Najam Sethi, Chairman of the Management Committee of the Pakistan Cricket Board has been in the news. Amidst reports he may well not see his tenure extended or to return as Chairman of the PCB through nomination by the Patron of the PCB, the Prime Minister Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Sethi, has his own style, though now in his seventies, he still shows willingness to adhere to power.
It’s not him, most of the lot, a generation before us still coexists with a complex that experience is the only attribute making them indispensable. And the worst, Pakistan cricket has gotten stuck between redundancy and transition. Most of the lot with Sethi, is of those with conventional wisdom and the ones believing in self-service. How the elections have been conducted in most of the regions, though in accordance with the 2014 constitution, still people announced on the regional committees are the like-minded, wreaking nepotism. And sidelining the more robust and doers, Sethi, as one sees has been surrounded by youthful ambitious population which isn’t really the stuff required to properly implement the relevant policies.
Sethi, obviously has a clout, a man well connected in the cauldrons of power and a seasoned journalist somehow the other manages to curtail criticism and most of the journalists wink at whatever is being done at the PCB, obviously masking the wrongs.
Recently, we had seen a Chairman of the Management Committee having a prescribed agenda, he hasn’t been proactive doing what was expected to be done rather he has taken decisions which may well not fall in his ambit until he is elected (or handpicked) as Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board. So much has happened without any noise created around him- that’s his success.
The surrogate ‘betting’ companies allowed to sponsor the franchises of the Pakistan Super League, the advertisements being run on PCB broadcasts on different specialized sports channels, even the crypto currency campaigns etc. and still Sethi led PCB had not been able to marginalize or eradicate the unconstitutional presence of such enterprises. Worse still, Sethi’s desperation to have Micky Arthur on board saw him making mockery of the existing models internationally having him as an ‘online’ Pakistan team Director and the others he picked include Grant Bradburn as Head Coach seemingly is a result of over-dependence on one man. It could have been much better though top international names and coaches may well not be affordable therefore sticking to Micky may well be rationalized. Nonetheless, why didn’t we have local coaches is another debate. Still better foreign coaches are hired for places like the National High-Performance Centre, to train the trainers in different genre including the local coaches and identify the contemporary requirements and to establish unblemished developmental pathways.
Disheartening it has been to see the Pakistan Super League virtually now held hostage by the six franchises and the PCB not allowed to add more teams. Furthermore, having attracted international cricket back to Pakistan, out of desperation even went astray proposing PSL IX to be moved to the Emirates and all based on flimsy excuses. There are couple of factors which will hurt the Pakistan Super League. Hegemonic presence of the franchise stakeholders, the draft versus auction argument, and to increase the outlay by having more teams, more commercial airtime, and more opportunities to impregnate the broadcast revenue. To all intents and purpose, the on-ground advertisement and title sponsors play only a limited role nonetheless broadcast rights and monetization of the content is the real earner. Even the main sponsors, the logos on the kits etc. only spur limited income.
What’s more significant is the broadcast revenue. PCB sold the Pakistan Super League VII and VIII broadcast rights for Rs 4.4 billion. These were picked by ARY Communications and the Pakistan Television. It was indeed huge since the broadcasters for the first time bid for the PSL rights unlike in the past where despite a conflict of interest, a business house was the acquirer, also the seller using specialized channels as carriers. Reportedly, the business house that picked the rights for the first six editions of the PSL since 2015-16 ended up defaulting on payments besides the broadcasters feeling the need to syndicate rights of a league that had become a saleable brand. Though presence of multiple sports channels within the territory of Pakistan encourage competition and may well help the PCB attracting more money in lieu of the rights selling still another conflict of interest though legally cosher saw ARY Communications owners of one of the six franchises of the PSL successfully bidding for the PSL VII and PSL VIII broadcast rights along with the state-owned Pakistan Television. It fetched PCB handsome amounts.
Pakistan’s market outlay must increase and that is only possible if the already existing franchises come up with a twelve-month calendar of commercial and social activities and prepare high tier content for broadcasts. Lahore Qalandars is the only franchise which has encouraged such activities.
PCB and the six franchises are required to create parallel content, the merchandise, the fantasy leagues (much better than to have surrogate advertising by the gambling sites) and to spin money around the main product.
Two, they’ll be required to increase the number of teams and to get into the auctions rather than the mundane draft system which is equally ‘tampered’. Money offered to international players must increase and obviously it won’t be an easy doing because of the prevalent inflation and the USD-PKR disparity. This inflicts all the stakeholders. And by not offering lucrative amounts the international star cast hardly gets attracted to the PSL. Unless bigger brands become part of the franchise teams, sponsorships and broadcast rights value will not grow as required or anticipated.
Another point to ponder is about the desperation of Najam Sethi to ensure Asia Cup 2023 is hosted by Pakistan which remains inconclusive after India’s refusal to tour our country. We have seen obsessive statements pouring in the media from Sethi, blowing hot and cold, first trying to be firm and unbendable then ending up agreeing to introduce a hybrid model with four matches staged in Pakistan and the rest off-sure. With India not playing in Pakistan makes Asia Cup irrelevant therefore a hybrid model may well save Pakistan’s grace and their future where they have been assigned the ICC Champions Trophy to be hosted in 2025. I believe, more important is to get arranged the India-Pakistan bilateral series even if they are hosted at a neutral venue.
India-Pakistan matches are the goldmine of sports broadcasting globally. It’s true Cricket Australia has come up with a USD 1.5 billion broadcast deal with the Foxtel-Seven Alliance extending the contract until 2031 still not even the Australia-England but the Pakistan versus India matches attract astronomical revenues. The India versus Pakistan match in the ICC World Cup 2011 attracted 495 million unique viewers while the final between India and Sri Lanka had 558 million. The ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final between India and Pakistan had 324 million viewers while in the ICC World Cup 2015, 324 million watches the two teams playing. The number of viewers in the ICC World T20, 2022 on digital platforms increase from 10 million to 16 million in the last over and in ICC World T 20, 2021, the broadcast viewers were 167 million. This clearly shows how lucrative is India playing against Pakistan regardless of the venues. One must also contemplate unless quality of content, its marketability and brand value increases, even the stakeholders such as the specialized sports broadcasters or the business houses won’t be able to add value to the already exorbitant price of the content. PTVC picked up Rs 1.5 billion revenue from the ICC World Cup 2015, Rs 458 million from ICC Champions Trophy 2017, Rs 1.4 billion from the ICC World Cup 2019 transmission, Rs 1.8 billion from the ICC World Cup T 20, 2021 and Rs 2 billion from ICC World Cup T 20, 2022. The two PSL VII and VII editions brought them Rs 2.6 billion, a marginal profit where they had pay Rs 2.2 billion for the acquisition of the content. Unless, the spread is extended, and the outlay is broadened, no channel would be able to procure the rights. Even, the ICC Rights 2023 to 2027 will be a real predicament considering the USD-PKR disparity. Cricket outlay needs to grow within the territory of Pakistan.
Interestingly, the Indian Premier League Rights were sold in 2021, both television and digital for an unimaginable USD 6.2 billion, about three times the value of preceding contracts. The broadcast rights were picked by Star India, the Disney USA subsidiary had it for USD 3.02 billion, and the digital rights went to Viacom18 at USD 3.05 billion. Viacome18 is a joint venture between Paramount and India’s Reliance Industries. It shows the consumer base and the depth of the market in India that television and digital IPL rights deal values at more than USD 1 billion. Annually. Now it can be compared with top leagues in the world. The National Football League fetches USD 10 billion a year, English Premier League is at about USD 4 billion and the National Basketball Association USD 2.7 billion.
Traditionally, in the last fifteen years the broadcast and digital rights went to a single party and it was for the first time, two major market players came in with robust offers. This saw the IPL media rights (2023-2027) sold for INR 48,390 crore. Remembering the media rights of the 2018-2022 cycle went for INR 16,347.50 crore. Interestingly, for the 2023-2027 cycle Star India picked the broadcast rights for INR 23,575 crore and Viacom18 paid INR 23,758 crore for the digital content for the same cycle.
According to a report in India there were approximately 692 million active users of smart phones, 351 million rural and 341 million urban population. KPMG analysis revealed that television broadcast in India had about 900 million watching IPL matches. And how Viacom18 has premediated the future transition from the television broadcast to the digital platforms significantly the smart phones are all futuristic and how they have come up with their marketing campaigns such as Sachin Tendulkar, their icon dressed in linen, relaxing in his drawing room watching cricket on smartphone. That’s how you build products into brands. Quality of the production of cricket has gone high from UHD to 4k even talk about 8k is creating ripples around. The more companies invest in production quality, the more exorbitant will be the rights value.
Undesirably, and I believe how Najam Sethi has objected to ICC’s new financial model is most appropriate. In an already polarized world, instead of encouraging the smaller markets to adapt progressive policies, these are being sidelined and the rich is becoming richer. This must be contested. Such is the power and presence of Indian market and BCCI’s influence due to the monetary robustness of Indian Premier League. How it attracts top players of the world and how different boards are financially incentivized. Pakistan will be receiving their share at 5.75% of the total ICC revenue while India attracts 38.50%. This is ominous and an evident disproportion and discrepancy. In this financial model for the 2024-2027 cycle, Australia’s share is 6.25%, England 6.89%, Pakistan 5.75%, South Africa 4.37%, New Zealand 4.73%, Sri Lanka 4.52%, West Indies 4.58%, followed by Afghanistan 2.80%, Bangladesh 4.46%, Ireland 3.01%, and Zimbabwe 2.94%.
The total amount for the Full Members is 88.81% while the ICC contemplates developing cricket the Associate Members’ share is restricted to 11.19%. There must be genuine reasons and other factors that India drives cricket’s economy and gets the heftiest returns still India and Pakistan matches are the biggest, most watched, and highly saleable brands.
Why shouldn’t Pakistan be rewarded, and their share increased up to 12 to 15%. This would need aggressive canvassing and logical representation at the ICC. Keyboard warriors can provide you the analysis based on real time data nonetheless PCB will need to work out of their skins to get prioritized at the ICC. This requires redressing.