BCCI faces challenge as economy of cricket is readying itself to be rejigged
Forget the two-tier structure. That is gone and even if it was not, it was never going to be the panacea to whatever ills there are hounding Test cricket.
The idea had its merits sure, but the danger of weaker teams in a lower division not really improving but instead bouncing between the two divisions is real.
How often, for instance, do we see promoted teams in English football’s Premier League struggle to stay up, go down and yo-yo between divisions for years?
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And equally, there are other ideas that have their own merits. To name just one: a two-year league, with more teams in a single division, and a play-off at the end can add context, too.
Increasingly, however, that debate looks like a red herring, a bit of smoke and mirrors, behind which emerged the major development from last week’s International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting.
Several boards, with those of Australia, England, Pakistan and South Africa leading the way, are working towards setting up what amounts to a buffer against cricket’s collective reliance on the Indian market for sustenance.
Since the early 2000s, this is the equation that the sport has known. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), because of the vast size of the Indian market, is the game’s economic powerhouse.
It has used that stature to run the game as it sees fit. Members depend on the BCCI’s goodwill and mood.
If relations are fine, they will tour enough to make you rich. If not, they will threaten to cancel a tour, cut it short, or not play altogether and that spells financial ruin. It is a dangerously simple equation.
The solution for all others has always been to find other ways of creating revenue streams.
Compelled in part by the worries of Cricket Australia and the England and Wales Cricket Board that a shrinking Indian broadcast market means their next television rights deals will not be as lucrative as they thought, the idea of a collective pool is whirring into action.
The premise is that whichever board joins this collective foregoes the broadcast money it earns from selling its bilateral rights to overseas markets into this pool while keeping the money from the home rights.
That pool will then be sold as one bundle to a broadcaster and the proceeds divvied up between individual members. This upends the existing equation.
Currently two major Indian broadcasters can pick up overseas rights and with 10 sets of bilateral rights available, they can pick and choose which ones they want at the price they want it. Those they do not struggle with the consequences. If, however, this collective pools its rights and sells them as one bundle the power falls to the rights holders.
To purchase the rights of an India tour to Australia, for example, the broadcaster will have to buy a New Zealand-South Africa series, too.
Smaller boards then have a financial payout that is not purely dependent on an India series. In theory, and at its simplest, Sri Lanka Cricket could earn money from an Ashes series if it joins.
And keep in mind, ultimately, that this may not end up being the traditional sale of rights to a single television broadcaster.
The world in which we live and consume broadcast products has changed and is changing. Television sets are no longer king. Smartphones and tablets have broken into that realm.
It may not matter in strong broadcast markets, such as England, where there is competition for television rights.
But in smaller countries, beholden to just one major broadcaster, streaming services might help in creating a counter-tension to a monopoly.
There have already been a couple of meetings on the idea and members are said to be very keen for it to go ahead.
As it requires no ICC oversight, and is geared to neutralising BCCI might and so needs no approval from it, not many obstacles remain in view.
Theoretically, the BCCI could pressure Indian broadcasters into simply not buying these rights and their as-yet unclear stance will be important when it comes.
But for now, it seems as if the economy of cricket is readying itself to be rejigged.
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Published: September 14, 2016 04:00 AM