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How the World Cup became a commercial hit

The turning point in the ICC's financial fortunes came about when Jagmohan Dalmiya took over as chairman PA Photos

By the time the 1999 ICC World Cup got underway at a soggy and half-full Lord's, the tournament had come a long way from the one that started in glorious sunshine almost 24 years earlier. From modest beginnings it had grown into a commercially lucrative and increasingly bloated affair. The inaugural competition in 1975 had consisted of 15 matches in a fortnight; by 1999 it was 42 games in five weeks.

But it was off the field that the 1999 ICC World Cup marked a watershed in cricket history. Until then the event had been run by the host nation. The ICC's role was largely peripheral - it was content to let things happen and to collect a modest sanctioning fee for its effort.

Given the size and commercial control the Dubai-based ICC now exercises over the game, it is worth remembering that until the late 1990s it consisted of a chief executive and a handful of employees working out of cramped offices at Lord's.

The first three World Cups had been held in England and while there had been some gradual expansion, they had all followed a rather familiar and comfortable path leading to the final at Lord's. The commercial exploitation had been low-key, so much so that in the build-up to the 1975 tournament the organisers said they "hoped TV and sponsorship fees would cover all the expenses". The Test & County Cricket Board - the forerunner of the ECB - was concerned enough it would be left nursing losses that it arranged a four-Test series against Australia later in the summer to try to balance the books.

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The signing of Prudential Assurance as the tournament sponsor for £100,000 helped organisers to eventually report a £200,000 surplus. England, as hosts, took 10% of that, and each of the seven other competing countries, including the non-Test status Sri Lanka and East Africa, 7.5% each, leaving the ICC with the balance - £75,000. The winners, West Indies, collected £4000.

The 1979 World Cup showed few changes, with the raft of innovations introduced by World Series Cricket - such as coloured clothing and white balls - completely ignored. The main event was preceded by a qualifying tournament, also held in England - an eminently sensible idea that was frustratingly never repeated.

By 1983, Prudential were paying £500,000 to sponsor the tournament and profits were taken as a given, but they were still, by modern standards, trifling amounts. The overall surplus for the entire event, shared between countries and the ICC, was just over £1,000,000.

"The 1999 ICC World Cup marked a watershed in cricket history. Until then the event had been run by the host nation. The ICC's role largely peripheral: it was content to let things happen and to collect a modest sanctioning fee for its effort"

India's unexpected victory over West Indies in the final was a defining moment in modern cricket history. One-day cricket, until then a poor relation to Tests in the subcontinent, suddenly become hugely popular, and with the explosion in public interest came big commercial opportunities.

Few were surprised when the 1987 World Cup went to the subcontinent, even if India and Pakistan agreeing to jointly host it was unexpected. Whereas the three previous tournaments had relied largely on ticket sales as well as TV and some very gentle commercial deals to produce a profit, the organisers proved more attuned to a higher level of professionalism in selling the product.

One of the main changes came from the income from TV rights. Kerry Packer had set up World Series Cricket in 1977 as a challenge to the monopoly enjoyed by the traditional broadcasters, and the expansion in many countries of satellite and cable companies meant there was real competition for rights. Whereas in 1975 in the UK the BBC could almost decide what it would pay to cover games (and it was usually not much), by the early 1990s it faced stiff competition from newcomer BskyB, which had deep pockets and a need to acquire content so it could sell satellite dishes.

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By 1992 the World Cup had become a major global event alongside football's own version and the Olympics. And the joint hosts - Australia and New Zealand - milked the event for all it was worth, with a punishing schedule of matches - 39 games in 32 days - largely aimed at maximising revenues from broadcast rights. Financially it was a great success, although a bloated qualification structure made too many games meaningless, and an ill-conceived rain regulation rendered one of the semi-finals a farce.

As ever, with money comes greed and with hosts reaping the rewards of the game's globalisation, the stakes grew ever higher.

The awarding of the 1996 tournament proved old-world gentlemen's agreements had lost out to commercialism. At what Wisden described as "the most fractious ever meeting of the ICC", England, who thought they had been promised the event, guaranteed Associates £60,000 each; India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka offered £100,000 each and won out. England were utterly outflanked and left looking out of touch with a changing world.

The worth of the 1996 World Cup became evident when the TV rights were sold for a staggering (at the time) $14 million. The UK rights, worth £1m in 1992, fetched £7.5m as Sky Sports looked to lock-in its burgeoning cricket audience. No commercial stone was left unturned by a highly polished team. Coca-Cola paid $3.8m to be the tournament's official soft drink, more than Benson & Hedges had paid to be title sponsor of the whole 1992 World Cup. For that privilege Wills paid $12m in 1996.

The hosts, who only had to meet relatively small guarantees to participating countries (many actually ended up out of pocket after meeting their expenses) and the ICC and its Associates, reaped the rewards with a profit of £50m. Even then, Sri Lanka had missed out as they were so concerned that they might be left with a loss that they did not agree to underwrite the costs and so did not share the windfall.

Much of the commercial success was attributed to BCCI secretary Jagmohan Dalmiya. Even those who did not trust him - and there were plenty - could not help but admire his single-minded ability to turn a profit from almost anything. Inevitably, this often came at a cost. The ICC was still very much on the sidelines and could do little but sit back and watch. It had made comparatively little from the tournament, but even a cursory look at other global events highlighted where it was missing out.

FIFA, which runs world football, and UEFA, its European counterpart, had made massive profits from the 1994 World Cup and Euro 1996 respectively, even though the host countries had been left out of pocket; it was a similar story with the International Olympic Commission. The difference was, they made host countries guarantee a minimum return as well as retaining control over commercial and broadcast revenue.

The ICC's archaic constitution and lack of commercial drive meant it was still a sleeping partner as far as cricket's World Cup was concerned. All that changed in 1997, when Dalmiya used his skill as a politician to take over as ICC chairman. He immediately set about organising a major overhaul of the ICC, with profit high on the agenda, and guaranteed support by offering incentives to those who backed him.

The last vestiges of a gentler, more laid-back world disappeared with Dalmiya's arrival. The Asian countries, for so long limited to a subservient role, now called the shots thanks to their massive commercial power, with Dalmiya leading the charge. They were in the driving seat and wasted no time in modernising the ICC and maximising its control of the lucrative World Cup.

The rules were changed. The hosts in 1999, the ECB, still decided the format and timing and had to meet minimum guarantees to those taking part and pay all the direct costs of staging the event, but it only kept half the broadcast, commercial and ticketing income. It managed to turn in a decent profit but the changes in the way the pie was divided left the ICC with a very healthy sum for doing little more work.

Pandora's Box had been opened and the ICC was not about to surrender financial control; in fact, it exercised more with each subsequent tournament. Perhaps it was not coincidental that the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, with incomes into billions of dollars, proved more memorable for what happened off the field than on it. After all, power with less attention to responsibility is always going to problematic. And as the ICC cashed in, its very success had sown the seeds for its own downfall.

This article was first published in 2014