So, the deal is done. Dream11 are now the official title sponsors of IPL, the annual T20 extravaganza.
The fantasy cricket league platform has been named title sponsors for the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020, after the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and Chinese smartphone-makers Vivo paused/suspended their contract for the current year. Dream11 outbid companies like Tata Sons, Unacademy and Byju's to bag the title sponsorship deal for the cash-rich league. Dream11 bid Rs 222 crore for the sponsorship rights, IPL chairman Brijesh Patel announced, just a little while earlier. Unacademy had supposedly bid Rs 210 crore, Tata Sons raised the paddle for Rs 180 crore and Byju's had put in a price of Rs 125 crore for the sponsorship.
So should one uncork the bubbly and celebrate? Well, if you are a BCCI official or an IPL franchisee, you could surely pat yourself on the back for a job well done, in reasonably adverse circumstances, in an economic situation that is tough, to say the least. The Rs. 222 crore bid is in line with street expectations, though half of what Vivo would have paid, had they stayed.
But honestly, I would much have preferred this year for an Indian company… and I stress 'Indian' company to take the title, even if it was for a trifle lesser amount. I am known to call a spade, a spade. The simple question is why did this eventuality of the need to bid for a new title sponsor arise? Because, the incumbent, Vivo, a Chinese company, was red-flagged – by public sentiment, incensed by the death of 20 Indian soldiers in Ladakh at the LAC with China, that invited much follow through action by the Govt. of India, including a ban on 59 Chinese apps.
Earlier, the Government, through a press note had sought to tighten investments from neighbouring countries (read China) to prevent 'opportunistic take-over' of Indian companies. Even Govt. contracts have largely been put out of bounds for Chinese companies.
Let me emphasise that I am here that I am completely non-political. My take on this issue is entirely driven by business semantics and national imagery.
Vivo may have stayed with its title sponsorship. But organisations like the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) and Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) put it on notice. And Vivo decided that an exit from the sponsorship was a safer option than a public ruination. There has been media debate around whether Vivo voluntarily exited, or was asked by the BCCI to go. My view is that the situation was very similar to telling an employee that he is no longer required: he can either resign or face the sack. Most would resign. Vivo kind of did the same.
Now to the question whether Dream11 is Chinese? As per a Medianama report of September 7, 2018, quoting CNBC TV 18, “Chinese Internet conglomerate Tencent has reportedly bought a majority stake in Mumbai-based fantasy gaming startup Dream11 Fantasy, reports CNBC-TV18. According to the report, Tencent values the Indian start up at around $750 million. In an interview to the channel, the company’s founder and CEO, Harsh Jain, confirmed securing fresh funds from the Chinese firm. However, he declined to disclose the details of the transaction. CNBC-TV18 claims that post the deal, Jain’s stake in the company will reduce to around 35%.
To be fair, with private equity investments, one can never be sure on quantums, valuations, and therefore share of ownership. It could well be that Chinese Tencent are not a majority shareholder.
But for argument sake, even if Chinese ownership is lesser than majority, one thing is for sure … Tencent has significant Chinese equity interest in Dream11. Now, does that make Dream11 Chinese? To my mind, it certainly does. There have been statements attributed to senior BCCI officials that such companies (including Paytm, Byju’s etc.) are Indian 'owned' and Indian 'registered'.
Well, first let us rebut the registration argument: Technically, and in law, Vivo India is also an Indian entity. They manufacture in India too. They have 99%+ Indian employees. Then why was there angst against Vivo? So, being 'registered' in India is no logic for being deemed 'Indian'. Now to ownership. The original Indian owners of Dream11 are surely in minority by now after the many rounds of investment by various investors, and dilution of their stake. So, Dream11’s Indian-ness by virtue of original Indian promoters is a shallow claim. Dream11 is at best widely held.
What exactly is my angst? Well, I believe that the Sino aggression has cost us 20 lives already. And the de-escalation along the border has not really progressed much. We have thousands of troops in war-readiness sitting on the border with China. They are staking their lives for the country.
In plain simple English, China is an enemy nation. Atleast for now.
Cricket is a game. Perhaps a religion for some. But still only a game. And whether that game nets a few crores more or less in sponsorships one year cannot, and should not affect the patriotism and nationalism of India.
To me any company with a China-connect needs to be cold-shouldered. Not boycotted for now, perhaps. But not embraced too. Or feted. Or celebrated. It does not behove the BCCI or even the game of cricket: blood has been shed by brave soldiers fighting the Chinese. It is that simple a contention. Much as the Vivo contract was ‘paused’, any commercial interaction with 'Chinese' or 'Chinese invested' companies could have been 'paused' in symbolic protest and distancing. Till atleast the border situation normalises.
In diplomatic circles too, by blowing hot and then blowing cold on China, we are likely to cut a sorry figure in global politics.
Why have we done it? For a few pennies more.
Sad. Very very sad.
Dr. Sandeep Goyal is an avid cricket fan. He tracks the cricket commercial space too very closely.
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