If you can’t buy the content, create it. That seems to be the business rationale behind Zee chairman Subhash Chandra 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 two sports channels, is ready and working to eclipse the official BCCI and turn the eyeballs into big money. Or so the story is scripted.
Subhash Chandra 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 Himanshu Mody 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, Lanka and Pakistan. But these five-year rights were at their fag end.
Cricket played in India generates Rs 1,000 crore in advertising and subscription revenue and Subhash Chandra 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 five-year telecast rights in August-September 2004 in the Bombay HC, Chandra was present every day for the hearings. Despite Zee bidding the highest at $307 million, BCCI and its then wily president Jagmohan Dalmiya managed to deny him the rights.
The pain of denial has been with Chandra since 2000 when the ICC World Cup rights were sold to NewsCorp’s Global Cricket Corporation for $550mn despite Zee bidding the highest at $650mn.