Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

Sports Broadcasting Rights in India

Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

Sports Broadcasting Rights in India

Article excerpt

Introduction

Cricket is the most popular sport in India, far more popular than other sports like hockey, football and tennis, with some people even considering cricket at par with their religion. With the Indian population standing today over a billion, of whom the majority are ardent supporters of the Indian cricket team, it makes for a lucrative business proposition to be involved with the multi-million dollar industry of cricket in India. Thus begins the whole saga of the private broadcasters race to get a pie of the industry and at the top is the Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI), the sole association regulating cricket and this multi-million dollar industry.

In this article I will attempt to discuss the current problems being faced in sports broadcasting in India, with the main emphasis being on the current broadcasting row where the parties involved include the BCCI, Nimbus sports broadcast, promoted by Nimbus communications, ESPN Star sports, Prasar Bharati (1), being the national broadcaster, Zee networks and Ten Sports.

The role of the government through the passing of the Sports Broadcasting Signal Bill (hereafter referred to as the 'The Bill) in the Lok Sabha (National Parliament) on the 8th of March, 2007, will also be enunciated with its impact on the 'broadcasters' (2), the BCCI and the "common man" (aam aadmi) (3). It will also be discussed whether the government is justified in putting into ambit all cricket games to be of national importance without any specific criteria classifying them, in order to remove the ambiguity involved with it, or whether they should follow a more systematic approach. The provisions of the European Council's Television Without Frontier Directive will also be discussed, while comparing it to the Bill.

Background

The potential of the broadcasting and the advertising of the Indian cricket industry cannot be accurately estimated. With the Indian (national team) cricket matches contributing 70% to 80% of the revenue generated (4), the importance of the sports broadcasting rights becomes even greater. The rights to the International Cricket Council (ICC) organized events like the World Cup, the Champions trophy etc are regulated by the ICC through the various rules and legislations. (5)

With the advent of privately owned broadcasting companies, there has been an influx of more companies into this sphere of sports broadcasting, which was previously dominated by the national broadcasters who had a monopoly. However there is increasing demand by the people for these sporting events, for which the supply is limited since in a country like India, where cricket is the most popular sport, there is a great demand for the game, however the national team can only play a limited number of matches, and therefore the supply for the same cannot be increased, as the demand (6). Thus the broadcasters seek acquisition of exclusive sports rights as a method of gaining a viable market share.

In 2004, Zee acquired the rights to broadcast by bidding at $260 million, which was further increased by Zee to better the offer being made by a competitive company. Zee even agreed to pay a deposit of $20 million as a part of the deal. In the end the total worth that Zee was paying to the BCCI was estimated at $308 million. After the meeting in order to finalize the contract, on the basis of the renegotiated price, BCCI returned the deposit paid by Zee, stating that they were not bound by the letter of intent, as there was no concluded contract between them and Zee. Thus Zee alleged that their fundamental rights were violated and initially sued BCCI under Article 32 of the Constitution for a writ of 'mandamus' (7). However the Supreme Court observed that BCCI was not a state organ under Article 12 of the Constitution, thus a writ under Article 32 did not lay against them. However the Court also observed that if any rights of a person were violated by such an association, then a person could file a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution, which conferred wider powers to the High Courts in India. …

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