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.


5 Responses to “Eight years on, a decision returns to bother the ICC”

  1. thedailytamasha Says:

    Just one question – how is IPL bothering ICC? And if the deals were not given to Zee for such flimsy reasons, why didn’t they win the court cases?

    And with IPL coming in picture, isn’t Zee a bigger loser than ICC? (Assuming that BCCI strengthening is ICC’s only bother.)

    Disclaimer: I am NOT AT ALL a BCCI or ICC supporter, neither an anti-Zee. Just curious to know your take on these logical questions coming to my mind.

    (Btw, my latest post on my blog is also about IPL, though in a different mood.)

  2. Rahul Says:

    Varun, there’s very strong word that Modi’s been working behind the scenes to get the ICC to change the cricket calendar. This hasn’t yet happened, but it could. The calendar is going to be the first area of conflict. The reason is that sooner or later, with the amount invested in the whole enterprise, it’s inevitable that they’ll want as many players as possible to be available for bidding on. Given the BCCI’s past behavior – of changing the calendar without asking – the only reason I imagine they’re taking the ICC into confidence here is because they’re not entirely sure whether this venture will work. But this is just a guess. But I meander.

    There’s a real danger for the ICC here. If the league does pick up, I believe the game will be drawn on lines other than those of nationality, and that’s where the ICC itself will face some kind of crisis.

    Whatever I’ve written so far is just my take on things, and some of this is a leap of imagination – but a very small leap.

    As far as Zee’s court cases go, well, the BCCI is a non-profit society and can do as it wants. Zee’s argument was that the BCCI should be declared a ‘state’ (don’t ask). The courts turned down everything.

    Yes, Zee is losing out right now with the introduction of the IPL. But what does it take to solve this problem but money or an unlikely merger?

    The reason I’ve written half the stuff I have in the past few days is because there are aspects of this development I found underreported. The focus was on the most banal things. I was just sitting there watching the news, and reading stuff on the net and thinking, “if these jokers took two minutes to actually think things through, they’d see there’s so much more that’s interesting about the IPL other than just the money.” But perhaps in places I’ve thought a little too much, in my excitement.

  3. Rohit Says:

    Interesting read.

  4. […] takes us back eight years when a crucial decision by ICC actually sowed the seeds for the Indian Premier League […]

  5. Mohan Says:

    I do hope IPL succeeds and I can’t wait to see ICC dead and buried. When 80% of the market is in India, it just doesn’t make sense for us to keep filling the coffers of ICC and all the other boards with Indian money. Let an Indian entity control cricket and let’s watch cricket played between Indian cities rather than the same old India-Pakistan, India-Australia stuff.

    Go Modi!

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