Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Money flow in IPL Auction - 170 Crores

The Indian Premier League player auction opened this morning with an outbreak of testosterone-fuelled bidding entirely in keeping with the hype and financial excess synonymous with this remarkable sporting start-up.
Owners of the eight franchises that make up the nascent league gathered behind closed doors at the Hilton Towers hotel on Mumbai's western waterfront at 11am, and immediately began spending money like the billionaires many of them are. In the first two hours of the auction only 10 players were sold, but their total value of $7.175m demonstrated the fever that overcame some franchise owners when presented with their pick of the world's highest-profile cricketers. By 7.15pm, eight hours after the bidding opened, and with all but 10 players contracted, the owners had spent a total of $34.955m.


"There's so much testosterone in there it's unbelievable," said a franchise source inside the private auction. "They are spending money at an incredible rate, and it has been quite easy to force the prices up. I think it's just dawned on some of these guys that they have to pay these wages for three years."
The players were presented in lots of six, with the marquee names first to go under the hammer. Top of the list was India's one-day captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, signed for an astonishing $1.5m, $1.1m more than his reserve price, by the Chennai franchise owned by Indian Cements. Chennai also captured Muttiah Muralitharan for $600,000, well above his $250,000 reserve price.

As expected Adam Gilchrist was in high demand, eventually fetching $700,000 from Hyderabad that will ensure his retirement from international cricket will be comfortable. Franchises have a minimum spend of $3.3m and a maximum of $5m for their squads, with players signed for an initial three years, but the restrictions do not appear to have occurred to some franchise owners.

The morning's biggest spender was the Mumbai franchise owned by India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani. He kept his hand in his pocket in the first round but made up for it when the second batch of players were put up. Ambani signed 39-year-old Sri Lankan opener Sanath Jayasuriya for $975,000, the second-highest bid of the day, and Harbhajan Singh for $800,000.

Mumbai is already guaranteed the services of Sachin Tendulkar, who under IPL regulations must be paid a salary amounting to 115% of the next highest-paid player in the franchise. That takes Ambani's total spending to $2,946,250, leaving just over $2m left to fill the other 13 places in his squad.

The excess continued into the afternoon as a combination of pride, ambition and tactical bidding saw extraordinary prices agreed. Andrew Symonds became the second most valuable player in the league after Hyderabad paid $1.35m for his services, apparently untroubled by his central role in the Australian Bollyline row last month. Symonds was involved in the spat with Harbhajan in which the Indian was alleged to have called him a "monkey". On Australia's last tour of India, meanwhile, Symonds was subjected to monkey chants, but there is evidently sympathy for this hugely talented player.

It remains to be seen whether Symonds or any of his Australian colleagues will be available to play in the inaugural tournament starting in April, as it clashes with a scheduled tour of Pakistan, though security fears may yet abbreviate the trip.

Brett Lee was the next most popular Australian, fetching $900,000 from the Mohali side owned by Bollywood star Preity Zinta. Lee has a huge following here, but not as great as that of his boss who almost caused a small riot when she graced the media with her presence during one of the breaks in bidding. A stampede of photographers almost flattened the actress, and left IPL commissioner Lalat Modi ordering them to leave the room. Ignored by everyone, he retreated as Zinta struck her poses.

The sums paid for Symonds and Lee are startling in comparison to those for Ricky Ponting, captured for $400,000 by Kolkata where deliciously he will be captained by long-time adversary Sourav Ganguly, and Shane Warne. In one of the shrewdest moves of the day Jaipur secured Warne's signature for his reserve price of $450,000.

Owned by the British-based Emerging Media, Jaipur's strategy appears to be to build a side with one megastar leading younger players. Manoj Badale, boss of Emerging Media, owner of the Jaipur franchise, arrived with that strategy, but admitted he was prepared to adapt to the unique circumstances of the auction. "We've got a plan of course, but this is an auction," he said. "This is about what others do as much as what we do."

Australians and Indian were not the only ones to profit from the bidding. New Zealanders Jacob Oram (Chennal, $675,000) and Brendan McCullum (Kolkata, $700,000) attracted higher bids than expected, while Jacques Kallis ($900,000 from Bangalore) and West Indian Chris Gayle ($800,000, Kolkata) confirmed their places among the elite.

Nobody yet knows how good the cricket will be when the IPL's billion-dollar circus finally gets under way in April, but judging by today's events the hype will be world-class. The auction shoved President Musharraf's election defeat in Pakistan off the new bulletins, pushed stock exchange numbers off the business channel tickers, and dominated the morning papers.

Skilfully orchestrated by international sports agency IMG and Modi, commissioner of the IPL and a vice-president of the BCCI, the competition is a masterpiece of marketing. Before a ball has been bowled the IPL has raised $1.8bn in revenue and sent tremors through the international game. Today's event is another shrewd step in a campaign to fuel interest in the nascent tournament. Shortly after dawn journalists and camera crews gathered at the Hilton Towers, awaiting the arrival of the franchise owners and players that have already lent glamour to the competition.

Vijay Mallaya, India's highest-profile billionaire whose personal PR would make Richard Branson blush, arrived to a characteristic burst of flash bulbs, as did the captain of his Bangalore franchise Rahul Dravid. Ganguly, also an IPL "icon player", drew similar attention. The arrival of Zinta, one of two Bollywood stars whose involvement has boosted interest, simply sprinkled a little stardust on an already remarkable event.

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