Wednesday, October 07, 2009

FICA and the need for a Collective Bargaining Agreement - I

And so we finally have the Players' Association standing up for their rights. It was about time they did it. Maybe the Indian players will follow suit, though it seems unlikely.

Cricket is one of the few team sports which can be played throughout the year thanks to the geographical diversity of the nations participating in it. So while it may be too cold to play in Australia, South Africa or New Zealand in the months of May, June and July, teams can happily ply their trade in the Caribbean or absorb the atmosphere at the home of cricket. England might be too cold after September, but you have the subcontinent with its relatively pleasant winters to welcome international cricket.

The ICC, to its credit, has framed a Future Tours Programme (FTP) which international teams adhere to. Unfortunately, there are two areas where it short. Firstly, it only specifies the minimum amount of cricket each side has to play over the duration of the Programme. What this means is teams can schedule series over and above the FTP schedule. This has resulted in certain teams playing each other more and more frequently. India and Pakistan played each other four times in less than four years. During the same period India didn't play a single test series against New Zealand, and only one series against Australia, West Indies, and Sri Lanka.

Boards would argue that they have a right to maximise their revenues as long as they fulfill the requirements of the Future Tours Programme. From a business point of view, it seems like a valid argument. But the business of sport has certain qualities which make it different from other businesses. How popular would the Barclays Premier League be if you only had Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United play each other? Would the NBA thrive if the Lakers and Celtics decided to just play each other? Sooner or later fans would get bored of seeing the same contests again and again. This is something the national boards need to realise, and the sooner they do it the better it would be for their coffers.

Secondly, the unbridled success of the Indian Premier League has opened up new earning opportunities for cricketers. No longer do they have to depend on playing for their country to earn a good living. They have big businessmen willing to pay them a lot more for a lot less work than they put in for their national teams. It would be foolish to expect these players to say no to that kind of money. There might be some exceptions, but for every Ricky Ponting there are ten Chris Gayles. One could argue Ponting already makes a lot more money playing for Australia than Gayle gets for leading the West Indies, and that the Jamaican has a much bigger IPL contract than his Australian counterpart.

The FICA has suggested a World Test Championship so as to give a context to every test. Their argument is such a format would keep the fans interested throughout the course of the championship. It's quite true, a West Indies v/s New Zealand test would be of interest to both sets of fans if there was a semi-final place on the line. It may be of interest to a lot of neutrals if their side's passage to the next round depends on the result of this game. The recent ODI between Pakistan and Australia was a prime example. A lot of Indians were watching that game while their team was playing the West Indies.

Unfortunately, the BCCI and the ECB have objected to such a format. The two boards generate the highest revenues among ICC members and are averse to sharing a percentage of their revenue with the rest of the members. One has to ask the question: How much would their revenues drop if they agreed to a World Test Championship? Sure they would put a percentage of their revenues in a pool, but they would also get a further percentage of it back. Also, they would still make as much money if they could sell TV rights and sponsorships for more, which they most definitely will on account of a World Test Championship having a larger and more prolonged fan-following. In a nutshell, they would have a smaller share of a bigger pie. How is that a bad deal when you consider it would benefit the cash-starved boards of New Zealand and West Indies, which would in turn help them develop cricket in their country?

A similar format needs to be worked out for One-Day Internationals as well. While teams and officials seemed very happy with the recent Champions Trophy, it seemed like no one had noticed the sparse turnout for most games. Administrators and players seem to think they're the ones who decide the fate of cricket when it is actually us fans who will decide the direction cricket takes. We live in a world where we have countless entertainment options. If not cricket, there is soccer, tennis, formula one, rugby, basketball, baseball. If not sport, there are movies or soap operas. And I'm not even getting into how women drag their men along for shopping or for a night at the discotheque.

I thought I would be able to share my thoughts on a possible solution but this post has been surprisingly long. I'll end it here and have a separate post for what I believe could be the way forward for the ICC and FICA.

1 comment:

  1. I am not so sure about the Test Cricket Championship. There are too many moving parts for it to be a successful tournament. Plus, it will be too long and the only people interested will be die-hard fans.

    It would be better to work out a better international schedule (including Tests, ODIs, T20s and club T20s) than tinker with the existing broken system,