If you can’t buy the content, create it. That seems to be the business rationale behind Zee chairman SubhashChandra announcing the formation of a Kerry Packer-style alternative cricket circuit in India called the Indian Cricket League.
Big prize money of a million dollars per season will attract the international players to the league, big names in cricket will attract the eyeballs; and Zee’s telecast network of 24 channels, including 2 sports channels, is ready and working to eclipse the official BCCI and turn the eyeballs into big money. Or so the story is scripted.SubhashChandra and other Zee officials are anxious to play down the anti-BCCI platform. On Monday night, when asked whether a Kerry Packer alternative in Indian cricket was on the anvil, Zee Sports Business Head and Chandra’s principal strategist HimanshuMody told HT: "We have no plans for a Kerry Packer alternative. We are only launching a Cricket Academy to develop talent." As an after thought, Mody added: "Please don’t write about a Packer alternative. BCCI will blacklist us."
It is obvious now that the die has been cast for a BCCI alternative, and it is driven by the fact that Zee, despite superhuman efforts, has not been able to bag any substantial cricket rights since 2000. The network is there. Zee Sports was launched with the anticipation of bagging the BCCI telecast rights in 2006. This was followed by Zee acquiring 50 percent in Ten Sports in November 2006 for Rs 257 crore. This gave the company a few international cricket rights – West Indies, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. But these 5-year rights were at their fag end. Cricket played in India generates Rs 1,000 crore in advertising and subscription revenue and SubhashChandra has been acutely aware of his company missing out on the lucrative cricket pie. During his battle with BCCI and ESPN Star Sports for the 5-year telecast rights in August-September 2004 in the Bombay High Court, Chandra was present every day for the hearings. Despite Zee bidding the highest at $307 million, BCCI and its then wily president JagmohanDalmiya managed to deny him the rights. The pain of denaial has been with Chandra since 2000 when the ICC World Cup rights were sold to NewsCorp’s Global Cricket Corporation (GCC) for $550mn despite Zee bidding the highest at $650mn. Reason: Zee did not have sufficient sports marketing experience. In August 2005, Zee again emerged frontrunner with a pitch of over $340mn while ESPN Star Sports, the other principal contender, is believed to have offered around $325mn. BCCI took the stance that Zee was not qualified as a specialist broadcaster and refused to consider Zee’s proposal. The matter expectedly went to court and Doordarshan emerged the beneficiary. Chandra then tried the political route too and supported SharadPawar’s candidature as BCCI president against Dalmiya. Pawar emerged victorious but not Chandra. In the last round of bidding in February, last year, it was Nimbus who bagged BCCI’s telecast rights till 2011 for $613 mn with Zee trailing at $513 mn. Since there was a Zee-Nimbus alliance before the bidding, media pundits thought Nimbus’ bid was a Zee front. But Nimbus chose to go its own way and launched its own sports network – New Sports. Ultimately, for SubhashChandra, there is only the Kerry Packer alternative.