A missed opportunity at a point in time does come back calling. That’s precisely the case with Star India and its tryst with the Indian Premier League (IPL). In January 2008, when bidding for the tournament began, it was in the backdrop of the Indian cricket team having performed miserably at the World Cup. It had been knocked out at the round robin stage and Sony Entertainment Television (now Sony Pictures Network) had its back to the wall.
The IPL was set to get off the ground in April and the level of interest from broadcasters was being closely watched. Those who put in bids for the 10-year broadcasting right ending 2017, included Sony, World Sports Group, Nimbus, NDTV, private equity major Providence, 9X and, finally, the ESPN-Star Sports combine. That was the scenario till Friday (January 11, 2008) evening. The envelopes were scheduled to be opened the following Monday morning. But to everyone’s surprise there were finally just two bidders in fray on January 14. Over the weekend, Providence, 9X and NDTV had backed out. What began as an exciting bidding process eventually turned out to be a damp squib. While ESPN-Star Sports felt Rs.3,000 crore was a good number, Sony-WSG won the bid by shelling out $1 billion (over Rs.5,200 crore). In 2009, the combine had to renegotiate the bid for Rs.8,200 crore after a brief controversy that saw BCCI terminating the previous deal.
A senior ESPN-Star Sports official admits that it was an error of judgment on Star’s part that saw them lose the bid, the first time around. “We were too conservative and believed it was better to play on the strength of properties such as the World Cup that we were keen on winning,” he says. The combined, which won the rights for the ICC 2011 tournament for $2 billion, eventually parted ways in 2013.
But no one anticipated the response that the IPL would generate, making it India’s marquee domestic cricket tourney with international players. The cocktail of cricketing icons and movie stars as