Why Indian money rules world cricket

FILE PHOTO: The shadow of a man falls on a backdrop with the logo of the India’s cricket board BCCI before the start of a news conference to announce its cricket team’s coach, in Mumbai, India, August 16, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

At the Indian Premier League (IPL) mega player auction on February 12-13, 2022, some of India’s top business houses splurged an eye-popping Rs.551.7 crore (about $73.25 million) on buying 204 cricketers, including 67 overseas players, for the 15th edition of the world’s biggest cricket league that is eyed by aspiring cricketers globally. A small-built, swashbuckling batsman-cum-wicketkeeper Ishan Kishan, just 23, smiled all the way to the bank as the most expensive buy at Rs.15.25 crore ($2.30 million) to become an instant millionaire.

Launched in 2008, IPL is the world’s lucrative T20 cricket tournament, with even more prize money for the winning team than the official World Cup organized by the International Cricket Council (ICC). The winner of the IPL 2021 received Rs 20 crore ($2.60 million) while the ICC T20 World Cup 2021 winner, Australia, got $1.6 million (Rs 12 crore).

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which owns the IPL and organizes it, was already the richest national cricket body in the world before it launched the competition in 2008. Today, the IPL media rights have become the most fertile source of earnings for the BCCI, followed by the media rights of the national team.

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Turnaround

The decisive turnaround in the BCCI’s fortunes came in 1994 when it sold the first-ever TV rights to TransWorld International (TWI) in a historic deal worth $20 million (Rs.150 crore) for five years, from 1994-1999. The board had been in the red until then. This deal triggered a sudden spurt of growth in its coffers. Since then it hasn’t looked back. Riding on its financial might, the BCCI has today become a seemingly unshakable sporting powerhouse and dictates terms to world cricket.

So how did the BCCI become the cricketing superpower? What are the reasons for it ruling the cricket world without any virtual challenge?

Broadly, there are five major reasons that make the BCCI the undisputed king. In short, they are: India’s highly unexpected 1983 World Cup triumph: it popularized the game in the country like never before, with millions of sports fans switching their sporting interests to cricket from hockey. India had just three years earlier clinched their eighth and last field hockey gold medal at the 1980 Olympic Games.

Cricket received a further boost when the national team won four major one-day titles, including the 1983 World Cup, between 1983 and 1985. This provided cricket with unprecedented popularity in India.

A few years later, cable TV made its foray into India in the early 90s and that gave the game another fillip. The BCCI-TWI deal had followed the liberalization of the market by the Indian government in the early 1990s. By today’s high standards of the TV rights income, the $20 million deal in 1994 looks minuscule. Nevertheless, this deal signaled the opening of the floodgates for the BCCI, as it became evident in subsequent bids.

Tons of money

FILE PHOTO: Former India cricket captain and current BCCI (Board Of Control for Cricket in India) president Sourav Ganguly reacts after a press conference at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai, India, October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

In September 2017, STAR India Ltd quoted a colossal Rs 16,347.50 crore ($2.55 billion) to win IPL media rights for five years (2018-2023). And in April 2018, STAR India Ltd won the BCCI’s consolidated broadcast rights (of the national team) for five years (2018-23) for a humongous Rs 6,138.1 crore ($818 million). All this accumulated to make the BCCI the world’s richest national cricket body, worth a huge Rs 18,011.84 crore ($2.4 billion), as on March 31, 2021.

The other significant event, in terms of a constant and prolific source of income for the BCCI was the launch of the IPL in 2008. The T20 tournament enhanced not only the bank balance of the BCCI but also added to its might in the boardrooms globally, within the ICC and outside. Here, credit is also due to the BCCI officials, starting with its late President N.K.P. Salve, who in 1983 took up the Indian cricket board’s cause forcefully at the ICC and other forums.

The gradual building up of a match-winning men’s national team, comprising players who became role models and national icons, helped BCCI reap rich dividends. Over the years, superstars like Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh have not just been successful cricketers, but they have also added the crucial glam quotient, so essential for marketing a product — Indian cricket. Their presence since the early 1980s has attracted corporates and TV companies to patronize the national team by offering more and more money to the BCCI to enhance its kitty.

Fans are key

However, millions of Indian cricket fans across the globe are the real foundation of the BCCI’s financial power. The sale of TV rights/sponsorship is directly linked with this global fan base. When billions switch on their TV sets or mobile phones to watch India’s matches or the IPL, the advertiser gets more than he had bargained for. For example, advertisement hoardings of a particular brand of Indian incense sticks and a popular spice brand are often seen at in-stadia hoardings in far-off places like the West Indies and Australia. They advertise everywhere because they know that when a billion Indians would watch matches they would get their returns. In today’s strong presence of social media, the sponsors have also realized that they get free publicity when match videos are replayed umpteen times on millions of mobile phones.

Besides their online presence, Indian fans are also present physically at grounds across the world, cheering and supporting the Indian team/cricketers. The Indian diaspora plays a crucial role too in lending support to Indian cricket in multiple ways. Recently, when the online booking opened in Australia for the T20 World Cup, to be played there in October-November, all the tickets for the India-Pakistan encounter were sold out in five minutes. With a significant Indian population residing in Australia, one can be sure that they too would have purchased many of those tickets. The BCCI draws its strength, financial and otherwise, from these sources.

BCCI clout

Money has provided the BCCI the power to influence world cricket. For about 10 years, about 70 percent — some people claim it is 80 percent — of the ICC’s revenues have been coming from its sponsors that are based out of India. This was a point that former BCCI president N. Srinivasan encashed successfully while proposing a new money distribution formula, known as the ‘Big Three’, for the ICC a few years ago. Since the India-based sponsors provide a huge chunk, he argued, the BCCI should get the lion’s share of the ICC’s distribution. He successfully convinced England and Australia to support him. While some countries opposed it, the 2013 IPL betting-fixing scandal reared its ugly head and the Supreme Court of India told Srinivasan to keep off the administration. That led to the BCCI replacing him with Shashank Manohar as the ICC Chairman.

The BCCI never got what Srinivasan sought for it. Nevertheless, the BCCI continues to hold sway mainly because of two reasons: its wealth combined with the IPL, which provides a big source of income for the world’s cricketers, and also for the sponsors based in India.

FILE PHOTO: Cricket – Third Twenty20 International – England v Pakistan – Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain – July 20, 2021 Pakistan’s Mohammad Hafeez celebrates bowling out England’s Moeen Ali Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith
FILE PHOTO: Cricket – ICC Men’s T20 World Cup – Super 12 – Group 2 – India v Scotland – Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates – November 5, 2021 India’s Rohit Sharma in action REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Rameez Raja told his country’s Senate Standing Committee in October that India’s clout in the ICC, based on the world body’s sponsorship money generated from India-based multinational companies, was impacting Pakistan cricket. He said that “90 percent” – this could be a bit exaggerated – of the ICC revenues came from these companies, and that “if tomorrow the Indian Prime Minister decides he will not allow any funding to Pakistan, this cricket board can collapse”.

No doubt this was a bit of a hyperbole but indeed India-based multinationals are presently the lifeline of the ICC. At the same time, it must be remembered that the BCCI has little or no role to play in these companies supporting the ICC. This is something people tend to overlook. If big business over the years have been pumping money into the ICC (and BCCI), it is because of the reasons above – the huge Indian fan base across the world, successful and glamorous Indian team/cricketers, and global TV viewership of matches, primarily involving the Indian team.

(The author is a senior Indian sports writer. Views are personal. He can be contacted at sportingage@gmail.com)

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