January 27, 2014

No revolution at hand for cricket

The BCCI believes that cricket cannot survive without India. The other boards have given it no reason to think otherwise

After a week of brinksmanship, shadow battles, spinning and venting, cricket administrators will face cold reality in the ICC board room in Dubai. They will be confronted with the chilly resolve of the BCCI to claim what it deems its rightful share of global cricket revenue. And standing alongside will be the old powers, the cricket boards of England and Australia, eager to re-establish their hold on the game. For the rest, it will be a moment of truth: what are they more willing to sacrifice, cash or control?

The BCCI can be accused of many things, but not, in this case at least, of subterfuge. Either it doesn't care about its public image, or doesn't know how to build one. It employs neither media managers nor spin masters. So stories about how this makeover plan - which casts the BCCI, the ECB and CA as the governors and the top earners in the global game - is really about the game's welfare haven't emerged from the Indian camp. The BCCI's message to the rest of the world is transparent and unequivocal: Indian cricket helps generate the highest percentage of wealth in world cricket, and it's about time we were given a bigger chunk of it.

Last week, the working committee, the decision-making group at least in name, of cricket's mightiest organisation, met in a plush hotel in Chennai, the home town of N Srinivasan, the board's president. A personal tragedy kept Srinivasan away, but the group was given a presentation on the draft proposal by Sundar Raman, the IPL CEO and a member of the working group that drew up the draft. From some accounts, not many understood or bothered to understand the complexities of the draft. But the language of money is the simplest to grasp. The mood was upbeat. More money for the BCCI meant more money to each association. Some wanted to know why they were settling for so little if Indian cricket's contribution, as the draft outlined, was 80% of ICC's revenue. The proposal was heartily endorsed.

Among those present was Jagmohan Dalmiya, a man the present treats with indifference but whom history will remember as the one who not only won the BCCI the big chair at the ICC table but also saved the ICC from bankruptcy. Dalmiya never forgets to remind his fellow troupers at the BCCI about the struggle he and his colleagues had to wage to win the ICC presidency, and of the days when the more powerful boards demanded guarantee money to tour India. The question of whether this new proposal is right or wrong for world cricket doesn't enter the equation for the BCCI. The mood is that this is our time, and if what's due isn't granted to us, we will find a way to get it.

It is a position of such unflinching clarity that it brooks no moral argument. On pure commercial principles, it is difficult to dismiss. The number can be argued against; perhaps more supporting documents will be provided to demonstrate how the 80% figure was arrived at, but if it is simply extrapolated from sponsorship money that comes from Indian corporates for ICC events, it would be disingenuous, because a simple assumption cannot be made that all investment from India will disappear without the Indian team, or that the interests of Indian fans are exclusively rooted in the Indian national team.

Too many boards around the world have become lazy, inefficient and simply reliant on the ICC dole and Indian munificence. Cricket was much stronger in the '90s, when there was much less money

The argument can also be made that ICC events are mutually enhancing: India's participation boosts the commercial value of these events considerably, but the profiles of these events are also boosted by being global events that produce world champions. For that very reason, the value of India in the World Cup is greater than the value of India in the Asia Cup; India v Australia is more valuable than India v Zimbabwe. Context, stage, and quality of contest matter even in purely commercial terms.

Still, the commercial value of global events will be hugely depleted without India, and it is cricket's biggest problem that its finances are so reliant on one country. The football World Cup will lose a bit of magic if Brazil don't figure, but the value of broadcast rights will not be halved if Brazil fail to qualify. And also, since most of the boards balance their budgets on Indian tours, they are hardly in a position to isolate India.

It is galling from the FTP point of view that India have never invited Bangladesh for a tour in 13 years. For the Bangladesh Cricket Board, what really matters is that India toured the country multiple times in the last FTP cycle. A rough calculation will show that India have been generous travellers and are owed matches by most teams. The bottom line is that other boards make money when India travel.

Among all the proposals, proportional distribution of wealth will be the biggest non-negotiable for the BCCI. There will be room for accommodation when it comes to the formula of promotion and relegation and its most abominable clause - immunity for India, England and Australia - and also regarding the formation of the Executive Committee. On the matter of bilateral tours, too, the BCCI is willing to commit to contractual obligations with all nine Full Members, including Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. In return, it has a simple capitalist message to its trading partners: we can spread more wealth by making more ourselves; the more money we make, the better off you are.

Of course there are strong moral and logical arguments against this, and most of those have already been lucidly and forcefully made on this website. It can be argued that the proposal enriches the board that least requires enrichment; that the dangers of the La Liga model, which awards more money to FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, is evident in the fact that it is the most uncompetitive major football league, and even there, every team plays the same number of matches; that even the BCCI follows the equal-distribution model for all its state associations and IPL franchises.

Most crucial of all, despite the use of the word "meritocracy" several times in the document, the model for revenue distribution is merely linked to revenue potential from each market, which is not necessarily dependent on the quality of the team or the efficiency of the administration. It simply does not take into account the merit displayed on the cricket field, which in the language of business would translate to "quality of the product".

Great teams and great players enhance the appeal of the game, and by extension provide better value to broadcasters. West Indies were the most sought after team in the late '70s and the '80s simply because they were the best to watch. A truly meritocratic system would reward excellence, and a team like New Zealand, with a fraction of the player base that India has, should have the opportunity to earn more money by beating higher-ranked teams.

The reverse is true too. Too many boards around the world have become lazy, inefficient and simply reliant on the ICC dole and Indian munificence. Cricket was much stronger in the '90s, when there was much less money. Zimbabwe were competitive, Sri Lanka won the World Cup, Pakistan were sensational, West Indies were still competitive, and Bangladesh held promise. It can be argued that most of these teams have declined despite being financially better off. Any system that makes them more accountable is welcome. But this proposal is about consolidation of power, not accountability.

That cricket needs a shake-up is beyond dispute. In drafting this document in stealth, and in assuming they are the fittest to rule and awarding themselves a major chunk of the projected earnings, the Big Three haven't shown themselves to be model leaders, but they may be owed a round of thanks if this draft paper stirs the entire cricket world into action.

However, I am not holding my breath. The cricket world has always been governed by self-interest and expedience. Compromise is easier than confrontation. South Africa are leading the resistance simply because they have been left out of the main table. It is improbable that they would have refused an invitation had it been extended. The voices that have railed against the proposal have nothing to lose. The boards will weigh their risks and cut their deals. The decision will perhaps be delayed and the draft tweaked in some ways.

But that will be that. A revolution is not at hand.

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ayesha on January 30, 2014, 1:14 GMT

    This article ended right when it was about to hit the bulls eye. The last point of South Africa being unhappy as they were not a part of it points us to a question, which very well may be the very reason behind this whole facade.

    That question is - Why was RSA left out?

    Well most may conclude that they do not make enough money to be given a place in the "top core", but thats not the point here. The general vibes from this proposal are that India wants the money while Aus & Eng want the governance. Well its neither of these.

    This whole revamp is basically intended to kill RSA as a cricket nation. Lets face it. India has more than enough money, to cry over a slightly bigger claim. They created this whole proposal to ensure RSA are finished. Eng & Aus were coaxed into agreement by being given a share of the spoils.

    The truth is that no Indian and RSA boards hate each other at the moment. If we look deep, we will realise that no other team loses as much from this as RSA does.

  • Pradeep on January 29, 2014, 9:16 GMT

    Good one Sabit - succinct yet comprehensive. Though not a fan of hegemony, I must admit making BCCI a villian in the whole episode doesn't do any good either. Why not appreciate the fact that BCCI has been making the most out of Indian cricket fan's unflinching support to the game, irrespective of its own team's performance? The "stiff upper lip" MCC/ICC did nothing worth to promote the game for a good 100+ years, till Kerry Packer happened in Australia and (then) India took over. Hosting WC in India in 1987 before economic liberalisation wasn't a joke. India followed it up with MRF cricket series 1989, Hero cup 1993, took lead in WC 1996, just to name a few revenue-generating events. MCC/ICC raked-in & mis-used/wasted the earnings and the game didn't move an inch. After Sharjah ended abruptly, India-Pak played the Sahara series in Toronto (of all places!) for 5-years. The list is endless. So let's not paint BCCI in one colour. Its just showing the meekness of others in the open !

  • Voice on January 29, 2014, 0:57 GMT

    Some of these reactions make no sense. What has the Indian team's poor performance on the field got to do with any of this? So, if they were winning the majority of their games, this proposal would be okay with them?? I thought so.

    The bottom line is this is about the business side of cricket. On the playing side, sure, may the best team win, and take home the trophy. But when it comes to the sports management, it is only fair that the party paying most of the money have a bigger say in how things are run. Comparisons to US sports leagues are far-fetched. The poorest and riches teams there are less apart in revenue than the BCCI and the next richest board. Revenue share there is just an "adjustment". In cricket, many countries live almost completely on ICC money. It is ridiculous.

  • Dummy4 on January 28, 2014, 16:22 GMT

    All this talk about the self interest of South Africa, when this "Revolution' is the self interest of the big three. It's clear India wants to take complete control of cricket if possible, and if that happens, I fear for the integrity (or at least what's left of it) of cricket.

  • Jon on January 28, 2014, 15:54 GMT

    The BCCI is the power house here and I am greatly worried by that. It has nothing to do with Indian people at all but I believe the BCCI does not care about the welfare of the game. The common Indian fans are exploited at every turn by their board and the sole purpose of them is to make money. I agree 100 % with Sambit that cricket was stronger in the 90's. It is all well and good that Sl/Pak/SA/ZIM/WI fans complain about how they are being treated but their respective boards have not done anything to buck the trends. The lazy imitations of IPL cricket in SL and BD are a joke and do very little to enhance the game in their country. They must come up with a viable option that makes their national sides attractive. Even SA, the best side in the world play in front of empty stadiums.

  • Dummy4 on January 28, 2014, 15:30 GMT

    It is an excellent write up of Mr. Sambit Paul.Cricket is not a local game, it has become one of the most popular game of the world,specially South Asia.If revenue is calculated, than we will notice that most of the revenue of the world cricket is generated in South Asia.But, that does not make sense that Cricket will need to be limited within this region.This game need to be spread all over the world.

    Most important thing is competition among test playing countries which will make cricket more popular.Another important thing is all the countries need to give equal opportunity to grow ,to play with each other.So, ATP need to be redesigned which will ensure more matches and tour among countries.

  • Shakawath on January 28, 2014, 13:51 GMT

    Great idea but don't forget about the root and the origin and development of game like cricket. Money is not all about the game like cricket. Sports for mental, physical wellbeing and above all the feelings of community. It shows more nationalism and patriotism but not for business purpose. Yes business can or could be develop by the sports but it's shouldn't be vital or focal point. It will be supplementary. Now India trying like the story of goose which usually give a gold egg everyday but Indian management want to kill the goose for collect to all egg. Alas !!! It's undone!

  • nalin on January 28, 2014, 13:40 GMT

    Promotion and relegation as long as it does not involve India, England and Australia. I feel an equitable division of funds and an opportunity for each team to play other in Test cricket over a 4 year period should be mandatory. The 2 test series is useless and I feel a 4 test series spread over 2 countries is possible between teams in the subcontinent as well as between AUS, NZ and South Africa. Rather than relegating teams 9 and 10 they should play the top 2 associates annually in a round robin format that could be done in 5 weeks in addition to their schedules with top test nations.

  • Nadeem on January 28, 2014, 12:52 GMT

    This is the most boneheaded decision by the big three Cricket boards. Although, I can understand Indian cricket board desire to have the big chunk of the revenue, they need to understand that in their attempt to grab more power and money they might end up killing the game. To understand this dynamics, you only have to look at American National Football League. This is a multibillion dollar industry and the most popular game in America. Smaller markets do not generate enough revenue compared to New York or Texas. However, there is a strict revenue-sharing in National Football League that allows smaller market to develop better players. This in turn results in better competition and more popularity of the game . By keeping all the money with themselves the big three boards will deprive cricket of talent and eventually will be responsible for the demise of cricket. Watch out! They are about to kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

  • B on January 28, 2014, 12:30 GMT

    Sambit: Having followed the game for over 50 years, and involved in the valuation of professional sports in the US over the past 30, I believe the BCCI needs foreign teams and players as much as it conveys the impression that the world needs the BCCI. The Indian public would never pay to watch Indians playing fellow Indians - the ideal formula is Indian batsmen pitted against overseas bowlers, backed by rules biased in favor of batsmen. That is what optimizes the revenue stream for the BCCI. My more serious concern is around the potential for BCCI to manipulate the outcomes of games - if, as in the 2007 World Cup, India were to potentially end up outside the top 8 teams, can the BCCI bribe its way and force a team to lose so that the moolah is optimized? Can the BCCI manipulate overseas players to go easy on Indian players so that cats look like tigers? Or force that player to accept a low price in the IPL and then make him warm the benches? Anything is possible today!