x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Extra focus on money is just not cricket

BCCI's attempt to squeeze more out of its television deal is also about control over the views aired.

The Indian board owns the production rights for all cricket in India.
The Indian board owns the production rights for all cricket in India.

Just what is all this money doing to India? This is not really a question, not a serious one anyway but an exclamation, the result of a brief and recent trip to Delhi.

Serious money has been made in India for nearly 20 years now, since the liberalisation of the economy in the early 1990s, so this exclaiming is not about that.

That story, of the aspirations and prospering of all classes upwards of middle, is worn out from being told so often.

Now another evolution appears to be underway - maybe mutation is the better word - a new checkpoint approached, furthest away from India Ascetic, far away from India Shining and closer to India Bling.

See the news coming out of India. The campaign by an activist to defeat corruption, more breathtaking in its bigness the larger the stakes; a private airline, luxurious and wealthy in its service like few other domestic airlines, suspended because it can no longer pay staff; the economic compulsions of the UK in ending their 10-year boycott of Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat; the demise and rise of the Indian Premier League's Deccan Chargers.

The rejoicing of money, the ruin it brings, the power it provides; this runs as headline or subtext through so much, so much more than ever until recently.

This weekend India staged a second Formula One race, and these days few status symbols come as potent as a grand prix.

These are excerpts no longer just of aspiration, but of a more rabid drive, limitless and meaningless and very powerful.

And it is this sense, that the point is not just to make money anymore, but to show it off, to show how much power it creates, to rub it in, that has become clearer; that to be anything you must be making some money and that only if you are making money are you anything.

All of this is to place in one wider tableau the developing fracas between the Board of Control for Cricket in India and Sky over commentary and coverage rights for England's tour to India.

Sky has signed sub-licensee agreements with Star TV which has the global media rights of Indian cricket (and so Sky have access to a world feed), but not unusually, production rights.

Those are with the BCCI, so access to commentary boxes and studios, has to come from them and they have asked for US$800,000 (Dh2.9 million) from Sky for that access. Sky - and the BBC - may not pay and thus will not come for the tour.

In defending what the BCCI are doing here, it will be pointed out that legally, according to contractual obligations, they are not violating any stipulation.

They would not have made the demand had they been. Some will probably even applaud their sharpness in spotting an opportunity to make more money.

Except that this is not really about money, or more accurately, not about the earning of it. (Except that is, at the level that the BCCI has monetised everything and so ownership of stadiums and now production rights of broadcast, naturally lead to this as the next step.)

The BCCI has been making big money since 1996 and unimaginable amounts of it since 2008; $800,000 is the kind of change that is probably lost among their sofa cushions.

This is actually about the BCCI making money to show that the ability to generate it endlessly also grants them the right to not just exercise, but to actively show off the power of that money: it is a naked show of strength.

This is how the BCCI now measures itself and its relations, through acts such as this.

Similarly, it is also about the BCCI's overbearing control of the game, a control that envelops what people can say on air about a match being played in India.

If Sky's commentators are going to come here and raise issues we do not want raised, the BCCI seem to be saying, then they are at least going to pay us for the privilege.

It is another point entirely whether, as some broadcasters believe, the cost is actually grossly overstated. Some broadcasters will tell you -and it is difficult to disagree - that the BCCI is setting a dangerous precedent.

Admittedly, this is a peculiar case because Sky and Star are among the few broadcasters who take their own broadcast teams to cover foreign tours and because the BCCI has effectively become a production house.

Incidentally, the other board that owns production rights - Cricket South Africa - has never made such demands and leaves such issues to International Management Group to sort. Until now there has been an element of cooperation, of mutually beneficial arrangements, between broadcasters such as Sky and Star and home broadcasters of whichever country they may be travelling to.

When Sky came to the UAE and worked with Ten Sports (the home broadcaster for Pakistan) in the Pakistan-England series, for example, they shared facilities and commentators.

But what will now stop other boards from leaning upon their contracted broadcasters (and producers) to charge visiting broadcasters money, either to simply make money or control the messages coming out, or both, and so be more like the BCCI?


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