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Sourav’s sponsor trouble begins

Calcutta, Sept. 17: Sachin Tendulkar made a memorable comeback last week, but Sourav Ganguly’s bad patch continues, on and off the field.

While the former Indian captain is eagerly awaiting a Team India recall, his cricket academy here — Videocon School of Cricket — has run into trouble over a sponsorship deal.

“Videocon was to pay around Rs 90 lakh with a provision for further escalation and a part of the monthly operating cost of the academy. The total cost incurred so far is about Rs 1.4 crore. But Videocon has given Rs 85 lakh,” said Sourav’s brother Snehasish Ganguly, managing director, 22 Yards.

Sourav is the chairman of 22 Yards, the company running the show in Salt Lake where land has been given free by the government on lease. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee opened the academy on October 5, 2005, with the dream of churning out “more Souravs”.

No prizes for guessing the reason that had brought Videocon as the sponsor. The consumer electronics company had joined the initiative to reap for its brand benefits from an association with a project promoted by the then captain of the Indian team.

Sourav’s slide started soon after. He lost the captaincy and his place in the team. Controversies — from Greg Chappell to Jagmohan Dalmiya — followed the Behala boy and things got worse. The latest is the stalemate at the academy.

Videocon has a different version. “We are very much in the project and have honoured the agreement (with 22 Yards) in letter and spirit so far,” said its representative, Goutam Sengupta.

Recent developments at the academy, however, suggest that the Videocon-22 Yards partnership hasn’t evolved according to the script.

“The academy is enrolling students and charging fees from them. Our stand is that the income from students can take care of part of the running costs and the rest we can bear,” added Sengupta.

But 22 Yards has not accepted the proposal and the academy has drafted in chips manufacturer Pogo, a brand endorsed by Sourav, as a sponsor from September. Pogo will share a part of the academy’s monthly running cost —around Rs 2.5 lakh.

With the partners failing to settle the issue, the state government has come forward. Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya, instrumental in setting up the academy, is playing arbiter.

“Everything will be sorted out.… We have set up a committee with representation from the government, 22 Yards and Videocon, and I shall ask the committee to sort the matter out soon,” said Bhattacharya.

The minister’s involvement may avert the impending crisis at the academy, but the bigger question is whether Brand Sourav has lost its sheen. Sourav has had associations with brands like Hero Honda, Pepsi, Sahara, LG and Emami.

“Companies prefer brand ambassadors who are performing every day. And in the case of cricketers, they are assets as long as they are in the Indian team,” said ad-man Prahlad Kakkar.

Sourav’s last appearance for India was in April in the Test series against Pakistan. He is no longer an asset for companies trying to promote products riding the craze for cricket.

But with Bhattacharya taking the initiative, Snehasish is hopeful that the academy won’t be affected.

“We have a fabulous ground, quality coaches, gymnasium, video-analysis room…. Soon, a bowling machine will be added. There are big plans and we want to make the academy the best in the country,” Snehasish signed off.

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