Mumbai, Sept. 9: Round 1 to Zee. Round 2 to ESPN. All rounds to Jagmohan Dalmiya. Sorry, BCCI.
Four days after it was as good as awarded the telecast rights for international cricket matches played in India over the next four years, Zee Network was knocked back on its feet with Bombay High Court suggesting fresh bidding.
On a petition filed by ESPN-STAR Sports against the Board of Control for Cricket in India giving Zee the first chance to have a go at the telecast rights, Chief Justice D.S. Bhandari and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud recommended that the two rivals submit fresh bids to the court's registrar-general.
The court asked Zee to inform the BCCI and ESPN on September 14 of its decision on fresh bids. If a third round of bidding does take place, the court will open the bids the day after and declare the winner.
If Zee declines to agree to fresh bidding, the hearing will resume on September 16, in which case the upcoming India-Australia series ' the first Test starts on October 6 ' could come under threat. Zee said a decision would be taken after a board meeting.
The two sides have already made two offers for telecast rights for four years. In the first, Zee emerged the clear winner with a quote of $260 million as opposed to ESPN's $230 million. But for some unknown reason, ESPN was allowed to put forward another offer when the BCCI sat to make the decision and the channel took the bid up to $308 million.
But none of the other bidders was given the opportunity to bid. Zee matched the offer and the BCCI said it would be awarded the rights, provided certain conditions were met.
ESPN went to court challenging the procedure followed by the BCCI in awarding the contract. Its petition said Zee did not satisfy the basic eligibility criterion as it did not have the required two years' experience of telecasting international cricket matches.
ESPN claimed that awarding the rights to Zee was a violation of the principle of natural justice, arguing that it was not given an opportunity to improve its bid after the BCCI had re-negotiated the price with Zee.
Zee countered by submitting a list of matches it had telecast for the UK and UAE markets. On the requirement of having production facilities, which ESPN had earlier claimed Zee did not have, the network said no sports broadcaster in the country had its own production units and Zee was no different.
It circulated a list of major cricket tournaments broadcast on ESPN from 1994 to 2004 and claimed that in all instances, except one, the production units were from outside.
An ESPN spokesperson said he did not want to reply to the charges as the matter was sub judice. The high court had earlier asked the BCCI to produce its file on awarding of telecast rights to Zee.
If another round of bidding takes place, it suits only the BCCI. Already, analysts are saying the $308-million price may prove to be too costly for Zee. While the networks clench their teeth and quote even higher, BCCI chief Dalmiya will be smiling his way to the bank.