered and we emerged successful," he said. He said the company was willing to give any explanation. "If the concerned authorities ask us for a clarification, we are more than happy to provide it," he said.

ESD launched the live telecast of IPL matches in theatres across the UAE in April, marking a first outside India. The venture was immensely successful with hundreds of people turning up to see the matches on big screens. Speaking about the allegations of underselling, Mr Rangachari said: "How can there be underselling when it's a bidding process and all procedures were followed to the book?" This is not the first time a company from the UAE has found controversy after involving itself in the IPL. Indications of corruption emerged when Mr Modi revealed on his Twitter account that a Dubai-based female friend of a junior government minister Shashi Tharoor owned free stakes in a newly formed franchise, IPL Kochi.

The Kochi team is owned by a group of businessmen from the UAE. The matter led to the resignation of Mr Tharoor as a minister and sparked an investigations into owners of all IPL teams, the bidding process and advertising deals associated with the tournament. It also resulted in the Indian cricket board suspending Mr Modi and forcing him to explain his actions. Mr Modi replied with a 15,000-page document clarifying all the corruption allegations brought against him by cricket officials. He also submitted a reply to the second notice, sent to him on Tuesday. pmenon@thenational.ae