Saturday, March 1, 2014

Corporate poker

An excerpt from my second novel, Powerplay.

Vivek took in the magnificent view of the grounds in the stadium, as he sat waiting for everyone to assemble in the swanky conference room he had been ushered in to a few minutes ago. Harsh sat beside him, shooting off mails to his Madrid office. Vivek could sense he was tense. For his own part, he felt a slight tingle of anxiety running in his veins. There had been no indication of anything, whatsoever, from Krishnan or anyone else from the team, but just a taciturn message asking them to meet. Up until then, he had had to field calls and follow-up on e-mails from their global partnerships group, that was pushing him for sponsorship deals.
As Krishnan walked in with his array of C-level executives, Vivek noted that his demeanour was as austere as before. A quick introduction around the room was the only time spent in trivial formalities. “Tell me Harsh, why the sudden interest in sports? Your background shows anything but,” he began without preamble. There was nothing like a planned interrogation to get the adrenalin pumping for Vivek. His mind sprung to complete attention.
“I have a number of retail ventures. I see a scenario where the sports market is ripe to take a cue from the retail industry,” Harsh responded candidly, leaning into the plush chair; his attitude remarkably nonchalant. “Owning a sports team will allow me to diversify a bit and also push into the entertainment peripherals, which is a natural fit for my . . .” he carried on verbalising his justification, as Vivek enthusiastically nodded in agreement. “And frankly I am a huge cricket buff. I’ve wanted to own a franchise for a long time. The timing is right. And I like the game of high risks.”
“That’s all very good, but frankly I fail to see the compelling reason.” Krishnan furthered his grilling process.
“Allow me,” Vivek interjected, the compulsive pitcher that he was. “Retail is all about segmentation, targeted marketing, statistics, analysis, and low margins. I see the cricket franchises all fat and happy with their star players and crowd frenzy, with no interest in doing more than the bare minimum to sell their tickets. No offense, gentlemen. I am certain that we could completely change the way sports teams are run by using our advanced analytics capabilities. It’ll allow us to not only avoid overpaying for talent, but also to make sure we get the highest possible price for each ticket that we sell.”
“But from beach towels to cricket, it’s more than diversification.” Krishnan didn’t seem in a mood to yield. Or reveal, for that matter.
Harsh chuckled. Everyone in the room did, too. Vivek suspected the beach towel story would be with Harsh for as long as he shall live. It was how he had made his first dime, after all.
“Here’s the problem,” Krishnan argued. “That price tag isn’t going down well with anyone here. Thirteen hundred is far lower than what other teams are selling for. We could talk about a stake for you instead of complete ownership, if you’re open to it.”
Far lower than other teams, yes, but, it’s more than what your team is worth, buddy. Did no one tell you that the going rate for your team isn’t a penny above twelve hundred? Vivek mentally ticked him off, as Harsh responded to this. “In the interest of saving everyone’s time and being completely transparent, let me just say that it’s not something I’m interested in. It’s all or nothing.”
There was silence in the room. From behind the glass, while taking a sip of water, Vivek’s gaze fixated firmly on Krishnan, assessing if he really needed any further convincing.
More heated-discussions later, Krishnan wound his way to the subject of sponsorships, again. Vivek knew without a doubt that Harsh was not even a bit interested in sponsoring players’ underwears or shoes or socks or whatever the hell they were trying to get funding for. And he knew Krishnan had a fair idea of that. So then, why was he continuing this ridiculous streak of pushing them for sponsorships? Vivek studied him: his face was expressionless; his tone, tedious; and his frame, flaccid. But his eyes shone with trickery. Gotcha!

Vivek let the corporate poker kick-start. Things would get messy from now on; he knew that much from experience. But what he hadn’t counted on was how ungentlemanly the discussion pertaining to the gentleman’s game was going to get. 

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