For IPL 2020, to be, or not to be, that is the question

The fate of the Indian Premier League (IPL) can only be decided after April 14, once the 21-day nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak ends.

This year IPL has been postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

This year's IPL has been postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.   -  SPORTZPICS

The fate of the Indian Premier League (IPL) can only be decided after April 14, once the 21-day nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak ends. While chances are high that the tournament, which was originally scheduled to begin on March 29, could be shifted to a later date – depending on the availability of a new window – the franchises are monitoring the situation closely.

While most agree that it looks quite difficult to host the tournament this summer, owing to the health guidelines and visa restrictions put in place, they are open to the idea of a curtailed version.

“We look forward to playing the IPL this year, subject to the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) getting the requisite approvals,” said Rajasthan Royals executive chairman Ranjit Barthakur, who believes it is important to monitor the situation and react accordingly.

While Barthakur did not specify so, indications are clear that the franchises are ready to place Plan B on the table.

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“We are open to a relatively shorter version of the tournament, if needed, with just Indian players. We have always promoted Indian talent and there is plenty of Indian talent now. So, if need be, we will consider that as a possibility,” the Royals executive chairman said. “However, the final call needs to be taken by the BCCI. We need to wait and watch what they decide,” he said.

With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing sports – and the world in general – to a standstill, the finances of sports federations, associations and boards are being hugely affected. While some overseas cricket boards are considering pay cuts, some franchises are worried about the sponsorship models. While there have been a few changes, most claim they are still on board with a majority of their sponsors.

But industry experts believe sponsors could plug on their association with the IPL during such a crisis.

“The IPL is part of the entertainment economy of this country and the celebratory economy today is dead with the COVID-19. COVID-19 not only kills people, but also the celebratory economy today of the country. Having done that, the IPL is definitely impacted,” said Harish Bijoor, a seasoned brand thinker who has been following IPL trends since its inception in 2008.

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“The sponsors will definitely back out because at this point in time, the idea is to ensure that the brands keep a dignified distance from its consumers, rather than the brands trying to grab the eyeballs of the consumer. Only when life is stable and sustainable can everything fall in place,” said Bijoor, who runs a boutique-consulting firm that has a presence across the Indian subcontinent, Hong Kong, Seattle, London, Istanbul and Dubai.

“Brands have decided to pull out, so the IPL will not attract enough sponsors. If it settles down, then the IPL can be a broadcaster-only possibility, with matches going on in empty stadiums. But I don’t see that happening either,” Bijoor said, adding that postponing the tournament to a later date may not be a smart move. “I don’t think postponing the IPL to October-November will count because they won’t be the best of months,” he said.

While BCCI officials remained tight-lipped on the matter, some indicated they are looking at various options to in order to make headway. “At this point of time, it is difficult to say what will work or not. We are looking at every possible option and will keep the franchises in the loop,” one official said.

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A franchise owner who has been associated with the IPL since 2008 said it would be best to call the tournament off for the time being and then decide on the future course of action.

“These are difficult times for sure, but we need to consider every aspect and then take a call accordingly. At this point of time, saving lives should be our priority. These are an extreme situation and we need to take tough calls if need be,” the person said, ruling out the idea of a curtailed all-Indian league.

After the meeting with the IPL franchises on March 14, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly had said that the board would monitor the situation every week and have meetings with the franchises. With the situation worsening and the country witnessing a lockdown, that hasn’t happened. There have been internal discussions for sure, but it’s unclear if the ball will get rolling this summer.

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