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Billion dollar baby or a burp?

In the land that kneels before a game of bat, ball and 22 men, cricket has never been an ordinary game.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2006 01:43 IST

In the land that kneels before a game of bat, ball and 22 men, cricket has never been an ordinary game. Now the BCCI, which has been raking money by giving away media rights, has turned into a billion-dollar board.

On Thursday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) sold the global overseas media rights to a minimum of 25 games, which will be played by India on neutral territory, to Zee Telefilms for a whopping $219.15 million (Rs 985 crore). This will be for a period of five years (from April 1, 2006, to March 31, 2011) and will cover the upcoming Indo-Pak ODI matches in Abu Dhabi.

Add the deals that BCCI made this year, including the $612-million agreement with Nimbus and the $43-million contract with Nike, and the BCCI has made $1.52 billion.

But there is a catch. The greenbacks have not exchanged hands and will be paid only on a yearly basis. The present deal with Zee Telefims, for instance, says that for every game, Zee will pay $5.04 million in the first year, $6.03 million in the second year, $6.66 million in third, $8.1 million in fourth and $18 million in the fifth year.

The agreement with Nimbus is along similar lines and industry sources wonder if these two biggies and others which have bagged various rights will be able to generate this much money.

Announcing the deal, BCCI vice-president Lalit Modi said the aim was to spread the game to countries having a huge Indian diaspora.

The venues were chosen likewise: the UAE, Holland, UK, US, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The boards of Australia, Pakistan, the West Indies and England have also agreed to play India on these venues. Won't playing at venues like Sharjah raise the spectre of match-fixing?

Modi scoffed at the suggestion: "Unlike previous years, this time boards of the two teams will run the tournament and there will be no role for middlemen." He added that the boards would share the cost of and revenue from tournaments.

The board also asserted that there was no question of player burnout or cricket overkill as "India would be playing the same amount of cricket though the revenue generated would be 10-15 times higher than what it is now".

He added that the decision had been taken in consultation with players. “How can there be an overload on players when we have such a large pool of players to chose from?”wondered BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah, which left one stumped.

Modi may say that money is not the board's end, but IS Bindra put it more bluntly that "today cricket is ruling the roost in the country but with other sports coming up, I don’t know till how long cricket will enjoy its mighty status. So, we want to rake in the maximum". When the last ball is bowled, hopefully, the match will win over moolah.