The COVID-19-triggered global slump is likely to change cricket’s power equations for good. Envisaging a future where only the rich will survive, sports business experts and the game’s veteran administrators are predicting the permanent shrinking of the cricket ecosystem with an India-led coalition, that will include England and Australia, calling the shots.
This might also pave the way for the return of cricket’s Big Three model, the once-rejected pro-rich nation revenue-sharing formula. Three years back, the idea that was born after the 2008 recession, was outvoted at the International Cricket Council (ICC). Now with the world dealing with a bigger fiscal crisis, and the smaller nations expected to increasingly depend on games against India to stay afloat, BCCI’s old hands see this as an ideal opportunity to pocket the lion’s share of the ICC revenue.
Director of the Centre for Eurasian Sport Industry at Lyon-based Emlyon Business School, Simon Chadwick, points out that the situation in 2020 is far worse than the 2008 recession and explains how it will impact cricket. Chadwick points out that in 2008 “TV rights were still being sold and sponsorship deals were still being signed”. As compared to that, in 2020 “there are no gate receipts; you don’t have a product on TV and sponsors are going out of business.”
Explaining the impact of the changing economics on cricket, Chadwick says: “England, Australia and India will become even more powerful. They will strengthen their position as leaders of the game.”
Veteran South African administrator and former ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat sounds a touch despondent while giving the non-Big 3 perspective on the corona pandemic. “It would be a battle for survival for weaker nations. Without enough cash flow, some nations might even struggle to meet basic expenditure and unless they are provided with support, there could be some casualties,” says Lorgat.
Chadwick, suggesting a solution, says the onus will be on the richer nations to minimise casualties in the cricketing world. “There are grounds to conclude that the rich will get richer, the powerful will become more powerful. But I think there is a broader question about morality: to what extent India, England and Australia see themselves as being custodians of world cricket. And this is not just about them; it’s also about preserving the existing community.”
However, the BCCI, as of now, is keener to assert its superiority at ICC by reviving the Big 3 model. “Of course, there has to be a new world order in the post-Covid cricket world. There should be a new financial model that gives India its due. At the moment, one fellow (India) earns, everybody else spends. But ultimately, there will be a new order after this pandemic runs its course. Like (US) President Donald Trump has said he will not give money to the WHO, exactly the same way India should say we will not give money to the ICC if the new financial model doesn’t look after our interests. It has to be on India’s terms. But let us first get out of this coronavirus crisis,” said a senior cricket official and a veteran at ICC meetings.
Lorgat, who fell out with the Indian board when he was chief executive of Cricket South Africa, calls this attitude “selfish”. “If rich cricket nations ask for their pound of flesh and want to settle the new (cricket) world order on their own terms, in return for their support to weaker nations, that would be a very selfish approach.”
Lorgat doesn’t want a revival of the Big 3 power structure. “I hope post-Covid cricket doesn’t go back to the Big 3 model. Because, you only make the wealthy wealthier at the expense of making the poor even poorer. So, you need to distribute better. You need to pull your resources and help those who are in need. You can’t willy-nilly provide funding for anybody that doesn’t govern properly, but I don’t buy the argument that the Big Three (and the trickle-down model) will solve the problem.”
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ehsan Mani, too, is dead against the Big Three revival. “The erstwhile Big 3 model didn’t benefit smaller nations. Pakistan was one of the smallest beneficiaries of the Big 3. Pakistan doesn’t get the same return as it contributes. In an ICC event, when Pakistan and India play, Star earns for a 10-second slot around $35,000-40,000. If India is playing England, it would be less than half (of that amount). So, Pakistan is making a huge contribution,” he observes, adding: “Any nation that depended on the Big 3 last time around, now regrets it. A lot of promises were made but not kept. I don’t see a repetition at all.”
Body blow for smaller nations
Although Mani says he doesn’t see the Big 3 dominating the post Covid-19 cricket world, he concedes that weaker nations would suffer a body blow if they miss out on series against India, England and Australia.
“If a country loses big tours like say, India’s tour to another country, or England’s tour to Sri Lanka, or Australia to Bangladesh, you know they might reschedule it for next year, but if that comes at the expense of some other scheduled tour, the ripple effect would be quite big. It might take a couple of years to make up for the losses.”
As Mani points out, West Indies have already missed out on their domestic season and for a cricket board that desperately needs the money – it earns a shade over $14 million a year from TV rights – the consequences could be devastating.
“It’s a bit too soon now to try and gauge what will happen. But I think if things aren’t resolved by August-September, most of the smaller countries will have serious problems. West Indies are now in the middle of their season and they don’t have any cricket. So, the effect of that must be devastating on them. But the South Asian countries, their season starts in October normally. So, they have a little bit of time. But there’s no guarantee that things will be OK (by then),” Mani says.
The situation might get even worse if the ICC is forced to cancel the October-November T20 World Cup in Australia. By a rough estimate, every cricket board will lose $7-8 million in revenue if the tournament is not held. While the Big 3 can take this blow, even in this period for slowdown, the rest will struggle. The shortest format of the game was cricket’s big story from the last decade, the coming one could be about India ruling a shrunk cricketing world.
Power code: The past, present, and future
With close to 70 percent of ICC’s revenue coming from India, BCCI has argued that it deserves a lion’s share of the world body’s earnings. But, the Indian board has found it difficult to develop a consensus on this idea.
PAST: In 2014, with N Srinivasan helming both the Indian cricket board and the ICC, three cricket superpowers – BCCI, Cricket Australia (CA) and England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – combined to draw up the Big Three model that was approved and implemented for the 2015-2023 rights cycle. The Big Three model allocated the ICC revenue share based on the contribution of its Members. India, which contributes over 70 per cent of the ICC revenue, was projected to receive $570 million during the eight-year cycle.
PRESENT: After Shashank Manohar became the independent ICC chairman in 2016, a process was initiated to dismantle the Big Three model, bringing in a more equitable revenue distribution system instead. As the Committee of Administrators (CoA) took charge, there was a change in BCCI’s stand.
With the Indian board no longer pushing for a substantial share of the pie, the Big 3 financial model was outvoted by a margin of 9-1 at the ICC. Accordingly, the BCCI’s revenue share was reduced by approximately $170 million from the amount projected by the Big 3 formula.
FUTURE: The looming economic depression might lead to the revival of the Big 3, led by India. With Manohar unlikely to seek a third term, BCCI is likely to secure the ICC chair. The BCCI, CA and ECB have already joined hands to oppose the Future Tours Programme (FTP) for the 2023-2031 cycle.
So how can the financial model be changed again? At the ICC, regulations may be made or amended by the “Board of Directors or by any Committee, Sub-Committee or member of ICC Management to whom appropriate authority has been delegated by the Board of Directors”. For a special resolution to pass, “more than 75 per cent of the aggregate number of votes” is required.
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