Posted by: Ian Rowley on March 26, 2009
So much for cricket’s brave new world. A year ago the game, which dates back four centuries, was brimming with a newly found optimism. A new tournament in India, which would prove to be a huge success, had attracted a $925 million dollar TV deal and, in the Caribbean, a Texan billionaire was bankrolling a tournament and talking of taking a new, shorter form of the game to U.S. audiences.
Today, hurt by a financial scandal in the U.S. and the threat of terrorism in India, Twenty20 cricket, as the abridged version of cricket is known, appears to be losing some of its luster. While Twenty20 remains wildly popular with fans, this week the Indian cricket authorities were forced to move the showcase tournament, the Indian Premier League, to South Africa. The hasty decision was taken after the Indian government said it couldn’t provide security for the tournament which is to be held from April 10 to May 24. The government’s stance, while unfortunate, is understandable: India is already on high alert after the terrorist atrocity in Mumbai in December and the tournament clashes with India’s upcoming general election. If that wasn’t enough, memories are still fresh from the March 3 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in Lahore in February, which left several Pakistani policemen dead.
For all that, it’s a huge blow to supporters, Lalit Modi, the IPL’s commissioner, and advertisers who cleaned up last year as the tournament dominated Indian TV ratings.
The decision to move the IPL is the latest problem to hit cricket. The success of last year’s inaugural IPL helped another Twenty20 tournament secure a near $1 billion TV deal with ESPN Star Sports, a joint venture between Walt Disney and News Corp, besting the IPL’s $925 million contract. But the first staging of the event, known as the Twenty20 Champions League, was postponed in December after the terror attacks in Mumbai.
Then there’s Sir Allen Stanford, the colorful Texan billionaire whose assets have been frozen while investigators look into the murky dealings of Stanford Financial. One of Sir Allen’s—he was knighted by the Antiguan authorities where his bank was based—sporting interests was Twenty20 cricket and, before his recent misfortune, his bank had been backing cricket in the Caribbean. Even before problems at the Stanford’s company came to light, his showcase event, the Stanford Super Series, hadn’t made a great debut in November. Its finale, a $20 million winner-takes-all match between England’s national team and the Stanford Superstars, a team made of the best cricketers in the region, was damp squib due to a pudding of a pitch. Sir Allen, meanwhile, got a roasting in the British media for cavorting with some of the English players’ wives. At the time, one player reportedly said he wanted to “chin” the errant knight. Given recent events, he won’t be alone.
Still, there is at least something positive for the guardians of Twenty20 to chew over. A row between Sony and the IPL which ended up in the Indian courts was resolved on March 25. The upshot is a new TV deal worth $1.6 billion—almost double the value of the original ten-year deal, which has been annulled.