The BCCI’s fight to prove that the IPL is entertainment comparable to a soap opera, not a distinct form of cricket

22 June 2018
The BCCI contends that the IPL is just another sporting event “designed for commercial purposes and to attract television broadcasters.”
Bikas Das/ AP Photo

Since 2010, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has been fighting to prove that the Indian Premier League is comparable to a soap opera. The board has been attempting to show the Competition Commission of India that the IPL is not primarily a “unique format of cricket,” but rather an entertainment programme. The BCCI contends that the IPL is just another sporting event “designed for commercial purposes and to attract television broadcasters.” In fact, the cricketing body has argued that the IPL is an entertainment programme that competes with, among other shows, the talent show “India’s Got Talent” and the drama “Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai.”

In 2010, Surinder Singh Barmi, a cricket fan and resident of Delhi, filed a complaint against the BCCI before the competition commission, alleging irregularities in the grant of media, franchise and other rights related to the IPL. In a judgment pronounced three years later, the commission said that the BCCI had created a monopoly over the organisation of professional cricket leagues in India, and abused this dominant position. The BCCI appealed this decision, before the Competition Appellate Tribunal, or COMPAT—the appellate body established under the Competition Act. In 2015, the COMPAT set aside the verdict on procedural grounds, and sent the case back to the CCI. In November last year, the CCI reiterated a verdict similar to its previous judgment, which the cricketing body has again challenged in an ongoing appeal. The case reveals the different ways in which the BCCI has exploited its position and reaped the benefits as the apex regulatory body of cricket in India.

The CCI is a national statutory body established under the Competition Act of 2002 to prevent practices such as the abuse of dominant position in a market. According to the Competition Act, to decide whether an entity is abusing its position, the CCI must determine four issues: first, it must rule on whether the respective entity—in this case the BCCI—is an “enterprise” and therefore subject to India’s competition law. Then, the commission must adjudicate on the “relevant market” of the product—in this case, the IPL. It has to then decide whether the BCCI holds a dominant position within its market, and finally, whether it is abusing this dominant position.

While in its annual report for 2015–16, the BCCI described the IPL as the “biggest brand in cricket history,” boasting a viewership of 102 crore people and a value of Rs 27,000 crore, it sang a different tune before the competition commission. During the first proceedings before the competition commission, the director general—the office of the investigative wing of the CCI—submitted a report, in February 2012, stating that the BCCI had abused its dominant position in the market. The report defining the relevant market as the “underlying economic activities which are ancillary for organizing the IPL Twenty 20 cricket tournament being carried out under the aegis of the BCCI”—these include the media and sponsorship rights of the IPL. To examine the allegations, the director general sent questions to successful and unsuccessful bidders for the franchise rights of IPL teams, and the media companies who bid for the media rights.

On the issue of franchise rights, the director general found that “there were attempts of bid rigging by using arm twisting by IPL commissioner Sh. Lalit Modi.” One of the BCCI’s claimed that Lalit Modi was acting outside the scope of his authority. But the director general rejected this assertion, and wrote that Modi’s decisions were “being reported to BCCI on regular basis and ratified by its Governing Council”—the cricketing body’s top decision-making body. The report added, “BCCI cannot be absolved from its responsibility in the process of tendering.”

Sagar is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: cricket IPL BCCI Competition Commission of India