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Opinion: For cricket to grow globally, the power of BCCI needs to be challenged – Part 1

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“Cricket is a great game. It deserves to have governance, including management and ethics, worthy of the sport. This is not the position at the present time. This report does not identify the causes and who is responsible for this, but it does identify the shortcomings and the action which now needs to be taken to remedy this. We have not conducted an inquest but instead have set out a vision as to the changes that need to be made and the transformation in the situation that these changes should bring about.”

These are the words found in the opening paragraphs of Lord Woolf’s report. The report was the outcome of the International Cricket Council’s decision to conduct an independent governance review in 2011. The document was a damning indictment of ICC’s governance model and outlined sweeping administrative changes in how ICC runs the sport globally as a governing body. In the report, Lord Woolf outlined several recommendations which unfortunately are just as relevant in today’s context of the ICC, as it was back then. Despite some positive steps taken recently, cricket remains insular, exclusive and mired in self-interest. And one of the chief stumbling blocks in cricket’s expansion is the all-powerful Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI), who have largely taken up the mantle of holding the unofficial veto power that the English Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA) held for decades over ICC.

To understand the current situation, it is important to for us to examine past events that led us here. It was the year 1993, which really served as the first catalyst for changing cricket’s course forever. Up until that year, the two Foundation Members of England and Australia held veto powers which meant that any changes to ICC constitution or Membership had to be formally approved by both countries, before they could be implemented. However, the continual growth of Asian Cricket in the 1980’s backed ICC and the ECB/CA into a corner and forced a much overdue re-structure of the organisation. The first full-time Chief Executive was appointed in 1993 and ECB/CA both lost their veto powers; which finally meant that all Test playing countries had equal standing. It was also in 1993 that BCCI took the fateful step of selling cricket rights in the free market. It ended up being a lucrative deal struck with Trans World International (TWI), which meant that for the first time, India’s public broadcaster Doordarshan who were forced to pay TWI to broadcast the action in India rather than BCCI compensating Doordarshan for telecasting the games.

1996 World Cup to IPL

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BCCI and Indian cricket continued to go from strength to strength in the 1990s. The key figure responsible for this growth was the Kolkata based BCCI administrator Jagmohan Dalmiya. He was instrumental in the backroom negotiations, which secured the World Cup hosting rights for the Indian sub-continent away from favourites England. In 1997, Dalmiya became the first non-white and first Asian President of the ICC. The shift in power that had started in 1993 away from the Australia – England axis, now had a visible representative at ICC’s helm. In 1999, the BCCI signed a then-record 5-year deal with Doordarshan, worth $7 million USD annually, setting the stone for BCCI to become cricket’s financial powerhouse. Dalmiya may have had a direct hand in making BCCI a financial beast; but his contributions to the world game should not be forgotten. During his three-year reign as ICC President, Dalmiya made numerous decisions that benefitted the global growth of the game. The ICC Champions Trophy concept was his idea. And for the first few editions at least, it served the dual objectives of spreading the game to then-emerging nations such as Bangladesh and Kenya as well as raising additional money for the ICC in between World Cups. Dalmiya also played an influential part in Bangladesh becoming a Full Member in 2000, which marked the first time that a new test nation had joined the exclusive club in 8 years.

The next major milestone in cricket was India’s 2007 World T20 win and the subsequent creation of the T20 franchise competition, known as the Indian Premier League (IPL). Combining the glitz and razzmatazz of Bollywood with the high-octane action of T20 cricket, the IPL has grown to be a global behemoth in a little over 10 years. The value of the broadcast deal has increased exponentially and currently Star India pays the BCCI about ₹3,270 crore or $434,800,000 USD annually for the media rights. Factoring in the additional income from sponsors and partnerships; the only major expense that BCCI face are the annual distribution costs to the 8 IPL Franchises. That leaves them with an assured annual income of $266,000,000 USD annually, just from the IPL alone. In addition to IPL, BCCI has many further sources of income. Unfortunately, it is difficult to obtain accurate information about it on the internet, because BCCI has stopped releasing audited financial statements to the public, since the 2016-17 Financial Year. Online, there are various sources which allege annual income numbers anywhere between $US535 Million to $US2 Billion dollars a year, so there is much confusion. One suspects that this is rather deliberate; as BCCI wants to keep the public and other member boards in the dark about the exact amount of income that it generates. However, it is notable that despite the setbacks of COVID-19, no players or administrators at BCCI have had to take a pay cut yet. This really makes one question the intentions as well as BCCI’s justifications behind demanding a larger share of the ICC distribution pot, especially when the strength of its finances has virtually made the board COVID-19 proof.

Opposition to an Equitable Funding Model

(US$ millions)
(US$ millions)

The pie-charts above are a visual comparison between the revamped funding model that all the full members agreed to in June 2017 (bottom) and the funding model that BCCI proposed during the Big 3 takeover in 2014 (top). Whilst, the revamped model looks a lot more balanced in comparison to the lopsided Big 3 Model, people often forget that pre-2014, all full member boards received the exact same income distribution from ICC events. In fact, one can say that despite the addition of 2 new full members, universal T20 status and a reduced BCCI share of $405M, the disparity in wealth & income between the various members have never been higher. When you couple that with the short-sighted, regressive decisions of reducing the ODI World Cup to 10 teams and the ridiculous 2 stage 16 team T20 World Cup, it really begins to paint a bleak picture for Associate nations. Which is ironic, considering that global participation in cricket has risen and that the standard in Associate countries have improved drastically since 2014.

As things stand, BCCI are set to receive 23% of total events revenue. But the figure they are really after is $570M USD, which would increase their slice of the pie to 32%. This is justified, because as per BCCI they contribute almost 70% of global cricket revenue and because the vast majority of cricket viewership also originates from the Indian sub-continent. So essentially from BCCI’s perspective, the ICC and other member boards are milking the Indian TV market for money, when most of the benefits should be flowing back to India instead. This logic is faulty on multiple levels; and in the next few paragraphs, I will attempt to explain why.

A) Comparison to FIFA’s Distribution Model

If you consider the example of FIFA and the way it distributes funds through its FIFA Forward 2.0 Programme, it is the polar opposite of ICC. Over the 2019-2022 cycle, FIFA is poised to invest $6M USD into each of its member federations to support their operational needs and development projects. While an additional $250,000 per year is allocated to member associations with an annual revenue of less than $4M USD. The egalitarian distribution model of FIFA is particularly notable as it distributes the funds irrespective of the population, economy or revenue generation capability of their members. So, a financial powerhouse team like England with its rabid fanbase and $6.4 Billion product English Premier League (EPL) are entitled to the same amount of investment dollars as a tiny member nation like San Marino or Liechtenstein, who bring next to nothing in revenue to the FIFA table. If anything, a San Marino or Liechtenstein receives more help from FIFA, rather than the other way around.

Under the pre-Big 3 model, the Associate boards used to receive $522M USD, which funded their development programmes and subsidised the 4-day Intercontinental Cup, the ‘supposed’ gateway tournament to Test cricket for Associate nations. It is an utter tragedy then, that even after the breakup of the Big 3 & a revamp of the funding model, Associate nations collectively receive only 30% of what they used to before. Former Hong Kong Cricket CEO and Emerging Cricket Founder Tim Cutler summarises the situation quite succinctly.

As per Cutler, “If cricket ever truly wants to be a global sport it really needs to take a step back and consider its strategy, because a future where the international game stratifies to the point where it is truly dominated by a handful of teams is inevitable; unless the inequity in the way cricket distributes income from the international game is addressed. Otherwise, we risk a future where countries will drop off the radar as future players are lost to other sports and interests, and where the successes of countries like Ireland and Afghanistan coming through the system will be long distant memories.”

Say what you want about the corruption at FIFA. But at least, they as an organisation recognise that it is the less well-off amongst us, who need more financial assistance. After all, as the international governing body of the global game, it is FIFA’s responsibility to ensure that the lower ranked teams are looked after, so they can be more competitive at global events. Furthermore, unlike cricket, FIFA purposely designs a tournament format where the small nations have a realistic chance of upsetting the big boys. This only serves to improve FIFA’s overall product.

B) Domestic Cricket is becoming more lucrative

BCCI fans often point to the FIFA model and say that it is unworkable in cricket; because in football, the governing bodies derive their primary income from domestic leagues rather than world events. Prior to 2008, international tours & bi-lateral cricket was the primary money generator for cricket, but it is not necessarily the case anymore. Bi-lateral cricket is not as attractive to broadcasters these days and Test cricket is barely profitable for nations unless a ‘Big 3’ team is involved. And with the advent of T20 franchise leagues, boards are profiting of domestic cricket tournaments for the first time in cricket’s history.British journalists Tim Wigmore & Freddie Wilde in their book “Cricket 2.0 – Inside The T20 Revolution” predict that the future will involve a further shift away from bilateral international cricket to a sharper focus on domestic club & franchise competitions. There will be more and more T20 teams, with other national & regional T20 and T10 tournaments starting up in unlikely places, such as we have seen recently with Vanuatu, Zambia and Tajikistan. Currently, many T20 competitions lose money or only manage to breakeven. However, this can easily change if ambitions are reigned in and more commercially realistic goals are set. By forgoing the expensive marquee players and focusing instead on local talent & more modest international players, these tournaments will eventually become economically sustainable.

Therefore, the old adage of “FIFA model is unworkable in cricket” does not hold true anymore. Due to the lucrative income streams from IPL, BCCI no longer solely relies on international cricket to derive its income. They possess a phenomenally successful product at their disposal which has a current brand valuation of USD $6.3 billion, although of course it is the presence of overseas stars that gives IPL its added sheen. As the game moves away from old fashioned tours to the new reality of domestic T20 leagues, Emerging Cricket’s Jay Dansinghani states that it is even more imperative that ICC prioritises the world game over the interests of a few powerful member boards.

“Although India is a massive market, its contribution relative to other members is inflated because of its deliberate efforts to undermine the growth of the sport. A good example of this was their leading role in shrinking the World Cup; largely in reaction to India’s poor performance at the 2007 World Cup. Their share of the pie would, of course, be smaller if Associates received more opportunities. Yet, even though they’d have a smaller share of the pie, it’s not a zero-sum game. All members stand to earn more in the long-term if the game becomes truly global.”

C) ICC is NOT milking the Indian TV market

BCCI and its most ardent supporters also hold this strong conviction that ICC and other cricket boards are taking advantage of the giant Indian TV market and milking its 1.3 billion population for money. So essentially, it is the Indian TV market that is keeping international cricket afloat by generating ratings and the advertisement dollars. As per Emerging Cricket Podcast co-host Nick Skinner, this notion is palpably false.

“The crux of the ‘India gives ICC money’ argument is the unspoken assumption that the BCCI ‘owns’ all of the Indian fans who watch ICC tournaments. Which is utter nonsense. All the BCCI technically brings to the table is their logo, on the shirts of the Indian team competing. Furthermore, the ‘India gives ICC money’ argument is deliberately misleading because it assumes that nobody in India would watch ICC events without a BCCI logo involved and conflates cricket fans in India with the BCCI, which is not the same thing.”

I happen to agree wholeheartedly with Skinner’s assessment above. As cricket fans, Indian fans do possess the freedom to watch any cricket game on TV or online and are not necessarily wedded to the Indian cricket team, the way BCCI make it out to be the case. While it is undeniable that matches featuring India generate massive TV ratings in India; games not featuring India (whether they may be ICC tournament matches or ‘foreign’ T20 leagues such as CPL, BBL) also tend to do quite well. And there is solid evidence to back this up. The opening match between England and South Africa at the 2019 Cricket World Cup was watched by an average 114 million people in India, which compares very favourably for the 166 million for India vs Australia and 180 million for the India vs South Africa games, Wigmore & Wilde revealed in their book. According to BARC India, the epic 2019 World Cup Final match racked up a total of 32.4 million Impressions, which also compared favourably with 51 million impressions for India vs NZ Semi-Final and 67 million for India vs Pakistan; unsurprisingly the tournament’s most watched game. Furthermore, in the absence of live cricket action on TV due to COVID-19, the Vanuatu T10 tournament generated a viewership of close to 500,000, with a large portion of those viewers coming from the Indian sub-continent. The above examples clearly demonstrate that a lot of Indian viewers are perfectly willing to watch international cricket which does not feature India. Although, viewer numbers do decrease for matches not involving India, the ratings still generated put to bed the absurd notion that very few people in India will watch cricket games, without the presence of a BCCI logo. For BCCI to claim ownership of these fans is not only belittling and disrespectful; but actually serves to suppress the often contemptible manner, in which the organisation treats its own fans.

D) BCCI’s Treatment of Fans

Despite being the richest and most powerful board in world cricket, BCCI’s track record on maintenance of stadium facilities and spectator comfort is atrocious. Fans attending the India – Australia ODI at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai earlier this year were left fuming at the overpriced & stale food, the chocked washbasins and messy toilets. Unbelievably, this was not just a one-off and spectator feedback shows that the issue of dirty toilets has been a persistent one for years. Nor is this problem limited to just Mumbai. Indian cricket legend Anil Kumble recently sounded the alarm about the need for BCCI to provide spectators with better facilities across the country, to keep Test cricket alive. Kumble highlighted that quite a few Indian stadiums lack comfortable seats, are in inaccessible locations, have poor transport options and terrible toilet facilities. While fans in India are willing to put up sub-standard facilities to attend a 3-hour T20 or a One Day International game; repeating this experience across multiple days of a Test match does not sound appealing to them. Henceforth, it is not surprising that Test matches in India suffer from low attendances.

To fans, it remains a source of constant frustration that BCCI’s financial domination of the sport & immense wealth has not translated into genuine, world class facilities. BCCI claim that they require the additional funding from ICC to grow the sport & maintain the stadium facilities; but the evidence suggests that BCCI administrators are more pre-occupied with lining their pockets rather than looking after the fans, who are in many ways the real lifeblood of the game.

In Part 2:

In Part 2 of this article, Shounak will examine Srinivasan’s corruption and his fresh behind-the-scenes attempts at an ICC takeover, and will also outline 5 recommendations to ICC, which would improve their governance structure and make it less susceptible to manipulations by powerful Full Members.

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Shounak Sarkar
Shounak Sarkar
Finance Professional by day & Emerging Cricket Writer by night. Passionate cricket fan and advocate of the Global Game!

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