NEW DELHI – When the mighty Indian cricket board decided this week that only the chief among its national selectors would travel business class, it merely confirmed straitened times for the game amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The uncharacteristic austerity by the world’s richest cricket board follows its decision earlier this month to halve the winner’s purse at this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), a cash cow with a brand value of $6.8 billion.
The franchise-based Twenty20 league was scheduled to begin on March 29 but has now been postponed until April 15.
To many, a condensed tournament, possibly without foreign players, later this year looks like a more realistic prospect.
A curtailed or cancelled tournament would mean significant losses for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which gets around 40 billion rupees ($532 million) annually from broadcaster STAR India and its central pool of sponsors.
"The loss at this stage is notional. The biggest loser in any economic dynamics is always its biggest gainer, which is BCCI in this case," SportzPower co-founder Thomas Abraham, whose company monitors sports business in India, told Reuters.
"For STAR India, it’s also a loss of opportunity. It was building the India launch of its Disney+ OTT (streaming service) around the IPL."
A truncated tournament would necessitate renegotiation with Disney-owned STAR India, which was not available to share how it plans to dovetail the launch of its new platform with the IPL.
Chinese smartphone maker Vivo, which bagged the 2018-22 title rights for 219 million rupees, is unlikely to suffer a big loss.
"They would have been preparing for new launches around IPL. They can still do it," Abraham said.
Vivo did not elaborate if the truncation had disrupted their plans to leverage their tournament rights.
"In light of the global health risk … we at Vivo completely support BCCI’s decision to postpone the series," Nipun Marya, Director of Vivo India’s Brand Strategy, said in a statement to Reuters.
"We shall continuously evaluate the situation as it progresses."
The BCCI and IPL franchises also pay 20% of a player’s annual fee to his home board, which stands to lose that money if it does not allow the cricketer into the IPL due to fears about the coronavirus for example.
A shorter tournament will mean a smaller share from the shrunken central pool of revenues for the eight IPL franchises, not to mention a reduction in gate receipts.
Further afield, the Women’s Twenty20 World Cup narrowly escaped the health crisis but the outbreak has cast a shadow over the men’s event in Australia, which begins on Oct. 18.
The International Cricket Council (ICC), which runs the tournament, said it was monitoring the situation.
"We are planning for the event to go ahead as scheduled," it said on the tournament website.
Cricket Australia stands to lose some A$300 million ($174 million) should the coronavirus outbreak derail their high-profile home test series against India later this year.
"We’re in uncertain times, and it’s difficult to project precisely what will transpire over the next number of months," CA chief executive Kevin Roberts said this week.
"But we will be working through with advice from experts, externally as to what are the various scenarios that are plausible, how likely are they, and how would we plan to deal with each of them."
In the balance
In England, the fate of the inaugural ‘The Hundred’ championship hangs in the balance after the epicentre of the pandemic moved from Asia to Europe, shutting down most sport on the continent.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have invested heavily in promoting the competition in the 100-ball format, which is scheduled to begin on July 17.
"It is clear that every industry, including cricket, will be impacted by this unprecedented situation," Tom Moffat, chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA), told Reuters.
"It’s more important than ever for the cricket industry to work together collaboratively at this time."
Individually, top players from outside India risk losing IPL contracts worth millions of dollars if they are unable to travel or their boards deny them permission to play.
As far as FICA is concerned, Moffat said, the wellbeing of the players while the world deals with an international health crisis is far more important than cash.
"Governing bodies, employers, and leagues owe a duty of care to provide players with a safe workplace," he added.
"And enforcing that players travel to, or work in conditions that are unsafe, would not meet that standard."