Friday, April 20, 2007

ESPN-Star renegotiating ICC cricket deal?

There is a news item in The Economic Times that says ESPN-Star is looking at renegotiating the ICC cricket rights, which was pegged at around $1.2 billion.

The reasons quoted by the paper are:
  • India's performance is poor, and the value of Indian rights is more than 70% of the global value.
  • 2015 World Cup in Australia is non- prime time.
  • Advertisers are looking for safety clauses in contracts (if favourite teams flop, if rain impacts the tournament etc.)
  • Indian super stars will have retired by then (Sachin, Rahul, Saurav, Virender etc.)
  • DD-Nimbus encryption problems.
I think this is complete garbage. Firstly, team performance is mostly cyclic. Australian matches, if day-night, will get into reasonable prime-time. Maybe, they can hold more matches in Perth than anywhere else:-) Current super stars will be replaced by future super stars.

I think, the real issue is that the price quoted is anyway high, irrespective of all the above reasons. ESPN should not have bid $1.2 billion.

The main problem I see is the Indian government legislation on sharing the feed with Doordarshan. That lowers the value of World Cup rights and other cricket rights. India cannot enforce such legislation on matches played outside Indian territory. So, it is upto ICC and other cricket boards to join the broadcasters and fight the Government legislation in the Indian courts.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Cricket World Cups and Cricinfo

The first World Cup after the advent of Internet was in 1992, in Australia and New Zealand. K.Robert Elz, known as 'kre' who was a fairly senior officer in the Australian Internet Setup would write a brief match report and the scorecard as on that point and will mail that to the newsgroup The same was broadcast across two email mailing lists maintained by Prof. Sankara Rao at North Dakota State University.

After this, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) was used to provide ball-by-ball text commentary. Cricket was perfectly suited for this. Cricinfo followed soon, in 1993, developed initially as an IRC bot by Simon King and then moved into Gopher and then the World Wide Web.

In time for the World Cup 1996, which was to be played in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Prof. Sankara Rao was very keen to have live ball-by-ball upto-the-minute scorecards on Cricinfo. He approached Jagmohan Dalmiya, then heading PILCOM, the body that was staging the World Cup, and obtained the necessary permission. Dalmiya, with his usual bluster, said all arrangements have been made to collect scorecards from every venue through a complex network, set up by Puncom (A Govt. of Punjab undertaking), pushing the content to a media center in Kolkata (then Calcutta). And that, this can be taken to the Internet, but Cricinfo would have to make its own arrangements for the same.

The first match went on, but no connectivity could be established and in any case, when I looked at the scorecards that came from the wonderful network, it was in complete shambles. Names spelt a million different ways. No cricket statistician would look at those scorecards and accept them.

Cricinfo had a reputation to stick to. A South African, Jacques de Villiers, (perhaps along with a few friends) had developed a cricket scoring software called 'Dougie'. It was a Unix term based program. To record a ball event (either a run, or a wicket, or an extra), you just need to enter a few characters. That was it. The program updated the scorecard, changed the batsman facing the bowler now etc. The scorecard in the original version went to a Unix finger file. 'Fingering' was the mechanism by which one could follow the score.

After the PILCOM fiasco, Sankara Rao suggested that 'dougie' be resurrected and used for scoring the games. A cricket crazy Dutchman, Louis van Dompselaar, took the program, modified it and made it working well in time for the second match. The matches were available on satellite in US via KBS (later merged with Echostar). A chap (the name Ravi comes to mind, but now i cannot remember the name fully) convinced a motel owner in Louisiana who was getting the feed, got an Internet connection installed in the motel, and used dougie to score the matches. I pitched in, operating the software most of the time by taking the data from him through IRC. We had excellent scorecards in Cricinfo. It was an extremely popular site during that period.

Immediately after this World Cup, Cricinfo was incorporated as a private limited company in UK, with Simon and I as its directors.

Just before 1999 World Cup in UK, Cricinfo received commercial funding. A sports portal called (then called Pangolin) brought in some money in early 1999, into Cricinfo. Dougie had improved substantially thanks to several others but most notably Travis Basevi (who still works for Cricinfo). Travis, an Australian, was flown to Chennai, and form there he provided running text commentary and scoring for most of the matches. Cricinfo took on the official site, run by the ECB and won hands down. By now, Cricinfo was quite commercial and was soon to receive couple of major fundings. First to invest was Michael Watt, a New Zealander, who had founded CSI - a television production company, which was later sold to Octagon. Then, in early 2000, SIFY, an Internet Service Provider in India bought out Watt's stake, and invested more moneies into Cricinfo.

2003 World Cup, played in South Africa (and Zimbabwe/Kenya) was another turning point in Cricinfo's history. Between 1999 and 2003 Cricinfo had gone through a cash crunch and a heart-aching restructuring. Wisden Group acquired a majority stake in Cricinfo and soon took 100% control of the portal. The deal happened right in the middle of the World Cup.

Since 1996, Cricinfo's World Cup coverage has been the best out there. No other entity has scaled up to providing a better cricket coverage. That apart, as I have detailed above, every World Cup has been a momentous occasion for Cricinfo - as a venture/company.

Now, 2007 World Cup is being played in West Indies. Who knows... there may be an interesting deal in progress.

ICC's Cricket World Cup Official Site

[PS: I am not associated with Cricinfo anymore. I left the company in April 2005.]