English 'home' series poised to be financial success
The PCB stands to make a profit of over US$ 2 million from the ongoing series against Australia, being staged in England as a 'home' series. The relative financial success of the series, which takes in two Twenty20s and two Tests, could pave the way for future home series being played in the country.
Following the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March last year no international cricket is likely in Pakistan in the near future. That prospect has compelled the board to examine a number of ways in which they can schedule what would be home series.
Last year they played a three-Test series against New Zealand in New Zealand as a home series, having earlier staged three ODIs and two T20s in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Middle East remains the other viable option, Pakistan having played Australia in a limited-overs series in April last year. They are also due to 'host' South Africa for a full tour in October-November.
Though geographically the region has its advantages, the PCB remains concerned about the economic viability of Abu Dhabi and Dubai; the series against Australia last year wasn't thought to be financially successful. The New Zealand experiment was also financially a dud.
Such hits, admits Wasim Bari, PCB's chief operating officer, will have to be taken in the broader interests of Pakistan's progression. "What are our priorities first? Sometimes you have to invest a little and the most important thing is that Pakistan is playing and is moving forward," he told Cricinfo. "If the choice is to play or not, what is the choice? You play of course."
In England's robust cricket infrastructure - and a large, committed base of British fans of Pakistani origin - a natural home away from home always existed. But when the series were inked in last year, PCB officials privately feared that it would be, monetarily, a tough option, especially as they would be hosting - and thus bearing the travelling and accommodation expenses - for the visiting team, in this case Australia.
Those fears have proved unfounded as an official familiar with the numbers of the series confirms. "At the end of the Australia tour, the PCB will be better off by approximately £1.5 million," the official told Cricinfo. "England is a very feasible option in that sense and is better as a revenue-generating venue and sponsor option than other neutral venues."
Part of the revenue for the PCB has come from the MCC, who have sponsored the entire series as a non-profit venture in a bid to push their 'Spirit of Cricket' message and help Pakistan. The revenue from gate receipts will go to the stadiums themselves, in this case Lord's, Headingley and Edgbaston; had it been a traditional home series in Pakistan, the PCB would have received a share and left the rest to the local authority. And attendances in a country where ticket prices are high have so far been good.
"MCC will keep all ticket revenues from the match but, of course, has paid for the right to host the game," Keith Bradshaw, the MCC chief executive, told Cricinfo. "[Ticket sales have been] encouraging. Having marketed the match heavily over a number of months, MCC has pre-sold over 43,000 tickets for the first four days of this Lord's Test match.
Attendances are higher than this figure, however, as this does not take account of the number of MCC members who watch the game - likely to be a few thousand on each day. Attendances at the two MCC Spirit of Cricket Twenty20 matches at Edgbaston were very healthy, around 25,000 over the two days."
The PCB will not benefit from in-stadia advertising as it would've done for an actual home series, where they would've received the entire amount, but the series comes under their five-year broadcast deal for home assignments with Ten Sports (as will all their home series that move to neutral venues), so in principle that revenue is the board's.
Instead of being a content producer this time, however, the network is merely selling content on. Sky, who have territorial rights in the UK, were given broadcast rights for the UK in return for them producing the series. Ten Sports, meanwhile, continues to sell the series worldwide, to Fox Sports in Australia for example and Supersport in Africa.
The venue, said an official familiar with the details of Pakistan's broadcast deal, works out well for the network as well. "As a broadcaster, staging the game in the UK works pretty well for Ten Sports on the Tests (they become prime time in Pakistan), but it didn't work so well on the Twenty20s which happened too late in the day for a Pakistani advertising market," the official told Cricinfo.
One of the T20is also clashed with one semi-final of the football World Cup, so the delay in Ten broadcasting the semi-final meant lost ad revenue. Ultimately, Pakistan's security situation has not been as problematic for its broadcast deal as it could've been, "as long as the games are moved to good time zones, so that moving cricket to New Zealand or Malaysia would be a disadvantage."
It is no surprise then that the prospect of more "home" Tests for Pakistan in England is an appealing one. "The MCC would welcome Pakistan to play neutral matches at Lord's in the future with open arms," says Bradshaw. "It would be a matter of negotiation between the PCB and the ECB as to whether England would host Pakistan home matches / series in the years to come. The Club would always seek to bid for major international cricket fixtures and so would most likely do so should Pakistan return to England in the coming years."
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo