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The good and bad years of Rajasthan Royals

Rajasthan Royals (RR) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) are on a sticky wicket as Justice RM Lodha Committee, appointed by the Supreme Court, has suspended the two franchises from participating in the Indian Premier League (IPL) for two years.

This is not the first time that RR has faced turbulent weather. Questions were raised regarding the changes in its shareholding even as the team triumphed in the first edition of the IPL and was runners-up in 2013. RR has enthused fans and learnt to play its own brand of cricket.

TelevisionPost.com traces the journey of the Royals over these good and bad years. 

Why some critics feel Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings should be terminated?

Justice Lodha Committee, appointed by the Supreme Court,  has recommended that both RR and CSK be suspended for two years. Some critics, however, feel that the punishment should be more extreme and end in termination of the two IPL franchises. This will end in clean-up of the IPL. RR’s co-owner Raj Kundra has been found guilty of betting. Also, three of the RR players were sent to jail for alleged spot-fixing.

What can stop the BCCI from taking this extreme step?

Justic Lodha has said that the BCCI can take this step. But there is fear of legal complications. The members of the IPL governing council are also divided on this issue. One group, including BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur, favours termination of the two suspended IPL franchises. Another section, however, feels that the BCCI should take over the functioning of the CSK and RR during the two-year suspension period. Any easy answer is not possible. Both CSK and RR are big brands.

What will happen to the franchises?

That is anybody’s guess. One option is to keep it and CSK away for two years. For that to happen, the BCCI has to find two new franchises. The broadcast agreements spell out an eight-team format of the league. Anything less will financially hurt the broadcast partner Multi Screen Media (MSM) and the BCCI.

It may be that Kochi, which won its arbitration, is one of them. Another option is to terminate the two franchises. If that happens, then both of them will probably go to court creating more legal headaches for cricket’s richest body. The third and least likely option is that the BCCI take control and run the two franchises.

Suspending RR and CSK will lead to 10 franchises after two years. This may be a strong possibility. IPL COO Sundar Raman, however, feels that this would lead to logistical problems with the BCCI having to host 94 matches per season. But the IPL had conducted a season with 10 teams in 2011.

What is certain is that the IPL is not commercially viable with just six franchises, meaning a drastic reduction in revenue for everybody.

Why was the shareholding questioned?

Allegations were made that the then IPL chairman Lalit Modi had a stake in RR. This has not been proven.

The franchise was formed by a consortium. The Rajasthan Royals were co-owned by Emerging Media (Manoj Badale, 32.4 per cent), Tresco International (Suresh Chellaram family, 44.2 per cent), Blue Water Estate Ltd (Lachlan Murdoch, 11.7 per cent) and Kuki Investments Ltd (Raj Kundra and family, 11.7 per cent). However, Raj Kundra has since exited.

Why was there a change in ownership?

Shilpa Shetty and Kundra had paid around $15.4 million for an 11.7 per cent stake in 2009. That had valued the team at $132 million. However, the Mudgal committee this year indicted Kundra of betting through bookies. Kundra then voluntarily gave up his stake in a move that was seen as an attempt to try and save the franchise. Shetty and Kundra wrote a letter to the BCCI and to the IPL governing council informing them of the decision.

Subsequently, the Lodha Committee banned Kundra for life from the bat and ball game. The Royals on their part clarified in the past that Kundra had nothing to do with running the franchise. In January this year, the Supreme Court in its verdict had said that Kundra was a team official.

When did the trouble start?

2013 was when things began to unravel. Three players from the franchise were arrested for spot fixing. Kundra was questioned by the Delhi Police for alleged involvement in illegal betting. The Delhi Police claimed that he had confessed to them of placing bets on his IPL team through a bookie who was his friend.

Later that year, the Rajasthan Royals team management said that Raj Kundra would be suspended and all his shares in the team taken back if the charges against him of betting were proved. Because of this, he was suspended from the IPL by the BCCI in 2013.

What has Kundra’s reaction been?

He has said in interviews that he wants the Mudgal report to be made public. He wants any evidence that was found against him to be made public. It might be recalled that the names of nine players including six capped Indian players are in a sealed envelope with the Supreme Court.

Is this the first time that the franchise has been in trouble?

No. In 2010 shortly after former IPL chairman and commissioner Lalit Modi was given the boot, the franchise was expelled along with Kings XI Punjab for allegedly breaching ownership rules.

In 2010, the Enforcement Directorate had issued show-cause notices to Rajasthan Royals for alleged Fema violations by Suresh Chellaram and Raj Kundra. The BCCI at the time had said that the franchise had a different bidder during auctions. The agreement was entered in the name of a different company. The BCCI had alleged that the shareholding patterns were different and that the shares were transferred to different people without the permission of the governing council at that time.

The Royals, however, insisted that the consortium neither flouted any norms nor hid any information from the BCCI about its shareholding pattern. They revealed their shareholding in which the majority stake 44.2 per cent was held by Chellaram. They said that that their bid consortium was led by the UK-based Emerging Media (IPL) Ltd. They also denied the then BCCI president Shashank Manohar’s allegation that the bidders’ identity was not known.

The other entities in the consortium were disclosed in the bid submission documents, the franchise had said.

Both franchises were subsequently reinstated after an agreement was reached. The perception of the IPL was getting eroded. Moreover, the BCCI was incurring high court fees.

Why have allegations been made about conflict of interest with RR?

There has been lots of talk about conflict of interest as Chellaram is Modi’s brother-in-law. Modi has said in the past that before the launch of the IPL, nobody wanted to buy a franchise. There was scepticism about whether this would work.

What one must note is that when the IPL started in 2008, nobody from the media or any other quarter made a noise or an issue about conflict of interest. It is only when the IPL succeeded that noises were made.

What is the connection between RR and the previously mentioned spot fixing?

In 2013, the Delhi Police arrested three Rajasthan Royals players on charges of spot fixing—S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila.  After the arrest, Royals skipper Rahul Dravid in a media statement expressed disappointment and shock over the developments. Not long after the arrest, the Royals terminated contracts with the three accused in the spot-fixing scandal. Sreesanth and Chavan were given life bans by the BCCI.

How did sponsors react to the spot-fixing controversy?

The Rajasthan Royals in this year’s season had sponsors who kept faith in the franchise. This was despite the fact that two years back in 2013, many were caught on the wrong foot. In fact, one of them, Kent R-O, had withdrawn a spot that featured Sreesanth. Television ratings for this year’s season indicated that fans were moving on.

For sponsors, deals are structured so that they pay once the event happens. Therefore, if the Rajasthan Royals do not play next year, then the sponsor does not pay. 

What has set RR apart from other franchises?

The owners have been smart spenders. They only spent $67 million on buying the Jaipur franchise in 2008. It was the cheapest of the original eight franchises. On the player side, their focus has been on unearthing talent at a very reasonable price. Unlike other franchises that focused on big names some of whom did not justify their high tags, the likes of Ajinkya Rahane were groomed by Rajasthan Royals when not many cricket fans knew who they were. Australians like Shane Warne and Shane Watson added to the flavour.

At each player auction, their spend was usually the lowest. Their logic was that each player has a fair price point. If the bidding crosses that threshold, then look at other options.

Another thing is that unlike other owners, one of the shareholders of the franchises, Emerging Media, had experience in cricket prior to buying an IPL franchise. One of the things that they were doing was running a reality show called ‘Cricket Star’.

Why did the franchise choose its name?

The name of the franchise came about because Rajasthan is known for kings and royalty. The franchise wanted to leverage that connection.

How has their performance been in the IPL?

They started off with a bang, winning the first edition under Warne’s captaincy. They proved experts wrong. Many had felt that the Royals were possibly the weakest team in the IPL. They were also the runners-up of the 2013 Champions League Twenty20 under Rahul Dravid’s captaincy. However, in subsequent IPL editions, the Royals failed to reach an IPL final after winning it the first time around.

What has been RR’s record on the financial front?

The franchise in the past has maintained that it is profitable even when the court case was going in 2010. In 2013, Jaipur IPL Cricket reportedly made a profit of Rs 14.5 crore (Rs 145 million). It reported a profit of Rs 5.7 crore (Rs 57.2 million) in 2010–11. Before that, it had reportedly made a profit of Rs 22 crore (Rs 220 million) in each of the previous two fiscals.