On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will take a final call on whether the media rights for the Indian Premier League should be done through an e-auction or if BCCI can continue its current tender auction process to attract bids. Given that the earlier tender auctions for sponsorship for the Indian cricket team and IPL teams, which allows the winner to feature its logo on the jerseys and practice travel kits of Indian men’s, women’s, under-19 and ‘A’ teams, fetched windfall increases of 432% and 554% in sponsorship amounts, both BCCI and media companies are waiting with bated breath on the outcome. The IPL media rights auction is slated to take place on August 28.

In an e-auction, the participating bidders can successively place increased online bids until the conclusion of the timed bidding process as against a single sealed quotation for a bid in the current tendering process. The sealed quotation of all bidders will be opened on a preset day (August 28) and the highest bidder wins, just as would highest bidder on the concluding round of an e-auction.

Both methods have their merits and de-merits but there is a feeling that e-auction at this juncture will take away any surprises from the bidding process when deep-pocketed new comers are preparing to bid for IPL media rights for the first time. In the last two years, new comers like Chinese mobile phone companies Oppo and Vivo, whose incessant advertising you see during matches, put up what were considered outlandish bids to gain team sponsorships. By doing so, they have taken the value of Indian cricket to a new level.

There is a similar anticipation of out-of-whack bids for IPL’s media rights, especially the digital rights. That’s because there are two new, deep pocketed players Amazon and Reliance who are scouting for anchor content for their respective digital channels Amazon Prime and Jio. This far, Star TV and Sony controlled all the cricket media rights amongst them.

The media rights (both broadcast and digital) for the Indian cricket team is with Star TV until 2018, while Sony has had IPL’s broadcast rights for a decade starting 2008. In 2015, seeing the growing opportunity in the digital space, BCCI further floated a 3 year tender for digital rights which was won by a company promoted by Star TV. Hotstar, the online destination for Star TV, was primarily built on the back of IPL content.

The Supreme Court petition was filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who contended that e-auction for media rights should be done to ensure transparency, as it was being given away for the next five years. BCCI contends that the auction process has been approved by Vinod Rai, the former head of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and current head of the apex court appointed four member Committee of Auditors (CoA) which looks into the cricket body’s affairs. In its hearing last month, the SC wanted proof that the auction process has indeed been approved by the CoA and wanted BCCI to bring along the CoA’s counsel to say exactly that. The SC will then take its final call.

The last date for buying tender forms, which will give the winner media rights to the Indian Premier league for a five year period from 2018-2022, is August 24. So far, 20 firms that have bought the forms include Reliance Jio Digital, Star India Services, Amazon Seller Services, Sony Pictures, Times Internet, Twitter Inc., Facebook among others. Reliance’s media arm Network 18 hasn’t bought one yet, perhaps indicating that the group is not interested in broadcast rights.

The rights on offer are: broadcast/television rights for the Indian sub-continent, digital rights for the Indian sub-continent and rights for the rest of the world. In the last round, Sony bid Rs 8200 crore for IPL’s media rights for ten years and the digital rights, were worth Rs 302.2 crore for three years until 2017. A top BCCI official, who did not wish to named, says their internal estimates for IPL rights could be worth around Rs 16,000 - 18,000 crore for the next five years.

Given that data is easily available on the quantum of television advertising, the broadcast rights auction is expected to have a studied approach from bidders. It is the digital auction that is expected to pull in the surprises, as the country has seen an explosion of data usage since the launch of Jio. If the SC allows tender auctions this time, we will have a chance to discover what a whole new crop of bidders privately value the digital rights. In an e-auction, we may never know what value, say a Jio, has in its mind today.

The SC verdict involves cricket, India’s best past time and the dynamics behind India’s growing digital/data business. It’s your guess how important it is going to be.