ICC Selling Stars, Not Cricket

Cricket has a fanatical fan following in the Indian subcontinent. But this is hardly good news for the game as it's only a handful of stars and not the game per se that reap the benefits.

To understand this, one need not look beyond the astronomical difference in earnings between international players and their counterparts on the domestic circuit.

The problem lies not with the players or teams but the way the International Cricket Council (ICC), which has always sought to project the stars ahead of the game itself, has marketed cricket. 

Expanding the World Cup to 16 teams for the 2007 edition was a major mistake. The logic was to make cricket global, but the real reason was that TV would have more matches to recover the huge amounts that had been paid for the Indian telecast rights.

The move badly backfired as the biggest draws in the event - India and Pakistan - failed to clear the first hurdle. The net result was that instead of a marquee India-Pakistan game on April 15, TV rights holder Sony was saddled with trying to sell commercial spots for an Ireland-Bangladesh match that nobody cared about.

Thus, it's with great trepidation that marketing companies will look to the first Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa this September. After all, the big three of Indian cricket - Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid - have opted to give the event a miss.

A cricketer is said to be in his prime between the ages of 25 and 32 but events like Twenty20 are tailor-made for young souls with non-stop action. The net result is that the known faces of the cricket world would sadly be missing from the much-publicised "mega" event.

It would be interesting to see how the world TV rights holders, who have paid a humungous $1.1 billion for ICC events for the next eight years, are going to market the event without stars.

Will this result in a rerun of the World Cup in the West Indies? Once the Indian and Pakistani teams returned home early, it was no surprise to find plenty of empty seats right up to the Sri Lanka-Australia final.

In fact, ICC had set a wrong precedent way back in 2003 for the World Cup in South Africa when they bowed to player pressure from India on the issue of ambush marketing. Players were not allowed to associate themselves with companies that were in direct competition with ICC sponsors.

The players cried foul and the Board of Control for Cricket India (BCCI) proposed sending a second string to South Africa, something that was not acceptable to either the sponsors or the TV rights holders.

Finally, ICC allowed the Indians to sign the players' contract after deleting the offending clause.

Compare this with other sports. Adidas are official sponsors for football's world governing body FIFA. Still, rivals Nike supply and market the playing gear for a majority of participating teams for a major event like the World Cup.

The ICC has built an empire around the global stars but has never really sold the game globally. It appears the decline has begun within 20 years since the World Cup first moved out of England in 1987.

If the ICC does not get its house in order soon, cricket might not remain a viable option for TV companies, which will stop paying the big bucks, as they refused to do for an event like the Afro-Asia Cup despite it being played in cricket-crazy India and also for India's tour of Ireland and Scotland last month.

(Ravi Kant Singh can be contacted at ravi.k@ians.in. The views expressed are personal).


More by :  Ravi Kant Singh

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