At its annual general meeting on July 25 and 26, the International Cricket Council met to confirm its future tours program for matches between its 12 full members between May 2023 and April 2027.
The stand-out feature of the program is the almost total lack of games between the end of March and early June in each year.
It should come as no surprise for regular readers of this column to learn that the vacuum is filled by the Indian Premier League. Its encroachment on and erosion of international cricket seems to know no bounds, nor does it or its sponsoring media companies and advertisers show any signs of their appetite for money being satiated.
Evidence of the growth of the shortened game format Twenty20 cricket, in addition to the IPL, is all around. The latest incarnation has arisen in South Africa with the announcement of franchise owners by Cricket South Africa on July 20. A total of 10 places were made available for interested bidders to own a franchise, and six have been successful, all of them IPL franchise owners.
The Newlands, Cape Town, franchise is held by Reliance Industries Ltd., owner of the Mumbai Indians; that at Kingsmead, Durban, by RPSG Sports Private Ltd., owner of the Lucknow Super Giants; while Sun TV Network Ltd., owner of SunRisers Hyderabad, holds the franchise at St. George’s Park, Gqeberha. At Wanderers, Johannesburg, Chennai Super Kings Cricket Ltd. holds sway, as do the Royals Sports Group, owner of Rajasthan Royals, at Boland Park, with JSW Sports, the owner of Delhi Capitals, completing the set at SuperSport Park, Pretoria.
The force behind these franchises is a mix of ultra-rich people and companies. The chair of Reliance Industries is Mukesh Ambani, reported to be the 11th-richest person in the world. Among the Royal Sports Group’s shareholders are Lachlan Murdoch, venture capitalist Manoj Badale, and RedBird Capital, which, in turn, is a shareholder in the Fenway Sports Group, owner of Liverpool football club and the Boston Red Sox baseball team.
The RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group is an Indian multinational conglomerate, with revenues approaching $3 billion. It is understood that the highest bid was submitted by Chennai Super Kings Cricket Ltd., whose major shareholder is the India Cements Shareholders Trust. India Cements is owned by a controversial former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Narayanaswami Srinivasan, who also had a spell as chair of the ICC. Sun TV Network holds assets of $1 billion, while JSW Steel generates revenues of $19 billion.
None of these parties are accustomed to failure, from which previous attempts to establish a T20 tournament in South Africa have suffered. In a clear attempt to avoid previous problems, a highly respected former captain of South Africa and director of Cricket South Africa, Graeme Smith, has been appointed as commissioner of the new league. One of his responsibilities will be to ensure that the deals with franchise owners are flawless.
The six franchise bids are reported to have amassed in excess of $150 million, on the basis of a 10-year deal, with three teams paying around $10 million and three $5 million per annum. Media rights of around $1 million are already secure and revenues will be further boosted by sponsorship deals and spectator income.
Eyebrows may be raised in some quarters over the timing of the tournament. Although no firm dates have yet been announced, it is set to commence in January and February 2023. As reported in this column in early June, these are also the months which have been proposed for the new UAE franchise tournament, not to mention the Bangladesh Premier League, scheduled between Jan. 3 and Feb. 17, 2023, and the Pakistan Super League between Feb. 15 and March 31.
In the UAE, six franchises have been confirmed, three of them having existing IPL franchises – Reliance Industries, owner of Mumbai Indians and one of the new South African franchises; GMR Group, which shares ownership of the Delhi Capitals with JSW Group; and Knight Riders Group, which also owns the Trinbago Knight Riders in the Caribbean Premier League and is a founder promoter of Major League Cricket in the US.
A clear concentration of ownership is emerging in T20 cricket and, with it, not only a difficulty of being able to accommodate all of the T20 tournaments, but also how to fit them in with other international cricket formats.
There is also the issue that the heavily funded T20 tournaments demand acceptable returns for investors, which are predicated on viewers being able to watch the top international cricketers. Given that contracted Indian cricketers are not allowed to participate in franchised tournaments outside of India, the potential pool is significantly reduced.
Player fatigue is also apparent, with Ben Stokes, England’s new Test match captain, choosing to announce his retirement from 50-over, one-day international cricket. He is of the opinion that too much cricket is being crammed into 12 months, making it very difficult for players to participate in all three formats. He said: “We are not cars; you can’t just fill us up and we’ll go out there and be ready to be fueled up again.”
Already, it seems that influential figures in the game are expressing their views that it is 50-over cricket which is under threat. Some have criticized its middle overs as boring, where nothing much happens. Others say that it is too long, taking all day, demanding a commitment of time and concentration which modern audiences are reluctant to provide. This ignores the fact that some of cricket’s most exciting matches, including the 2019 World Cup final, have been played in this format.
There are rapidly rising tensions within cricket which threaten to erupt. Among other things, these have been caused by the explosion of T20 franchise cricket, the battle for ownership of players, the desire to protect Test cricket, India’s growing stranglehold on the game and, of course, money.
Something has to give and, currently, ODI cricket is in the firing line.