Are we condemned to a camel and tent story all over again, with the International Cricket Council (ICC) camel bent on sneaking into Indian cricket’s lucrative television rights tent? It would seem so, as a telling remark about rights to the World Test Championship (WTC) final indicates.
Unfortunately for Indian cricket, the shot at WTC media rights is being set in motion at a time when neither the lame duck BCCI nor the clueless Committee of Administrators (CoA) have the gumption to attempt a push back.
It is an open secret that most of cricket’s national boards are surviving on a financial ventilator. They are able to pay their cricketers and meet normal administrative expenses only by dipping into their share of ICC’s revenue from the three cricketing properties: World Cup, World T20 Championship and Champions Trophy.
The ICC, meanwhile, has gone about making equitable distribution of revenue seem like a virtue, without quite insisting on a corresponding responsibility to generate equitable financial resources. This has put India, which generates about 80 per cent of the revenues for ICC on one side of the divide and others on the other.
Nothing brought this out in a more stark manner than last year’s Dubai ICC board meeting when the new financial model that struck down BCCI’s proposed share of revenue from 570 million dollars to 293 million dollars was passed by 9 votes to India’s 1. India became isolated after their lone supporter Zimbabwe ditched them following ICC’s offer to pay off their loans worth 19 million dollars, according to media reports in Hindustan Times and Indian Express.
To understand the antipathy of ICC and some nations, a brief understanding of ICC history is mandatory.
Since inception of the erstwhile Imperial Cricket Council (later renamed International Cricket Council), England and Australia ruled the roost owing to the veto status they conferred on themselves. Other nations simply had to do as they were ordered. India winning the World Cup in 1983 and the subsequent garnering of riches through substantial sponsorship changed the status quo.
BCCI demolished the concept of veto powers and also moved the World Cup out of England for the first time, in 1987. NKP Salve, Jagmohan Dalmiya and IS Bindra played key roles in these two momentous steps.
The opening of the Indian economy and arrival of satellite television further strengthened BCCI’s hands by bringing in massive sums of sponsorship and television rights. (The late Tiger Pataudi in a lecture cheekily remarked that if ICC was the voice of cricket, BCCI was the invoice of cricket!) India, through money power and shrewd cobbling of Asian and other nations’ unity, including that of newly re-admitted South Africa, made the running of the game more democratic.
This was not to universal liking within the cricket fold. Things came to such a pass that in 1992, erstwhile ICC chairman Colin Cowdrey refused to put the staging of the 1996 World Cup to vote unless England were guaranteed the hosting of the 1999 edition.
Those were the days when telecast and other rights of these events belonged to the host country. ICC had only the Champions Trophy rights to claim as its own. Even that was started by Jagmohan Dalmiya after he took over as ICC president in 1997.
He had at that time remarked that the international body had no money to pay even for air tickets. Thus, in a bid to shore up ICC’s revenues he launched the 50-over ICC knock-out tournament (later renamed Champions Trophy. It will be converted to World T20 Championship from 2021 edition).
The former veto powers’ heartburn increased when ICC’s headquarters was shifted from London to Asia (Dubai). While tax havens elsewhere could have provided similar concessions, Dubai was chosen as it was closer to India, where bulk of ICC’s revenue came from.
Later, when N Srinvasan took over as ICC chairman he conceptualised the Big Three formula wherein major-draw countries would play more often against each other. BCCI which generated maximum revenue for ICC’s properties would also be entitled to get a greater share of that money. The other countries too stood to gain and were assured a bigger sum than what they were used to, but in terms of proportion BCCI’s take home of 21 per cent of the revenues would have been substantial.
Pakistan and South Africa were miffed that they were not part of the Big Three while others believed that their fortunes would be better only if they got an opportunity to play as often as possible against India.
Cash-strapped New Zealand, for example, made more than 35 million dollars from a series against visiting India. Australia openly admitted that a visit by India meant a bonanza for the country: “We have a bumper year when India tours because the value of Indian broadcasts rights are higher than for any other tour,” James Sutherland, chief executive officer of CA told The Australian newspaper.
Australian writer Gideon Haig reasoned that “The logic of the ‘Big Three’ push is that you kind of bring in India, inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”
But all these plans changed swiftly when Srinivasan was sidelined after the IPL betting scandal involving his son-in-law. The ICC seized the opportunity to make a pronounced shift in revenue sharing. It latched on to Srinivasan’s projection of the 2015 to 2023 telecast rights, but kept India out of the crucial committee that changed the revenue sharing formula. This led to reducing India’s share by around 200 million dollars and apportioning the same to other countries.
When these ratified changes were put to vote at the executive committee — where India had a seat — they were outvoted 9-1. India could have applied pressure by threatening to pull out of the 2017 Champions Trophy but the Committee of Administrators was not up to it. It believed India should take the massive hit rather than rock the boat.
The CoA was happy that India had other avenues to raise money. In one recent interview to a national newspaper the CoA chief was quoted as asking what was two or three million dollars here and there for India!
But the ICC is a different beast. Once it had grasped the mind-set of CoA and a moth-eaten BCCI, it was only a matter of time before it went for the kill. The timing was important as the changes would have to be put in place before BCCI was back on its feet.
The ICC was aware that BCCI’s domination of world cricket stemmed from its massive earnings from telecast rights. Its IPL television deal was worth Rs 16,347.5 crore; but this had to be shared with eight franchises. Thus its primary income source was the telecast rights from bilateral series at home. Star TV bagged these rights, which was valid till 2022, for a whopping Rs 6138.1 crore.
To put this in perspective, Australia cancelled a home series against Bangladesh scheduled for August- September stating that it was not commercially viable. On the other hand, any country visiting India or hosting them would be in for a financial bonanza.
ICC realising that the mother lode was Indian telecast right sought a scheme that could plug into it. By design or otherwise, ICC accessing those rights would leave India and Indian cricket that much the poorer.
This is where the World Test Championship fit so many bills:
1. Because it is a multi-nation event it could circumvent Indian government’s ban on playing Pakistanis on a bilateral basis. Although the FTP will not feature India-Pakistan series in the 2021 and 2023 cycles, they could still clash if the teams made the final. Of course beyond 2023 this series could be sneaked past the Indian government’s ban by claiming that it was part of a multi-nation clash.
2. ICC says that it will hold the telecast rights to the 2021 WTC and 2023 finals, irrespective of where they are played. Once this principle is agreed to, capturing telecast rights to India’s home series played under the garb of WTC or ODI league is only a step away. If put to vote all the other countries will joyfully seize the opportunity to carve up India’s telecast revenue.
It would be pertinent to point out that ICC has planned a multi-nation event almost every year with two events being planned for 2021 and 2023 (World Cup 2019 and 2023; World T20 in 2020 and 2021; WTC cycle — final in 2021 and 2023).
3. Bilateral series not within the ambit of WTC or even ODI league (which is to be made qualification for World Cup) will fall under the category of friendly matches. Without nuance, context or meaning it is commonsense that they will fetch far lower returns for rights.
Lest anyone believes that all countries will be similarly affected, it would be prudent to point out that Test or even ODI series among Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Ireland, Pakistan, West Indies and New Zealand would fetch little or no television revenue. So it makes no difference whatsoever for them if ICC takes all their telecast rights. In fact they stand to gain handsomely if in exchange they are given a steady stream of money from India’s telecast rights!
Last year South Africa was forced to postpone launch of its T20 league as it could not even find a sponsor or enough local folks interested in owning a franchise (GMR, Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta have bought a franchise apiece).
As far as Pakistan are concerned, the combined salaries of an entire Pakistan Super League team including players, coach and support staff is less than what Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan gets from SunRisers Hyderabad. And even that is only a third of what Virat Kohli or MS Dhoni pocket from IPL!
Why, till recently ICC could not afford to foot the bill for DRS in all Tests until India came on board.
In short, the funds that flow from telecast deals when countries play against India is humongous. Those that are fortunate, Australia and England, squeeze in as many series or matches as possible against India.
The forthcoming Indian tour of England is a case in point. In the past England would host India for only three Tests and even those at a time of their liking. But this year they are laying out a red carpet, hosting India for 3 T20Is, 3 ODIs and 5 Tests! And all these in the second half of English summer when the weather could be expected to be to India’s liking!
Not only would England make a massive killing with telecast rights, every single seat for all matches would be sold out in advance while most branding spots would be grabbed by India-based companies!
India, thus, is the golden goose for ICC. Once the principle of telecast rights to World Test Championship is signed away, it is only a matter of time before ICC grabs the rights to all of India’s Tests and ODIs that have ‘context’ and ‘meaning’, to paraphrase ICC CEO Dave Richards’.
Richards, as soon as the WTC and ODI league cycles were announced, congratulated the members for having provided “clarity, certainty and most importantly context around bilateral cricket...” and added that “members have found a genuine solution that gives fans around the world the chance to engage regularly with international cricket that has meaning....”
He could not have put it in simpler terms.
Although the ICC media release said the FTP contained “sufficient time for Members to schedule their preferred bilateral content outside of World Test Championship and ODI league,” what would these become bereft of ‘context’ and ‘meaning’. And would broadcast channels continue to pay top dollar for India rights for matches without ‘context’ and ‘meaning’ when they could buy far more ‘meaningful’ clashes from ICC?
The onus is thus squarely on those running BCCI at this most difficult time. They have a responsibility to protect its long term interests.
The board spends crores of rupees to build cricket infrastructure all over the country. In fact almost all BCCI-affiliated units have an ongoing infrastructure development scheme running. The more progressive ones, like the Karnataka State Cricket Association, are putting up state-of-the-art facilities in every nook and corner of the state.
Some of them, in Hubbali, Mysore, Shimoga, Belguam are as good as any in the country and these have given a tremendous fillip to promoting the game in the hinterland.
In Australia, England and elsewhere local governments fund and create cricket infrastructure, unlike in India where the BCCI has to go it alone. Thus an ever-increasing flow of funds is required, not just for creation of infrastructure but also to develop the game through grassroots level coaching, tournaments and talent spotting.
BCCI, in fact, conducts around 1000 matches a year – far more than any other national board. It has the most elaborate age-group tournament structure which provides tremendous exposure to real-time match situations to hundreds of youngsters.
These apart, BCCI runs a matchless pension scheme for its past cricketers right from Ranji Trophy level. Then there are other welfare schemes for first class and international players, besides one-time purse, benevolent funds, etc. This ensures that no Indian cricketer lives in penury unlike a few cricketers from England, Australia, South Africa and West Indies.
Frankly, many nations, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe do not even have a thriving domestic first-class structure. Even Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have just half a dozen teams at the most in their domestic set-up, unlike India, where 30 teams compete in an elaborate tournament year after year.
The same system is followed at the Under-23, 19 and 16 levels with international competitions with India 'A' and India Under-19 teams thrown in. All these cost BCCI thousands of crores of rupees every year. It is for this reason that it is paramount for BCCI’s care-takers to ensure that India’s control over its revenue streams is not compromised.
Other nations can make do with paltry funds because their set up and corresponding outflow is such. Not BCCI. Without huge sums of money it will simply shrink and become irrelevant.
Unless BCCI can come up with lots of checks and balances to protect its revenue streams, threats from events like WTC would be very real. It would be better for the current set of BCCI handlers to err on the side of caution rather than be taken for a ride yet again. The memory of Big Three fiasco and the gang up that led to an altered revenue sharing is too fresh not to warrant that.
Hopefully it’s not too late. Espncricinfo which alerted that ICC would “retain all media rights to the WTC final in 2021 and 2023” also pointed out that the 2021 WTC final “would be the first Test to be played under such conditions, with Test rights traditionally held by the host country.” What provides hope for Indian cricket’s avid followers is it’s emphasise: “But these details are not yet final, and the matter is expected to be discussed at the ICC annual conference.”
That conference is to be held in Dublin in July and it is absolutely vital that the CoA sends a representative who understands complex issues to deal with ICC.
The last time the CoA sent its man to the ICC meeting India lost 200 million dollars of its share of revenue. It would be a pity if the CoA, CEO and what’s left of the once powerful BCCI ended up getting outsmarted all over again.