Star India, Navjot Singh Sidhu spar over Rs 22.5-cr commentary deal

The channel has alleged that despite being bound by an exclusivity clause, commentator Navjot Singh Sidhu breached his contract by rendering his services to a rival channel for IPL 2014; the High Court has appointed a Mumbai-based advocate as arbitrator to settle the dispute

A three-year commercial deal, to the tune of Rs 22.5 crore, between cricket commentator Navjot Singh Sidhu and television major Star India, has gone into arbitration, following allegations that the former India opener had breached a contractual agreement of ‘exclusivity’ by working for Star India’s competitor.

Navjot Singh Sidhu
Navjot Singh Sidhu

Accepting Star India’s plea that arbitration proceedings be initiated for breach of contract so that it can seek damages and a refund of fees paid to Sidhu, Bombay High Court Justice R D Dhanuka appointed Mumbai-based Advocate Zal Andhyarujina as the sole arbitrator.

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Navjot Singh Sidhu
Navjot Singh Sidhu

mid-day has access to the order, which was issued on July 22 this year. The arbitrator held the first meeting between the parties involved recently and issued directions to facilitate further proceedings.

Terms
As per the three-year deal, beginning from May 2013, Sidhu, who was a sitting Member of Parliament from the BJP at the time, had agreed to be bound by an exclusivity obligation, under which, amongst other points, he had agreed to work exclusively for Star (Sports) India and not any third party (including other third-party broadcasters).

The deal said that Sidhu would provide not less than 150 days of commentary for the first calendar year of the agreement and not less than 180 days for the subsequent calendar years. Further, Star India agreed to pay him the yearly fees in advance, within six months of execution of the agreement, and paid him advance fees of Rs 8 crore.

Star India alleged that despite making timely payments of the advance fees, Sidhu failed to meet his commitments because he provided only 41 days of commentary and completely disregarded the exclusivity commitment by agreeing to work for its competitor, Sony, for IPL 2014, in contravention of his obligation.

Sources said that Star India had invested its time, money and man-hours of its various personnel in order to build Sidhu as its principal Hindi commentator for Star Sports. They said the premium for his fees was largely derived from the fact that he would be exclusive to the channel.

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According to the HC’s order, the applicant (Star India) vide their advocate’s notice dated March 18, 2015, invoked the arbitration agreement and suggested the name of a retired judge of the Supreme Court to act as the sole arbitrator.

The respondent (Sidhu), however, did not respond to the said notice and even did not suggest any name, the order said. The order further said that an arbitration agreement existed between the parties.

“Since the respondent has not nominated any arbitrator within 30 days from the date of receipt of the said notice, present application filed under section 11(6) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act is maintainable,” it said, requesting the arbitrator to dispose of the proceedings expeditiously. Sidhu did not respond to repeated calls and text messages. Star India did not comment on the issue.

Deal that went kaput
>> Sidhu was expected to provide commentary services with effect from May 1, 2013. He had agreed to provide not less than 150 days of commentary for the first calendar year of the agreement and not less than 180 days for the subsequent calendar years.

>> Star India paid Sidhu Rs 8 crore in advance, as was agreed between them, within 6 months of execution of the agreement. As a condition for the fees agreed to be paid by Star India, Sidhu had agreed to be bound by an exclusivity obligation under which he agreed to work exclusively for Star India and not any third party (including other third-party broadcasters).

>> Star India told the High Court that Sidhu had failed to meet his commitments by providing only 41 days of commentary despite commentary days being slotted by Star India for him, and completely disregarded the exclusivity commitment to Star India by agreeing to work for Sony, a competitor of Star India, for IPL 2014.

>> Star India claimed that it had invested its time, money and man-hours of its various personnel in order to build Sidhu as the principal Hindi commentator for Star Sports and that the channel should be allowed to recover damages along with a refund of all fees paid to Sidhu so far.

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