There are several good things that the IPL is doing for cricket. And there are several things that it is doing that are plainly irritating. For example, we do not have sixes anymore! These are now known as DLFers or “DLF maximums”. We do not have a brilliant fielding that affects a run out or a brilliant catch anymore. We have a “Citi moment of success”!
While it is irritating to see a sixer being referred to as a DLFer, what the IPL is certainly doing, is associating the sponsors brand much more closely and intimately with the product itself! Sponsors like DLF, Vodofone, Citi, Fly Kingfisher, Hero Honda and Sony SetMax appear to be reaping the benefits of their association with cricket through the IPL.
A more recent entrant to the field is one that has raised the ire of the Indian sports ministry!
The Indian sports minister MS Gill has rapped the IPL on the knuckles for its official sanction of an SMS text-messaging product during IPL games. This product is also promoted actively by the same commentators that promote the DLFers and “Citi moment of success” through their commentary! The competition, called 6UP is one in which users can win by predicting either the run-sequence in an over or the number of runs per over. The sports minister has taken offense to this — as this is akin to betting and gambling which are banned in India — and has requested the BCCI to ban this competition.
6UP is an SMS mobile game. Fans can send their predictions as to how many runs will be scored on each ball of an over, before the start of every over at Rs 5 per SMS. The company that runs offers 6UP is “IPLAYUP Interactive Entertainment”, a UK-based mobile business generation company. They have tied up with Vodafone to offer the product. George Tomeski, co-founder and managing partner of IPLAYUP Interactive Entertainment, has indicated that every day a few fans can make a few lakhs of rupees.
The business model is simple: Out of every Rs 5 SMS sent during a live game, a minimum of 50 per cent of the total pool (number of people who send the SMS multiplied by Rs 5) goes to the person who sends the message, while the remaining part goes to telecom company (Vodafone), governmental tax and Australian ex-captain Steve Waugh’s charity – Steve Waugh Foundation. So there is a charity angle to it too!
There are some loosely justifiable claims, perhaps, for this to be classified as “gambling” or “betting”! However, while he is at it, is the Honourable Sports Minister also going to make efforts to ban illegal betting and gambling on cricket? Or perhaps he can allow the IPL to legalise gambling and betting in cricket in India and actually earn the Government money that can be used to either line pockets or be pumped into other sports that are worse off in India?
Furthermore, these proclamations from the Sports Minister would actually hold water if the ministry demonstrated tangible evidence of adding value to sports in the country!
If the Sports Minister had concentrated on the real issues — betting and the potential for ‘match fixing’ — and stopped there, that may have won him his day in court. However, instead of doing there, he went on to take a swipe at cricket and spilled all his sour grapes, thereby, bringing to question his real motives!
He went on to say, “I see the commercial use of cricket for business gains that is going on. I am concerned at knowledgeable comments from serious followers of cricket about the latest venture of encouraging viewers to make ball-by-ball predictions of runs scored for economic gain in the shape of cash prizes. This is viewed as ‘openly encouraging gambling and betting’, which official bodies do not resort to, even in countries where betting is legal; all this ‘to make money and enlarge their TV viewership base'”.
Let us de-construct this comment.
There is really nothing inherently wrong with the commercialisation of cricket. Nor is there anything wrong with either making money or enlarging TV viewership! Indeed, that is one sure way for hockey to become popular again in India! What is of relevance is (a) the actual act of “betting” and (b) match fixing.
Perhaps the sports minister was better off focusing his attention just on (a) and (b) above rather than spill his sour grapes!
Although betting and gambling is considered illegal in India, there is a horse racing and gaming industry in India. This is officially sanctioned! Moreover, we do have state sanctioned lotteries. Millions of rupees are routinely lost, mainly by India’s poor, who wish to invest in these statistically remote make-it-rich-quick lottery schemes in these state run lotteries. The sports minister did not comment on these officially sanctioned gambling mechanisms in India. While it is not necessary for him to have done so, the argument can be mounted that, given the existence of these schemes, could the country not allow another scheme — especially if the Government can use the funds thus generated to improve the plight of sports funding in other neglected sports?
Fundamentally however, what needs to be investigated here is whether the course of a match can be altered through this product. Possible questions that need to be asked are
(a) Can a single user, as a result of an investment of 5 Rupees (roughly 10 cents American) alter the course of a game through her bet?
I would have thought that that would be close to impossible.
(b) Can this lead to “match fixing”?
Theoretically this is possible. It is possible for an “investor” to pay off two powerful hitting batsmen to take 3 singles each in an over to deliver a sequence of “111111” or, say, deliver a sequence “000000” in an over. The “investor” can then place a bet on that specific sequence and hope that (a) no one else has bet on that specific sequence so that the “rigged investment” pays off, (b) a large number of bettors have placed bets on an alternative sequence — so that the “rigged investment” is worth it.
These, and other similar questions, are more pertinent rather than the commercialisation of cricket in India. The sport is banking on its popularity and is finding new ways of delivering value to the brands that support it. Nothing wrong with those principles. What is important is an assessment of whether the game itself is letting itself open to be manipulated by means and instruments other than sporting skill.