The cost of cricket rights just got bigger, with ESPN-Star Sports (ESS) shelling out $975 million for the Champions League Twenty20 tournament over the next 10 years starting with the inaugural edition in December this year. If the company is to be believed, it has just agreed to pay the maximum "per game" in the history of cricket.
This deal takes ESS's investment in cricket to the $2 billion mark, with the earlier acquisition of the rights to all ICC tournaments (World Cups in ODI, T20, under-19 and women's formats plus Champions Trophy) reportedly worth $1.10 billion. With the Champions League T20, the channel has guaranteed itself at least one multi-team tournament every six months for the next eight years.
What was the need to buy these rights, on top of the ones that ESS already owned? "The T20 Champions League rights are a result of our overall strategy of acquiring key properties of tactical importance across all sports categories," R.C. Venkateish, managing director of ESPN Software India, told HT.
The emergence of Twenty20 cricket is changing the way the game is played, but equally, it has changed the rules of the game when it comes to sports broadcasting as well.
"The market for products has evolved. At each point a broadcaster has to be cognisant of new developments and how they affect the viewing of a sport and the consuming public," said Venkateish.
"Twenty20 has exploded on the scene. Although we have a significant cache of Twenty20 cricket within the ICC calendar, we felt there was a strong market for supplemental products."
When it was put to him that the emergence of the T20, in general, and the success of the Indian Premier League, specifically, had somewhat devalued the rights to ICC events, Venkateish disagreed.
"I wouldn't agree with that assertion at all. Different formats serve different needs. A while back there were only certain established formats, but with the emergence of new formats like T20 the total consumption has increased," he said.
"The total market has increased, it's not as though one has displaced the other. World Cups will still be the pinnacle of cricket. This is a new class of products — club cricket played in the T20 format. Once again it has the best of the world playing, and therein is the draw."
ESS won the bid in Dubai beating off DIC's $751.3 million bid while Abu Dhabi Sports Club's bid was disqualified for being conditional.
Lalit Modi, commissioner of the IPL, said the process of bidding had been "fair and transparent," and added, "We have what we believe to be the best commercial deal for the inaugural Champions League Twenty20 season and for cricket fans across the world."