In my life I have seen a variety of sporting takeovers and tumult, the most notable being Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket revolution in the 1970’s. After the shock was absorbed we all adapted somehow. On reflection, most would now say that what happened was good for the game and the lot of players and fans alike has improved.
They say the world today is awash with cheap money looking for a home. It does not seem implausible to me that one of the private equity syndicates we hear so much about may cast its eye further a field than industrial or financial assets. They may look upon India, and see a middle class with ever-greater leisure time and disposable income, seeking diversions and entertainments, a land where one particular sport is almost a religion in itself.
How long can it be before the combination of the game of Cricket and India become an irresistible prize, sought after by those with the longest of pockets?
How much would it cost and how hard would it be? It was recently reported that an Australian first class side has a salary cap of a little over A$1 million. The average player may therefore expect somewhere between A$50,000 and A$80,000 a season. Star players naturally cost more but an outfit needs only a few of these. When you compare these sums to the salaries of European or American footballers or baseball or basketball players, it seems a trifle.
If you think about the hundreds of millions of dollars that are paid for broadcast rights, and then subtract even a trebled wage bill from that figure, you are still left with a tidy profit. Sure there would be grounds to hire and other costs, but these are offset by the sale of multimedia rights and merchandise. The league would use a market-driven format of the game, such as Twenty20, with the aim being to entertain and enthrall the sell-out crowds. Satellite television would beam the games live into the homes of millions of subscribers around the globe.
Could it happen? Star players and lesser lights in the major Cricket nations are contracted on two or more year deals. However, as we have seen before, a concerted effort by a well-funded and determined suitor can succeed. When the financial slugfest becomes too much to bear or the crowds no longer come to see second-rate contests, pressure will build. The beleaguered associations may prefer a deal whereby all parties walk away with something rather than a drawn-out fight for survival.
The age of Cricket as a professional league would then have arrived. I can imagine franchises in all the major cities of the sub-continent as well as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and perhaps South East Asia. A salary cap and draft would keep the league even and interesting with conference leaders making the play-offs, and the two best teams each season meeting in a best-of-seven finals series.
See you at the ballgame.