Big deal, low credibility For a knee-jerk reaction this one takes

Big deal, low credibility

- By Vedam Jaishankar    

For a knee-jerk reaction, this one takes the cake: Caught in a television imbroglio of its own making, the Board of Control for Cricket in India is poised to jump from the frying pan into the fire - it has threatened to launch its own television channel!

ashok mankad

I.S. Bindra, former President of the BCCI and the man behind the proposed BCCI TV Channel

The Board hopes to kill two birds with one stone by launching a 24-hour television channel: Rake in an estimated 3.65 billion dollars over the first five years and also put an end to the legal wrangle dogging telecast rights. Capital as this idea sounds; it could end up as a hare-brained scheme with the Board shorn of its biggest asset; the resounding popularity of cricket.

The Board walked into trouble last year when it denied Zee Telefilms the telecast rights despite the latter being the highest bidder at 308 million dollars spread over the next five years. The Board cancelled Zee's rights after ESPN-Star challenged Zee's suitability to telecast matches. From then on, the Board girded its loins to career down a path that has not been traversed by any association anywhere in the world.

The Rajasthan Cricket Association chief Lalit Modi, who has some experience in the medium, and Punjab Cricket Association's I.S Bindra are the prime movers in floating the proposal to launch a television channel. They believe that a BCCI channel exclusively dedicated to cricket can telecast at least 29 Tests and 43 One-Day Internationals every year. This would boost revenues 12 times above what the Board hopes to generate with the existing modules, they claim.

Their study revealed that the channel could rake in revenue of Rs 2,189.9 crore in the first year and peak at Rs 4,781.9 crore in the fifth year. The first year of operation would cost the Board just Rs 710.2 crore and by the fifth year the annual expenses would be contained at Rs 1,161 crore.

While these figures would surely be salivating for the Board, there are more than a few aspects to ponder.

Primarily, is running a television channel for whatever motive the raison d'etre of the Board? The Board's business is to run cricket efficiently in the country. It already has adequate resources, yet it's running of the game is far from satisfactory. Poorly managed state associations are a drag on a Board that itself stumbles from crisis to crisis. Its image has taken such a beating in the past few years that a television channel in its clutches can only cause more damage, not contain it.

The study speaks of telecasting 29 Tests and 43 one-dayers annually. Surely all these are not being played in India, or by India. Thus, to get the rights from other countries, the Board will have to bid along with other sports channels. Can it break into existing arrangements that some channels already have, like Ten Sports with the Pakistan Cricket Board, for instance? This seems unlikely. So the next best prospect would be for the Board to negotiate with these channels for the right to telecast in India. It is here that the projected revenue modules for the channel could go haywire. If the Board activates the proposal to leverage the India rights for negotiating, it could actually backfire. Especially as the Board's stakes are much higher. This, in turn could make it a soft target for exorbitant demands. Irrespective of whether it gives in or opts out, it will take a hit. Ultimately it might end up killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

If the Board moves into the business of telecasting cricket, what would it do when other emerging media like the internet, FM and community radio, and the like get activated? Would it then enter into other media? If it does, would it not dilute its core responsibility of administering and promoting Indian cricket?

Indeed if the Board has control over media, what would happen when it goofs up like it did with the ambush marketing clause during the World Cup or players rights? How would the Board's television channel project negative images like ball-tampering, illegal bowling actions, poor umpiring decisions, administrative lapses, etc? Would these be glossed over, swept under the carpet or tackled like any professional media unit would. If it does the latter, would there not be a conflict of interest?

What of the ICC's prized properties, the World Cup tournaments and the ICC Champions Trophy. Both deals are stitched up well in advance and there are not too many within the ICC fold who are admirers of the BCCI. And without these money-spinning events, the Board's channel could be compromised.

Indeed, before the Board blindly leaps into the fray and launches its channel it would do well to study the reasons why Doordarshan, for all its advantages, lost out. It too was a monopoly organization with a captive viewership, unbelievably superior reach and funding. But for all its wealth and depth, it missed out on the most important aspect of the media - credibility. Consequently, when the private satellite channels came knocking on Indian doors, the inevitable happened. Doordarshan took a beating from which it is yet to recover. BCCI, whose image and credibility in the eyes of the public is in any case suspect, may well suffer the same fate.

Let the Board be ambitious enough to ensure that its conduct, administration and promotion of the game are flawless and superb. But by no means should greed be the prime motive driving it. For, history is littered with lessons that greed never pays. The Board must realise this before it is too late.