With the tournament just weeks away, the health ministry has already flagged its concerns to the sports ministry. A meeting is expected between the brass of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the health ministry next week.
The move comes even as BCCI president Sourav Ganguly on Friday reiterated that “everything is on schedule” for the country’s most popular and rich sports tournament, which will have 56 matches across nine cities with the finals on 17th May.
Given the colossal amounts of money at stake, concern is mounting over the impact of coronavirus. A top executive of one of the companies closely involved with the IPL said: “There will obviously be concern about the health impact when 30,000 to 40,000 fans are in one stadium for so many hours for the next seven weeks across the country. One way out is to follow what many other countries are doing in Europe and what people are planning to do in the US, that is, to have closed door matches with no ticket sales.”
A Business Standard e-mail to the BCCI on whether it would agree to such a proposal, along with questions on what safety arrangements it will discuss with the health ministry, remained unanswered.
Ticket sales in the stadia constitute ~8-10 crore of the income of a team. This is very small compared to the total revenue and, if needed, can be compensated by the BCCI. Only 1 per cent of cricket fans watch the IPL in a stadium. The rest prefer to watch it on television or on OTT platforms.
For Disney (earlier Star TV) the stakes are very high as it has to spend over ~3,270 crore per annum for the broadcasting and digital rights for the IPL. Lack of an audience would obviously adversely impact the brand building exercise for a team, especially as the latest valuation of the eight teams is estimated at $5.7 billion, based on data by Brand Finance, for the country’s most popular sports tournament. This time it will have over 56 matches across nine cities with the finals on May 17.
Ganguly, however, pointed out that cricket tournaments were on all over the world.
England are already in Sri Lanka; South Africa is already here in India (three ODI matches from March 12); and county teams are travelling all over the world to play, including to the UAE and Abu Dhabi.
But the fact is that the coronavirus has taken its toll on various sports events globally, even threatening the Olympics to be held in Japan. In Italy, the government has decreed that no sporting events with the presence of public will be held until April 3. In the US, discussions about barring fans for the NBA Basketball games, as they have for all European basketball matches, have started. In the UK, Premier League clubs are expecting to have to play some games behind closed doors. Ganguly tempered his confidence by adding that special arrangements would have to be made. “We will take all precautions. I don’t know what the exact measures will be yet because the medical team is still discussing them,” he said.