World Cup 2011: Coming to a television near you on March 22

Written by  //  February 23, 2011  //  Economic & Social Policy  //  2 Comments

CWC 2011 Opening Ceremony

World Cup 2011 mascot Stumpy arrives at the opening ceremony

The 2011 Cricket World Cup is starting soon and, quite honestly, the excitement is overwhelming me. It’s been eight years since the last World Cup (yes, it has) and, frankly, that’s far too long a wait.

Yet, even as I will descend into bouts of nostalgia and fevered build-up elsewhere, my reflections here are sobering. “Write a piece on Economics and cricket”, he says. Gee. What could they possibly have to do with one another?

I’ve already raved enough about the IPL and the limited spillover of economic benefits from big-ticket sporting events to the wider economy. Since it’s the World Cup, however, it must be time to collectively beat our heads against yet another logic-defying, time-warp of a schedule thrown up the ICC. The phantom 2007 World Cup (which everyone except Australia has endeavoured to wipe clean off the memory slate) must surely be in the running for the award for Most Poorly Organised Sports Event Ever. Yet, am I alone in thinking that it might have thrown up more relevant matches than the 2011 cup will be likely to?

In 2007, the tournament’s carcass was dragged along for 47 days through 51 matches involving 16 teams. This time, the cup has been “compressed” to 49 matches played in 42 days, even though it involves two fewer teams. As weight loss exercises go, this is the equivalent of sitting in the steam room for 30 minutes. Moreover, unlike in 2007, the first three quarters of the tournament will consist of little excitement other than betting on who will hit the most sixes in the qualifying stages of the tournament. Group B is particularly galling: Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand face the immense task of knocking out Canada, Kenya and Zimbabwe en route to the quarters.

Why, then, didn’t the powers-that-be organize the world cup in a more competitive format? How about fewer associates? How about retaining the current group structure but eliminating the quarterfinal stage and moving straight to the semis (imagine how exciting that would be!)?

The most important factor driving the design of the present format was undoubtedly the need to ensure that India plays as many games as possible. India’s early exit from the 2007 edition dealt a sucker punch to global corporate interests in the World Cup and led to the tournament dropping off the media map somewhere into the third week. Light-bulbs flashed in the minds of the ICC powers-that-be even as they were extinguished during the 2007 final: financial salvation lies in India and India alone. In fact, Ashok Malik argues that it was India’s early exit in 2007 that led to the birth of the IPL: a tournament guaranteeing television broadcasters and corporate sponsors a predetermined dose of Indian cricket stars for the Indian cricket-watching public. The introduction of the TRP-guarantee model – where sponsors and advertisers pay television channels on the basis of the TRP ratings achieved during their slots – ensured that the value of the broadcast deals are now very closely tied in with India’s progress through any major tournament.

No surprises there, of course: India accounts for over 70 per cent of the sport’s global revenues. But would the tournament really suffer if it was redesigned to move straight from the group stages to the semi-final? The long suffering Indian fan would only be cheated of (spared?) one single match, and, instead, would be treated to the delight of 38 potential humdingers (excluding associate-associate matches).

There is more, of course. Sponsorship and broadcast deals are signed on the basis of a given number of matches involving certain teams (cue the IPL franchise war when the BCCI threatened to throw out a bunch of teams). Corporations make bids based on financial projections that depend on the number of matches played and the teams involved in the game. No India is bad news for a sponsor, of course, but equally bad would be the decision by the ICC to turn the World Cup into a knock-out tournament overnight.

ESPNStar signed an eight year broadcast deal with the ICC in 2006 for the coverage of two ODI world cups, two T-20 world cups and three champions trophies. The deal was reportedly worth a sensational US$1.1 billion and almost certainly gave ESPN executives sleepless nights in the summer of 2007. They signed up for the tournament on the basis of a (presumably) predetermined number of games.

Would four games have made such a difference, though? Would those cash-flow projections have imploded if we threw in a number of highly competitive matches involving at least 6 top-flight teams?

Apparently, they would. Ad slots leap from a modest Rs 4 lakh per ten seconds in the group stages to R 24 lakhs in the QFs. So, assuming 30 second ad breaks between overs, 3 minutes for drinks breaks, 30 seconds for every wicket, 12 minutes during the innings break and 8 minutes before and after the match in two thirty minute segments brings us to 94 minutes of ads (assuming the fall of 14 wickets) worth Rs 135 crores. This doesn’t even include those exasperating ads that jump out at you from the screen while the game is on. This Rs 135 crore haul compares rather favourably with Rs 23 crore from the group stages. Seems pretty hard to think beyond the seven knock-out games.

(I hear a whisper. Maybe the first-round match ad slots would cost a bit more if the matches weren’t so pointless. But why bother with being inventive when there’s so much money to be made?).

Despite all these rumblings, I really am very excited about the World Cup. I’ve taken leave, booked plane tickets, organized the right sports channels on the right TV – I can’t wait till March 22!

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