The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) Future Tours Programme (FTP) proposal is a brilliant exercise in tightrope walking. The habitual last-minute adjustments notwithstanding, it has to be pointed out that the board has actually struck a superb balance which has addressed the interests of broadcasters, member associations, sponsors, players and fans alike. And that’s the real beauty of this proposal.
Additionally, whether BCCI acknowledges it or not, the proposal is virtually an endorsement of former president N Srinivasan’s formula for forging unity among ‘big three nations’ in a bid to maximise television revenues by playing each another more frequently. Except in this case, it is an unofficial ‘Big Four’ club — India, Australia, South Africa and England — and there is no global revenue to squabble over.
Importantly, any television channel winning the rights for BCCI’s next cycle of matches (2019 - 2023; Star Sports’ current broadcast rights end in March 2018) will be assured of more matches, not just in terms of quantity but also quality as 50 per cent of the matches are to be played against cricketing heavyweights Australia, England and South Africa.
The SGM has resolved that India would be playing 81 out of their 158 matches at home as against the earlier 51 out of 127 matches.
Interestingly, the increase in number of matches does not correlate with an increase in number of playing days. On the other hand the number of playing days in the four-year cycle is reduced to 306 from the earlier 390, according to BCCI acting Anirudh Chaudhry.
In the current cycle, the Indian team plays around 97 days of international cricket each year. This average will be brought down to about 75 days. However, with home matches increased by 30 games, the BCCI broadcast rights holder will get better bang for the buck.
Significantly, staging associations will also benefit immensely with the jugglery.
Obviously, this formula of more matches but less match days could mean only one thing: that the number of limited-overs games would increase in relation to Tests. Logically there would be many more Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) as these would be a shot in the arm for peak-time television viewing. T20Is will also attract mega sponsors and massive spectator interest.
This would be a great boost for host associations as they could rake in Rs 5 crore per match from in-stadia advertising and gate collections. This amount would be besides their share of television revenue. BCCI also apportions a sum of Rs 1.5 crore to each staging association.
Interestingly, Test cricket too holds great attraction for associations. They could hope to get around Rs 3 crore from in-stadia advertising and plenty more from their share of BCCI revenue. But the greater attraction, especially for non-permanent centres, is that they would be accommodated in the Working Committee for the next two years and thereby have a say in BCCI’s deliberations. It is for this privilege that even small associations are actively vying for staging Tests.
Incidentally, the ICC Champions Trophy, which India would be hosting in 2021, falls outside the purview of the above calculations for match days, matches, revenue, etc.
Another welcome move by the BCCI is its identifying the ideal calendar for Indian cricket. In a bid to accommodate southern hemisphere cricketing nations Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, BCCI has indicated that India would host home matches in the months of October, November, February and March. This leaves the months of December and January for the southern hemisphere nations to play host to India.
The BCCI thus ensures that the primary season months of October, November and even December, if need be, could be utilised for home matches. This would make sure that there is a clear break after the IPL months of April and May and thus there would be a renewed interest in the game for the new season.
This would also ensure that the players get sufficient rest ahead of the new season. Their main grouse was the overlapping of seasons and that they were being provided very little time to prepare for challenging tours. This clear-cut compartmentalisation of tours and seasons gives players a greater opportunity to pace themselves.
Thus, every way this FTP proposal is seen it is a win-win situation. Players get fewer playing days, defined season but more matches while broadcasters get more nuanced cricket for Tests, ODIs and T20Is. This will ensure more eye-balls and hence greater revenue from ensuing advertisements. Besides, staging associations will get their due in terms of right to host matches and a place in the working committee even as the BCCI retains control over its television rights and international cricket. Most importantly, the average fan gets to see more of his/her heroes, thanks to the expansion of the T20I schedule.
Hopefully the Committee of Administrators will also see the FTP proposals in positive vein. Else, there’s always CLR James’ classic line to fall back on: What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?