Cricket’s place on the world stage

Many sports events have over the years laid claim to the title of “third most-watched sports event in the world”.

Many sports events have over the years laid claim to the title of “third most-watched sports event in the world”.

 The Olympic Games and the Fifa World Cup, both quadrennial events, are without doubt the world’s major sports happenings.  But there is no agreement about what comes next, other than daylight.  Many sports events have over the years laid claim to the title of “third most-watched sports event in the world”.

2015 sees the coming together of two quadrennial and one biennial global events for which third spot has often been claimed:  The World Athletics Championships (WAC) in August in Beijing, the Rugby World Cup (RWC) in England and Wales during September/October and the recently completed Cricket World Cup (CWC) in Australia and New Zealand.  All three events are relatively youthful, with the first CWC played in 1975, the first World Athletics Championships following in 1983 (initially quadrennial, but biennial from 1991) and the first Rugby World Cup not arriving until 1987.

The recent CWC was generally hailed as the best CWC ever and the International Cricket Council (ICC) was quick to claim “bronze”.  Do the numbers, however, support the ICC’s boast?

Firstly, on a straightforward head-count, the CWC’s broadcast reach is truly enormous.  Various sources estimated the television viewership in India alone for matches involving India and the final at around 650 million viewers.

The ICC’s revenues from the last eight years – spread between its commercial sponsorships, licencing deals and global media rights deal with Indian broadcaster Star – are believed to have been around the US$1.5 billion mark.  Revenue for the next eight-year cycle until 2023 will increase to US$2.5 billion.  US$1.98 billion is already secured – the reported figure of Star’s renewed deal.

With Star responsible for on-selling rights in individual markets, the ICC’s ability to micro-manage the broadcast strategy and spread it globally was limited.  It only had a say in live coverage in twelve countries and broadcasts were in 24 languages only.

Good broadcasting leads to strong sponsorships.  On the sponsorship front, the CWC was a success.  Eight main, global sponsors were part of the spectacle.

Significantly, most sponsorship income wasn’t sourced out of India.  Pepsi and MoneyGram are USA-based, Hyundai and LG are from South Korea and Emirates’ money comes from the UAE.  However, there is no denying that these companies have a strong Indian bias.  E.g. Pepsi has double Coke’s market share in India, but in strong cricket countries like the UK, Australia and New Zealand Coke outsells Pepsi three to one.

The Indian bias is also reflected in sponsors targeting markets with large south Asian expat communities.  E.g. MoneyGram, the world’s second biggest money transfer company, bought all the broadcast advertising rights in Europe and South America.

Thirdly, on international representation the CWC comes up short.  Fourteen countries competed this year.  In the 2015 RWC there will be twenty countries.  Both are way short of the WAC, where virtually every country in the world is represented.  Even worse is the fact that in 2019 in England, the CWC will be cut to ten teams.  The move has not been universally well-received, with opponents critical of the decision to freeze out developing nations at a time when the sport ought to be expanding.

Finally, from a spectator point of view, the CWC was a big success.  There were no major incidents at any venue and matches were generally well-supported.  The ICC cannot control spectator numbers as they depend on available stadium sizes; apart from the 100,000-seater Melbourne Cricket Ground, there were unfortunately no grand “coliseums” for the CWC.  Nevertheless, on the back of a mini-renaissance in cricket in Australia after successful home series against England India and with its domestic T20 Big Bash League flourishing, the one million ticket sales target was achieved at the CWC.

In summary, the ICC is indeed well-placed to take third spot bragging rights for the CWC.  But for international representation, the WAC and RWC will do well to beat the CWC in broadcast reach and sponsorship revenue.  Spectator numbers for all three will probably be on an even keel.


Francois Brink

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