September 10, 2016

It's about TV rights, stupid

The latest stand-off between the BCCI and the other major cricket boards is to do with a shift in how broadcast deals could be made in the future
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England, Australia and South Africa are seeking a rights deal that will reduce their dependence on the BCCI © IDI/Getty Images

World cricket has had to deal with a mind-bender this week. It began with the biggest of the Big Three (the BCCI) standing up for the smallest and weakest of their tribe when BCCI president Anurag Thakur said two-tier Test cricket was "fundamentally against the basic purpose and identity of the ICC".

This placed the BCCI directly against the Big Three's Minor Two (Cricket Australia and the England & Wales Cricket Board) as the passionate backers of two-tier Test cricket. CA and ECB were supported by Cricket South Africa (CSA), who have made a stirring comeback to the big stage, and by New Zealand Cricket (NZC), largely loyal allies to anyone who needs their number. Two years ago, CSA had been cast into the darkness by the Big One with not a squeak of protest from the Minor Two. But two years are an eon in cricket administration and in CA, ECB and CSA, we now have a Mid-Sized Three promising to steer cricket towards yet another new dawn.

Once the BCCI had stood up for the cricket boards of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the two-tier plan was out the window before it even made it to the table. But wait. This has happened before. In the 1990s, it was called the Asian Block v the Old Order and Jagmohan Dalmiya headed those conflagrations. So where are we today? Has cricket gone back to the old days? Is it Asia v the Old World? But where is Pakistan? Wasn't South Africa usually on the BCCI's side? What's happening?

After the Dubai ICC meeting, which the ICC insists was not a meeting but a members' workshop, all that remains is a vast vagueness.

The first public mooting of the two-tier Test idea was heard in June this year from ICC's chief executive David Richardson, who said, "A number of member countries are finding that they're not getting as much from their TV rights for bilateral cricket and they see the need to change and introduce some meaningful context."

The buzz words that offer us some clues in Richardson's statement are "TV rights". They will help us understand that, contrary to popular belief, Two-Tier is not the Jedi Knights of the ECB-CA-CSA versus the Imperial Stormtroopers of the BCCI fighting over the Kingdom of the White Flannels. The two-tier Tests form only a small part of a larger drama unfolding over the play field of cricket politics.

Over the next 24 months, two key media rights cycles will be going on sale. This month, the ECB is expected to offer to the counties their plan for an eight-team city-based T20 league, as well as a revised version of international cricket coverage. It is rumoured that the ECB will go into the market for the next set of TV rights deal within the next few months, a year before their deal with Sky TV (estimated to be about £280m over four years) runs out in 2017. This deal, first signed in 2012, forms 80% of the ECB's income.

Two years ago, CSA had been cast into the darkness by the Big One with not a squeak of protest from the Minor Two. But two years are an eon in cricket administration and in CA, ECB and CSA, we now have a Mid-Sized Three promising to steer cricket towards yet another new dawn

The bid for Cricket Australia's international rights, up for sale around 2018 for the 2018-2023 period, will have to match the $500m it earned from Channel 9, in the face of the overwhelming popularity of its Big Bash.

So what the ECB, CA and CSA (with the support of the boards of Pakistan and New Zealand) are seeking is to form a collective to ensure bigger, better, more watertight broadcast deals for their international bilateral series, particularly when they face increasing pressure from domestic T20 leagues - a pooling together of overseas rights by a group of countries, to be overseen and managed by an independent administrative body.

One of the reasons cited is the "shrinking of the Indian market", due to the fact that the Indian broadcasters interested in buying overseas rights have shrunk from three to two. The coalition is expected to offer its member boards the power of collective bargaining with broadcasters. Whichever TV network wants to broadcast the Ashes in India will also have to buy the Pakistan v New Zealand bundle, or whatever other package the coalition wants to put together. If this new multinational coalition of the willing so wishes, that independent administrative body could well be the ICC.

If this new coalition does come into being - and there are plans to push it through before the ICC's October board meeting - it hopes to lead to far less dependence on every member nation's bilateral deals with the BCCI. It is what the Mid-sized Three hopes will work to rope in a few more doubting comrades. In theory that is. Whether such camaraderie outlasts the self-interest hardwired into every cricket board's DNA will make for the tactical and psychological case studies of the future.

A successful push for the two-tier system would have helped these boards, the CA and ECB in particular, ensure that they wouldn't have to deal with home-and-away tours against weaker nations. West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe would have been immediately dropped from the top tier and would not have featured in these countries' international calendars when offered to broadcast bidders. Cricketing arguments were made forcefully and loudly over the uncomfortable fact that economic benefits of the two-tier Tests would earn for a select few over the less privileged.​

You could argue that the BCCI's stand against two-tier cricket, even while acknowledging that it has the confidence of being able to dictate terms to broadcasters rather than vice versa, turned out to be rather Jedi Knight. In terms of giving Test matches "primacy", the BCCI is hosting 13 this year and the team has just returned from four Tests in the West Indies. Over the last three years India have toured Zimbabwe three times and played 11 ODIs and five T20Is against them.

Another proposal that emerged from the Dubai workshop was about a playoff to pick an official Test champion once every two years. The top two ranked teams will face off in a single Test to decide a winner, though who would own the rights or make the revenues isn't clear yet. The ICC's old FTP, in which every country plays the other home and away in a four-year cycle is now being discussed as a nebulous six-year cycle, with every team playing the other at least once. More vagueness.

There is another dynamic at work here - the running battle between the BCCI and the ICC's newest chairman, Shashank Manohar, who headed the BCCI not too long ago. The BCCI believes that Manohar is responsible for betraying its cause and passing word onto the other members that in the face of the Lodha Committee recommendations, the BCCI is rowing up a very dangerous creek and the time to strike at its control over international cricket is now.

Manohar's icy response was: "I'm the independent ICC chairman, so I have to look at the best interests of the ICC. It's for the BCCI representative to look after the best interests of the BCCI." But he also said he didn't agree with the two-tier system. "Personally, I was against the idea, because the value of the second-tier teams would be negligible."

Cricket's suits are going to launch themselves into another bloody skirmish between now and October. Don't go looking for Jedi Knights among them, because there aren't any. The only Force that works here is cash.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Cricinfouser on September 12, 2016, 8:45 GMT

    Sadly, absolutely correct, Ms Ugra!

  • anand16377595 on September 11, 2016, 19:33 GMT

    Dear cricinfo,

    Thank you for being one of the last bastions of legitimate sports journalism in India.

  •   Ruchit Khushu on September 11, 2016, 15:22 GMT

    [Continued]. India is pretty unique country in that sense.It is country where internal consumption demand is pretty strong - historically as well in modern times. Don't need to look any farther but just Indian film industry (and I am not only talking about the so-called Bollywood). While film industries all over the world have got negatively impacted by Hollywood Indian film industry is thriving financially. Quality wise not as good as Hollywood but thriving and flourishing atleast in the Indian context..So will an only Indian cricket !! 1.25 billion is a massive number !!

  • S on September 11, 2016, 15:21 GMT

    @ModernUmpiresPlz - There is a better option for India - that is quitting the bilateral series and going with full blown IPL - even expanding the IPL to 12 teams - pure professional way - locking out players with hefty contracts from the international game etc.

    Every one in the cricket world can be happy with that scenario. IF Cricket fails in India as a result, India as a country can benefit by channeling that energy/money into other things in the society. I will take this failure any day to the success of expanded IPL.

  •   Ruchit Khushu on September 11, 2016, 15:17 GMT

    @MODERNUMPIRESPLZ: You own statement: "he cash cow cuts both ways, it's just that India is the beneficiary every time it plays someone of note, whereas the other "of note" country is only the beneficiary when it plays India" makes it clear. Majority of Indian cricket fans care only about India centric cricket. As long as you serve them Indian cricket they are very happy. Also they don't care abt Test cricket as much as they do about IPL.I am not one of those but nevertheless it is a fact. Now suppose BCCI says no international cricket. We only will have IPL. Two things can happen. Foreign players will come in or they will not come in. In case of former IPL will keep on flourshing..It might be made a longer tournament with say 12 teams and wider foreign player pool.. Now if foreign players don't show up (highly unlikely since players will follow the money and anything to stop them could be contested in courts of law) IPL will suffer a bit but fans will adjust. [To be continued...]

  • Xiong on September 11, 2016, 13:25 GMT

    @Ruchit Khushu I dunno, while playing India is a huge cash cow for boards like CSA, CA and the ECB, they aren't solely reliant on them for cash flow, especially CA with the success of the big bash (and probably England after they revamp their T20 league). If India had NONE of the big countries to play it would be absolutely crippling to them, the same as if every other big country stopped playing against Australia, South Africa or England. The game won't flourish if there's nothing for youngsters to aspire to, even if it is India we're talking about. And let's not pretend the Indian first class system is hugely popular and healthy in India. It just isn't. The cash cow cuts both ways, it's just that India is the beneficiary every time it plays someone of note, whereas the other "of note" country is only the beneficiary when it plays India. With Thakur, at some point there's going to have to be a choice. India's way or make something new, money now or future growth. We shall see.

  •   Ruchit Khushu on September 11, 2016, 6:36 GMT

    @TFJONES1978: "Goodbye India, your days of controlling the ICC is about to end"... Yeah could happen if India walk out of ICC.. If that happens it won't make any difference to India. Cricket in India will survive and flourish anyways .. Mayn't be the same scale but it will .

  •   skks75 on September 11, 2016, 6:07 GMT

    TFJones1978 - Obviously you didn't get the fact that your imaginary six nation league will still have to shop their TV rights to the Indian Market .

  • Arjun Calidas on September 11, 2016, 6:04 GMT

    The two tier system is flawed. Currently only 10 teams play tests and adding the two top associates will make it 12. The two tier system divides this league into two, not as 6-6, but as 7-5. Bizarre on the face of it.. If there were two more countries that are added to the bottom tier, it might make for a good second rung league.. But there are no other teams playing the level of first class cricket needed to be able to play tests.. Bangladesh and SL are essential for cricket as much as Australia and England are, if not more.. The enthusiasm in these countries alone should warrant them a place in the test cricket league.. Imagine tests without the West Indies or even Pakistan!! Let us not forget that Pakistan could get into the second tier as soon as they have reached the number one status in tests! One only needs to look at their limited overs performance in England to know that this is true!!

  • Amindha on September 11, 2016, 5:59 GMT

    Like that will ever happen @tfjones1978

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