Cash for cricketers: Experts raise questions on key feature of Ashneer Grover's new app
Last week, Grover's Third Unicorn launched fantasy cricket app Crickpe with a unique proposition—cash rewards for players. This may not breach any legal provision but it falls under a grey area, say legal experts.
Friday March 31, 2023,
6 min Read
What legal experts say:
While the cash rewards feature may not breach any legal provision, it falls under a grey area.
Unaffiliated persons paying cricketers on an ad-hoc basis could raise concerns.
Report by Swetha Kannan and Vidhya Sivaramakrishnan
Ashneer Grover’s recently launched fantasy cricket platform Crickpe claims to have had more than 200,000 installs in just 48 hours. While the platform may have generated a lot of buzz among cricket fans, legal experts and those who’ve been associated with the sport are concerned about a particular feature of the app–allowing users to offer cash rewards to cricketers.
Run by Grover’s new venture Third Unicorn, the platform allows users to create virtual teams and participate in contests to earn points and cash prizes—like any other fantasy sports platform. The cash rewards-for-cricketers feature, though, raised quite a few eyebrows since its launch last week—ahead of IPL 2023 that begins today.
Users can give cash rewards to real-life cricketers as per their discretion, subject to a maximum of Rs 1 lakh per cricketer in a financial year.
While this may not breach any legal provision, legal experts tell YourStory it falls under a grey area.
Aditya Shivkumar, Co-founder of legaltech platform Resolve Disputes Online, and an expert in sports law, thinks cash rewards to cricketers by the public can open the proverbial Pandora’s box.
“Crickpe is a combination of fantasy sports with a tinge of incentivising the cricketer on the field to perform. I will position this product in the grey area of the law,” he tells YourStory.
Last year, the Supreme Court had upheld the format of Dream11, a fantasy sports platform, as a game of skill, meaning that fantasy sports do not fall within the ambit of sports betting.
Shivkumar says fantasy apps are fine as long as they play within a certain boundary, beyond which one crosses the 'Lakshman Rekha'. “If a cricketer gets extra money through this business model, it sets a very dangerous precedent because it provides a breeding ground for betting.”
Betting controversies in cricket aren’t new. In fact, in 2013, two teams were suspended from the Indian Premier League for two years after their alleged involvement in betting.
Therefore, any external rewards or payouts to players must be dealt with clarity and transparency, say experts.
Leading sports and gaming lawyer Vidushpat Singhania, also Managing Partner of Krida Legal, a legal boutique firm specialising in sports law and legal practices, concurs that Crickpe’s cash rewards feature falls under the grey area.
“Under statutory law, there’s no issue, but under their respective anti-corruption laws, both of the ICC (International Cricket Council) and BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), this may be an issue,” he says.
As there are no laws governing the involvement of actual players in fantasy sports, is this a possible loophole that needs to be plugged?
“The BCCI has to decide if they are going to accept it as a corrupt activity or not," says Singhania. "At this point of time, anti-corruption code says no bookmaker or punter can approach players. Having said that, fantasy sports does not fall within the ambit of sports betting and neither will a company offering fantasy sports be considered as a bookie."
Shivani Jha, Director, EWA Centre (Esports Players Welfare Association), says BCCI is a registered society and gifts to players and BCCI have to be transparent. “The app’s current version already has this provision. Also, currently, there is only one court-approved online fantasy model. So, to avoid the grey, the playing format should ideally adapt to it,” she says.
On the face of it, the amount—Rs 1 lakh per financial year—doesn’t sound that big for players making crores in matches and endorsement deals. But in a recent interview with Inc42, Grover outlines an ambitious future. “It is for the first time a cricketer will believe that I am being paid more money for actually doing good work. Over time, this prize money can become much higher than the ads money.”
“For instance, if Virat Kohli wins the player of the match award, he gets something like Rs 20 lakh. But with Crickpe, he could even earn Rs 20 crore from the same match,” he told Inc42.
Some legal experts believe only entities within the system should be allowed to incentivise cricketers—such as the BCCI, sponsors or advertisers. Unaffiliated persons paying cricketers on an ad-hoc basis could raise concerns, they say.
Queries sent to Crickpe did not elicit any response until the publication of this story.
Crickpe’s cash rewards
According to the terms and conditions listed on Crickpe’s mobile app, cash rewards are subject to taxes and processing fees of 10% if real-life cricketers accept them. This is currently set to 0% till June 2023 for promotional purposes.
The payouts to actual cricketers can be made from the users accounts/wallets maintained with Crickpe based on the “fantasy points earned them on the Crickpe platform on the basis of actual score in the cricket match or discretionary cash reward to cricketers by the users”.
In case the cricketers don’t accept the cash rewards within 90 days, Crickpe holds the right to decide if that amount should be given as cashbacks to the users or give it to the winners of the relevant contests or use it in any other manner including treating it as its income.
Concerns and questions
Neeraj Kumar, a retired IPS officer, who was the chief of the BCCI’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit from 2015 to 2018, calls the scheme of public rewarding cricketers “undesirable”.
Kumar, who is also the author of the book A Cop in Cricket that gives an insight into corruption in cricket, asks, “Why should cricketers be rewarded by the public? Don’t they get paid enough by the board, endorsements, and their IPL franchises?”
The former anti-corruption unit chief also says, “If the board examines this proposed scheme, I am sure it will try to discourage players from getting involved with it.”
Given that there are no specific rules concerning online games and fantasy leagues, Kumar suggests that new developments around the game must be studied in detail and, if need be, the anti-corruption code must be amended to cater to these developments.
The fantasy sports market in India is estimated to grow from Rs 34,600 crore in FY21 to Rs 1,65,000 crore by FY25, at a CAGR of 38%, according to the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports. And cricket forms a large part of the market.
From a marketing perspective, will the cash feature help Crickpe differentiate itself?
The proposition of rewarding cricketers may alone not be a significant differentiator, says Raghu Viswanath, a brand expert and founder of Vertebrand Management Consulting.
“At the time of launch, it may perhaps seem like a differentiation. But it will not give sustainable competitive advantage in the long run—in a market that’s crowded, with very little to differentiate one from another,” he says.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta