As the Indian team is getting ready for the tour of Australia, BCCI’s new kit partnership deal with MPL Sports is yet to be officially announced. But as soon as the news of new signing starting doing the rounds, the deal was labelled as, ‘being against the norms of FairPlay’ and case of ‘ambush marketing’. InsideSport reached out to BCCI to take a stock of the new signing and the controversy surrounding it and this is what we were told by one of the senior functionary of the BCCI.
“This is completely uncalled for. BCCI could not have been more transparent. We came out with the tender, gave fair opportunity to everyone. At that point of a time, no one came forward. Now if we are signing with any interested party, how it can be against the norms”, asked the BCCI official.
BCCI – MPL Sports deal : Is it really against the norms or just whining by opponents ?
One company’s marketing strategy is another’s reason to whine. That appears to be the case with
First thing first, let’s try to understand what is the controversy surrounding this deal. MPL Sports, an athleisure apparels and accessories brand have been roped in by the BCCI to be Team India’s kit sponsor from November 2020 till December 2023, replacing Nike.
No sooner had the news trickled out about the deal than ‘industry voices’ started expressing reservations over two aspects of the deal – that it was awarded without inviting a tender and that MPL Sports is a direct competitor of one of BCCI’s existing partners.
Both concerns are raised anonymously and it seems without any firm logic. Firstly, as BCCI official pointed out – the board had already floated the tender in August, and with no direct bids coming in, the board scouted partners to replace Nike through discussions, much like the private placement of a share issue.
According to the legal experts, once the tender is floated and the BCCI did not receive any bidding interest, they are absolutely free to negotiate with the 3rd parties.
“There are no hard and fast rule that has been laid down by the ICC or any governing body that states that the grant and/or sub-licensing of any rights being held by a cricket board have to provided to a potential sponsor by way of issuing an Expression of Interest (EOI), Request For Proposal (RFP) or Invitation to Tender (ITT), especially in the case of when bidding does not evoke any interest”, said a legal expert on sporting contracts with knowledge of the current discussions between the board and the company.
They also pointed out that the eligibility criteria remain open to the BCCI’s discretion as per the original ITT floated in August.
Legalese aside, the greek chorus of ‘ambush’ – that is, the brand appointed steps into the territory of an existing partner – are even flimsier as a concern.
BCCI Kit Partner – Who is MPL Sports ?
MPL Sports, according to the company concerned grew out of the idea that merchandising in general, and apparel in particular is a natural line extension for a brand in gaming. MPL is a gaming marketplace (straddling the arena of eSports and gaming, but quite distinct from fantasy sports), and MPL Sports appears to be the result of a growing trend among eSports players around the globe leveraging their fanbases and ecommerce capability to pivot and diversify into apparel and merchandise.
Louis Vuitton announced last year that it would be partnering with Riot Games’ to design in-game outfits and accessories. There probably isn’t a bigger bellwether to signal a trend in the fashion industry. MPL Sports, which doesn’t have the brand recall of an LV, looks to have hit upon a fascinating formula to build its brand and at the same time make inroads into the Indian apparel market. It wants to use the springboard that being a team India partner provides to launch itself into the minds of the Indian consumer. Their promise of an affordable range of officially licensed Team India apparel and accessories might be the magic key that unlocks the potential of cricket merchandising.
A home grown brand seems to be rewriting the playbook that a venerable brand like Nike couldn’t quite decipher. For a young brand, it’s a bold marketing move and an ambitious gamble.
But to label it an ambush ignoring the basics of an established process smacks of partisan whining and a case of sour grapes by the opponents.