Sport is no longer just play. It is a high-stakes game driven by money and politics, write Abhijit Chatterjee and M.S. Unnikrishnan
IN the not too distant past playing international cricket matches (especially between India and Pakistan) in offshore venues of Sharjah, Dubai, Toronto and Singapore was frowned upon. The matches there were ‘fixed’, the pundits said. In the late 90s the Indian board imposed a blanket ban on Indian team playing there.
But the equation has changed. Now, the International Cricket Council (ICC) is seriously contemplating shifting its headquarters from Lords to Dubai, to encash the greater marketing opportunities the area offers. No one, not even the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), is complaining. If international cricket is looking to marketing to garner more funds for the promotion of the game so is Indian cricket, where marketing has become the buzzword.
In India, cricketers are earning money which was unheard of even a decade ago. Top Test players make more money off the ground by endorsements and other business than they do by playing for the country. Even Ranji Trophy players are better off financially than their counterparts in other sports. Cricket is no more a gentleman’s game; now it is business.
Otherwise, why would everyone, from the politician and bureaucrat to the businessman, want a finger in the Indian cricket pie? National Congress Party strongman Sharad Pawar tried his hand at winning the top post in the BCCI. The virtual ‘king’ of Maharashtra, a Union Minister and a leading partner in the UPA Government at the Centre, already had much on his hands. He was forced to bite the dust in the fiercely contested elections in Kolkata. Jagmohan Dalmiya, who has done his bit in putting Indian cricket on a stronger pedestal as President of the BCCI, still wants to pull the strings as patron-in-chief?
The answer is power. Having a finger in the cricket pie helps not only to project oneself but also to be in the public eye. And, politics is all about being in the public eye. Same for bureaucrats and the businessmen, who over the years have more or less permanent places in the board. The BCCI President is probably better known than many Union Ministers, carries more clout and is seen more often, both on TV and in newspapers. The BCCIPresident (together with his team of office-bearers) handles more money and signs bigger deals than many big companies and government departments
The BCCI is the richest cricket body in the world. It has, according to reports, made investments of over Rs 180 crore in fixed deposits in nationalised banks and has also earmarked Rs 48 crore for various activities in the current year. The national coach, physio and most of the back-up men have been appointed from abroad. But nobody is complaining. The marketing skills of those who run Indian cricket must come in for praise, along with the appeal the game has in the country. The board earns money through sponsorships, match fees, TV rights and also as its share from the ICC as profits of the World Cup and the ICC Trophy.
The picture was not so rosy in the 1990s. When Mr Dalmiya became the BCCI secretary in 1990 and Mr Inderjit Singh Bindra the President, the board was in the red. But they knew that proper marketing and good strategies could make fortunes of the BCCI swing around. And how the fortunes changed.
The first opportunity came their way when TWI approached the board for the rights of the 1993 India-England series in India. Doordarshan had a stranglehold on the telecast rights of the cricket matches at home. Bindra and Dalmiya fought it and sold the rights to TWI for Rs 18 lakh (A princely sum then. Now TV rights of the matches in India are going for over $ 300 million for a four-year period).
That was the start of the money churning machine, which simply refuses to stop (India-based companies had predominant on-ground displays even during the matches at the ICC Champions Trophy in England).
The biggest feather in Dalmiya’s marketing cap was the selling of the TV rights of the 1996 World Cup (co-hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) for $10 million. Now the board is looking at an average revenue of Rs 365 crore a year.
When Dalmiya took over the as the ICC President in 1997 it had £ 16,000 in its kitty, but when he demitted office, the ICC coffers were bulging with $ 15 million. Besides, the international body had a cash cow in the form of the World Cup and the Champions Trophy. (If the ICC had not come up with a rotation policy for the Champions Trophy and the World Cup, then given the clout of the Indian sponsors it was quite possible that the tournaments would be held in India every time).
At home, the fees that the title sponsor gives for a one-day international has climbed from Rs 12 lakh to over Rs 70 lakh in 10 years. The host association has to pay guarantee money to the board for the match. Despite this, host associations manage to show handsome profits, running into lakhs.
So benevolent is the board that associations which do not get an opportunity to host international matches (as matches for the National Cricket Championship rarely draw spectators) are given money by the board so that they don’t have to go around with a hat in hand.
More recently, the board decided to grant pension to former players and have annual contracts for the top 20 players. (Currently 17 players have been awarded contracts while three players are to be signed later) Even the lowest grade player would get Rs 20 lakh per year. Moreover, the match fees, both for Tests and one-dayers, has been increased.
It does not stop here. Youngsters are provided the best possible facilities. Many teams travel by air while playing in the National Cricket Championship, stay in good hotels, get good food and the best health back-up. A first class cricket player for the higher-ranked teams earns up to Rs 3 lakh a year from cricket alone.
More than the board it is the players who rake in the moolah from the sport. Top Indian players are sitting on a goldmine. Leading the pack is little master Sachin Tendulkar, who stands to pick up, according to reports, up to Rs 5 crore annually for every deal he signs. Avid television watchers have probably lost count of the number of products he promotes. Just below him is skipper Sourav Ganguly, who is reportedly paid Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 2 core for each endorsement. Vice-captain Rahul Dravid gets a little less. Even Parthiv Patel, the baby of the team who is yet to establish his place (he was dropped from the team for the tri-nation tournament in Holland, the NatWest Challenge and the ICC Champions Trophy) commands an endorsement fee of about Rs 20 lakh. The marketing company managing the affairs of Irfan Pathan, who is just making his mark in international cricket, is eyeing cash prospects. The expectation is that the Baroda boy can pick up Rs 50 lakh per endorsement, for which a number of companies have already lined up.
Nothing sells better than cricket in a country starved of sporting heroes.
It is not only endorsements which fetch the players money. They have branched out to other business. Sachin has a chain of restaurants in Mumbai while Ganguly plans to open a food court in Kolkata. The sponsors of the Indian team pay Rs 1.5 crore a year for the non-leading arm of the cricketers in addition to about Rs 50 lakh per match for its logo on the shirt the players wear.
The Indian team is nowhere near the top in the international one-day ratings. Of late its showing has slipped. The bad performances have not stopped the money from flowing in, either to the board or the players. In fact, money has helped cricket become a truly Indian game.
IF cricket is the 'king' then other games are mere 'courtiers', children of a lesser God. The money generated by cricket is mind boggling. Other sports federations have to beg and borrow to survive, a few exceptions notwithstanding.
After cricket, golf has the richest sports body in the country, though the gap between the two is huge. Tennis, hockey and football federations have some funds, and have the wherewithal to generate more money. These games have great appeal, but they lack a man of Jagmohan Dalmiya's foresight, vision and financial wizardry to sell them to the highest bidder.
Golf is not a great spectator sport. Yet, it attracts huge corporate sponsorships because of the 'prestige' associated with the game. It is still the 'sahib's' game.
Captains of corporates are generally avid golfers themselves. They know the 'potential' of the sport, and fork out huge sums to sponsor golf events. But Indian Golf Union (IGU) secretary Wg. Com. Aparajit says the money in golf in the country is not very big as it's nowhere near the finances of the Professional Golfers' Association of the world.
Golf, like cricket, is not headed by a politician, and it shows. Though the federations headed by politicians bring in a lot of money, they are always in the red. The funds generated through political connections dry up fast, as most of it goes into line the pockets of the the bosses themselves-tree eating the fruit kind of syndrom. There are around 70-80 corporate golf tournaments in the country, which works out to one tournament every week. Each tournament costs around Rs 4 to 5 lakh.
The Indian Open Golf Championship, the highest prize money event is the 'property' of the IGU, and it gets 10 per cent share of the total $ 3 lakh prize money, which works out to around Rs 15 to 18 lakh. The IGU also gets subscription fees from clubs, with the minimum amount being Rs 4,000. There are around 175 golf clubs in the country, and the IGU receives Rs 20 on each member. The IGU also gets subscription fee from own its members, ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 7,000. The government steps in to provide help to golf only when the team represents the country in the Asian Games, world championship etc.
Still, Wg. Com Aparajit feels that the income of the IGU is not much. There is a body to look after the interest of the pros, which is called the Professional Golfers' Association of India (PGAI). The PGAI gets a share of the tour from the Tiger Sports Management, promoters of the Tour. The Amby Valley Indian Golf Tour is worth around Rs 40 crore, and the money is quite substantial by Indian standards.
Football has always been a crowd puller and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) was never short of funds. But the situation turned sour when the AIFF stopped club tournaments, and scrapped the prestigious Nehru Gold Cup International Tournament, which robbed the state associations of their income, and they went broke. That a State like Kerala, where football is a craze, like in Bengal, Goa and the North East, backed out of organising the 59th edition of the National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy (which will now be held in Delhi from October 14 to 31), spoke eloquently about the financial health of football in the country.
The National Football League has failed to reach out to the masses as the matches are held only in select cities and are not telecast live. Football's base is in the interiors, and the AIFF has woefully failed to tap this vast potential. The AIFF, headed by Union Minister P R Dasmunshi, blames its marketing agents Strata for not packaging the game well. The AIFF receives about $ 25,000 from the Asian Football Confederation with which it runs its activities. It also receives a share of the profits from the World Cup organised by FIFA (International Football Federtion). But the formation of Prasar Bharti has robbed it of the telecasting income. The good old Doordarshan was willing to part with money to telecast football. But Prasar Bharti wants money from the AIFF or its sponsors to telecast matches. The AIFF earns around Rs 8 to 10 crore from the National League, but due to poor marketing and no telecast, sponsors are not willing to pitch in.
The Santosh Trophy, returning to Delhi after a gap of 60 years, will cost around Rs 50 lakh. But it is not yet clear whether the matches would be telecast live or not. Hockey is still a popular sport in the country.
But the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) has not come out clean on its income and expenditure. Nor has it marketed the game well. It has a title sponsor in Sahara, which reportedly parts with a "few crores" for the privilege. But IHF's coaching and other activities are taken care of by the Government, and the Indian Olympic Association provided it with something to the tune of Rs 65 lakh for the preparation of the team for the Athens Olympic Games. The sponsorship money goes into the IHF kitty but the players seem to get very little. KPS Gill has brought in money into the IHF account, but its financial health is a closely kept secret.
Tennis is also a 'rich' sport, thanks to the meticulous financial management of the All India Tennis Association (AITA) by the Khannas, who are chartered accountants by profession. It's cash cow, the swanky R K Khanna Stadium, located at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association complex in New Delhi, generates encough income to sustain AITA's programmes. The India Tennis Centre at the DLTA and the National Tennis Academy at Gurgaon with residential accommodation for 120 boys and girls. These world class facilities have been created without Government or Corporate support.
The AITA spent around Rs 5 crore in conducting 35-40 international tournaments with ranking points last year, out of which the Government's contribution was a mere Rs 40 lakh. The AITA conducts the highest number of low priced money tournaments in Asia, and it has a domestic circuit of nearly 150 junior tournaments. The AITA requires at least Rs 25 crore to implement its ambitious plans to promote the game in the country.
AITA is the first ISO 9001:2000 certified sports association in India, but the corporates are not impressed. Mr Khanna says parents will have to invest Rs 15 to 20 lakh over a period of 3 to 4 years to support the tennis career of a young player.
The AITA has supported many promising players like Rohan Bopanna, Harsh Mankad and Sania Mirza but it does not have much funds to sustain the gesture. The DCM Shriram Consolidated Ltd (DSCL) has been promoting the National Hardcourt Tennis Championship since 1992 in Delhi. The DSCL Championship has afforded a perfect platform for the junior players to establish their credentials. DSCL spends around Rs 25 lakh every year to host the tournament, which is a big relief for the AITA.
Some other companies have been promoting disciplines like boxing, wrestling etc, but nothing great in comparison to the fancied games. Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi, as president of the Athletics Association of India (AAI), has brought in crores in sponsorships deals, though the athletes seemed to have not benefited from the riches of the association. Need help and support. Then there is Vishwanathan Anand, who has grown far greater and richer than the All-India Chess Federation. A successful career spanning 14 years has seen Anand accumulate over Rs 100 crore in prize money, appearance fee and endorsements.
When he won the world title at Tehran in 2000, Anand collected a cheque for half a million dollars, the highest prize money bagged by an Indian. He has been charging $ 1 lakh to $ 80,000 as appearance fee ever since. And if his winnings in prize money is added, Anand pockets Rs 3 to 4 crore every year.
Most federations survive on Government doles which varies from Rs 5 lakh, Rs 3 lakh and Rs 2 lakh every year, depending on the categorization of the disciplines-priority, general and others. The cash prize awarded to medal winners at international competitions is the sole incentives for children of the lesser sports.