Eight years on, a decision returns to bother the ICC
February 23, 2008
If the ICC could take back its big decision of June 26, 2000, it probably would.
The ICC’s cricket telecast rights were on sale. Zee bid $625 million, a bigger sum than anyone else. But they weren’t given the rights. These were instead awarded to WSG-Nimbus, who put up $550 million. Zee felt aggrieved, and swore racism.
David Richards, the ICC’s chief executive, said the claim was “ridiculous”. “The decision taken by the group was, I say, on commercial grounds and it was in the best interests of the long term development of international cricket in all parts of the world.”
Best interests of the long term development of international cricket? What could he possibly mean? Perhaps Nimbus, that bastion of corporate ethics (do read this list), would further the game’s development (They did, in a way. Nimbus, which didn’t have a channel of its own, sold the rights to Sony, which did. So that’s what the ICC meant.).
Anyone with half a brain can read through this bull. The money a board gets for its rights is put to developmental use. And even if a broadcaster has limited reach – which Zee did not – rights can be tossed off to other channels in Australia, Japan, the US, wherever, for a price. Instead the rights went to a marketing agent for $75 million lower than the highest bid.
Then, in 2004, the BCCI invited bids for television rights, which Zee won again. Except that it didn’t. ESPN-Star matched Zee’s highest offer, and were awarded the rights. The matter went to court for a year. Meanwhile, fresh bids were announced. Nimbus, after assisting Zee on the bid, went out and bid on its own – to Zee’s horror – and acquired the rights. Zee, who had the next highest bid, was left hanging. The reason for the impasse in 2004 was because Zee apparently had no experience in cricket production. Anyone, absolutely anyone in broadcasting will tell you that’s just a dumb excuse. To put together a live sports event is a no-brainer. Producers are contracted – heck, you can put together a team within two days just on the phone – and at the end of the series, they leave, as do the cameramen and support staff, to work on another event. So why were the rights given to ESPN-Star?
Rebuffed twice, so is it any wonder that Zee would be mad as hell? Subhash Chandra wanted cricket in some form. Incidentally, thoughts of mutiny had first occurred to him when the ICC gave him a miss. This time it took the form of the ICL.
It’s unlikely that the IPL would have moved beyond its conceptual stage so quickly had it not been for Chandra’s ICL. In 2006, shortly after coming to power, Modi mentioned to me in an interview that he had envisioned cricket played between cities (Disclaimer: I adored Modi then). But then he said he’d do a lot of things, including building a cricket museum.
And now, thanks to the IPL, we’re seeing the start of a clash for the international calendar. It isn’t looking good for the ICC. But they only have themselves to blame for what’s coming their way.