Ramaswamy Mohan, one of the country's leading cricket writers, fell in love with the game after watching his first Test match in 1960 as a 10-year-old. So fascinated was he with cricket that he dedicated his early life to becoming cricket correspondent of The Hindu, a post he held with acclaim for close to 20 years while reporting live 130 Test matches, five World Cups and over 300 One-Day Internationals. Having risen to Resident Editor at the Deccan Chronicle, Chennai, he still remains a keen student of the game who follows the happenings in Indian cricket with a particular relish.
BCCI must climb down from its high horse
Posted on: 10:20 AM IST Feb 07, 2012 IST
The Board of Control for Cricket in India is in dire need of addressing and reshaping its relationships with its primary stakeholders who bring in so much value. There must be something seriously wrong with the way it has allowed its ties with various valuable stakeholders to deteriorate. In this regard, the board's offer to hold talks with Sahara India, a principal team sponsor and owner of an IPL team is a significant initiative that is to be welcomed.
If one stakeholder among many had a problem with the board, it may have been possible to conclude that the fault may have lain outside the BCCI. But, considering BCCI has had a problem with far too many entities connected to the game it is clear the problem lies within the board. It is not just one sponsor or associate who has threatened to tear up the contract and walk away from the game.
Consider this - the BCCI has fallen out with its primary TV rights holder, which broadcasts international and domestic cricket in India on the Neo Sports channel. It has had financial issues with the Kochi Tuskers who have fallen off the radar. And now Sahara India has threatened to withdraw from the game. And this is just a trio of major problems. A number of minor problems in relations with IPL team owners remain to be sorted out.
The loss of revenue from team sponsorship can be made up with some other sponsor coming in for the branding of Team India. There should be no dearth of those. But what about the IPL - can the BCCI allow the most valuable franchise in terms of annual fee be allowed to put up its team for sale in the market? Will anyone else even think of fulfilling a Rs. 170 crore per year contract and then spend millions to run a team in a business that is far from remunerative for the franchise?
The flash point in Sahara-BCCI relationship was the Yuvraj Singh issue. With its star player facing a major illness in the form of a cancerous tumour and the whole nation praying for his quick recovery, the IPL committee may have been a tad pedantic in not being willing even to negotiate a position by which the team could have an increased salary cap to buy a replacement for the fifth season at least. The same $2 million dollar limit in the auction was unthinkable for a fledgling team. Surely, there was ample scope for a dialogue on the subject rather than a simple 'No' quoting the rule book.
The loss of revenue from the fallout with the TV rights holder could be quite damaging to the board whose very financial structure is under threat because so many valuable partners may abandon ship. The BCCI had toyed with launching its own channel, which is what the rights holders did when they created Neo sports. It is one thing to market the cricket rights in a big way to bring in substantial revenue, it's quite another to run a channel and market the broadcast by the minute.
Given its multi-layer, multi-personality and multi-ego structure and non-businesslike approach to marketing of the sport, BCCI would have struggled to create any kind of machinery to enter the complicated business of selling media space. How many business grads would have tolerated the atmosphere to work for the cricket board in a professional capacity in the marketing of hours and hours on television?
In this context, we are talking of a body that has not been able to sustain one media manager in the long term to handle its press and public relations in the age of instant communications. Can such a federation run a marketing organisation and a television channel professionally to be able to generate the kind of revenues needed to make a profit beyond the huge figures needed to sustain the sport at the international level as the richest body in the cricket world?
The IPL is also not viewed as a domestic tournament in which a few foreigners take part. It is a global sports league model in a modern environment in which the game has to compete with so many alternative channels of entertainment to survive and thrive. The BCCI would have to reshape its entire approach to dealing with the people who bring in value. First, the TV rights issue has to be sorted out as the domestic season is very much on in India. Second, the IPL problem is also urgent because to go back to eight teams would mean not only an image hit.
The fallout on various fronts may cost the board several hundreds of millions dollars. Not even the BCCI can turn its nose on such riches and hope to operate at the levels it has been doing for several years now to be the biggest paymaster of cricketers who also runs a huge structure of national cricket. The Sahara imbroglio and the TV rights situation have brought urgency to matters that simply can't be ignored and must be tended to at once.