Cricket now more than just a sport, it is big business

Business of sport: Cricket has evolved from a strictly amateur game into a multibillion-dollar industry that is starting to grow exponentially as the developing world embraces the sport.

Cricket has evolved from a strictly amateur game into a multibillion-dollar industry that is starting to grow exponentially as the developing world embraces the sport.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has an annual turnover of more than £100 million (Dh560.7m). But, according to the brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance, the Indian Premier League (IPL) had a value of US$2.99 billion last year.

Although cricket may have been invented in England, from a purely business perspective, India is now starting to dominate the sport, with Indian cricket expected to overshadow the next Ashes.

"India has become as commercially important to us as the Ashes. While the Ashes are important for us, they are rivalled by hosting a series against India, which we will do next summer," says Andrew Walpole, the head of corporate communications at the ECB.

He adds that, as television revenues generate 70 to 75 per cent of the ECB's income, it must look to the largest viewing numbers for future growth.

"The Indian TV market is huge. Increasingly, the most important TV market for us is Asia," says Mr Walpole.

Indian cricket is also making inroads into new media. Three years ago, the IPL claimed to be the first sporting event broadcast live via the internet video service YouTube.

International sports equipment manufacturers such as Slazenger are now starting to cash in on the growth of developing markets.

"India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are of great importance to us for the manufacture and continuous development of the Slazenger range, with these countries contributing heavily to the global cricket product range for both equipment and clothing," says Alex Mace, Slazenger's cricket product manager.

Although there are no official figures, Slazenger estimates the UK retail cricket equipment market is worth about £35m a year and that of India about £30m, despite the fact Indians buy far more cricketing gear than the English.

The cricket equipment makers are discovering that, while the markets of the developing world may be huge, consumers' individual spending power can be limited.

"The challenge with the subcontinent countries is the vastly reduced average price of product sold due to the relative economy and relative costs of commodities in those countries," says Mr Mace.

"The challenge for Slazenger is creating the right product at the right price to penetrate into these markets and to then start introducing better quality and technological product as we do in the UK, Australia and South Africa."

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the proportion of Asia's population that could be defined as middle class grew from 26 per cent to 56 per cent between 1999 and 2008.

In countries such as India and Pakistan, cricket has grown largely as a street game played by the very poor. This meant, although talent-spotters could cream off great cricketing potential from among so many young players, expenditure on the sport was limited to a privileged minority.

Although the ADB's definition of a middle class - those earning the equivalent of $2.20 a day - is very low by western standards, this sector of society is growing rapidly.

However, the cricketing world is increasingly concerned at the level of corruption now emerging in some developing markets such as India and Pakistan.

This comes in the wake of a fresh scandal from the Indian Cricket League. Three players, including the Test player Sree Sreesanth, have been arrested by the Mumbai police for alleged spot fixing.

This refers to illegal activity in a sport where part of the game is fixed. In cricket, this could include something as minor as timing a no-ball or wide delivery.

The concept is not new to Asian cricket. Pakistan's spot-fixing scandal of 2010 involved members of the national cricket team who were convicted of taking bribes from a bookmaker to deliberately play badly at certain points in a Test match.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) subsequently banned three players including Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir from playing for five to 10 years.

The three cricketers and a bookmaker were all subsequently given custodial sentences ranging from six to 32 months by a London court. The cricketers' subsequent appeals were dismissed.

The case was tried in London because the original investigation had been conducted by detectives from the UK's Scotland Yard following an exclusive report in the now defunct British newspaper the News of the World. The IPL has also been the subject of allegations of spot fixing and money laundering.

But the sport as a whole is reluctant to throw stones at specific countries in the belief that every cricketing board should be vigilant for signs of corruption.

"Corruption is something all cricketing boards are having to grapple with," says Mr Walpole.

He adds the ECB is the first board to set up a domestic anti-corruption unit and that it also works very closely with the ICC.

Although some cricket enthusiasts like to look back to golden era when cricket was played by rosy-cheeked young gentleman on English village greens, the sport's early years in the 1800s were also dogged by match fixing and attracted raffish, hard-drinking gambling crowds that also flocked to prize-fighting bouts.

The equivalent of millions of pounds in today's money was said to have often changed hands in side bets during the course of a single afternoon's cricket.

But, just as the sport managed largely to grow away from its shady roots in 19th century Britain, cricket businesses hope it will now start to do the same on an international scale, so creating a truly global 21st century industry.