Money worries that haunt the World Cup

In a sport famous for its familiarity with initials the letters GCC will mean little to most cricket fans. But those who run the world game know all about it.

It is the Global Cricket Corporation, a Rupert Murdoch-owned company that won the marketing rights for the World Cup. Making money from the deal is said to have been harder than it seemed when they paid $550-million for the rights in June 2000, at the peak of the sports TV market.

So concerned is the International Cricket Council (ICC) that the GCC will seek to get out of the deal, or at least cut their losses through legal action, that delivering the tournament it promised has become paramount.
These fears have influenced the ICC’s every step during a winter strewn with crises.

If this $550-million deal goes wrong, the whole cricket world will feel the effects for years.

When the GCC struck the deal for the 2003 and 2007 tournaments it seemed to guarantee cricket’s financial health and offer the GCC a chance of a healthy profit from the sale of broadcast rights and sponsorship. Domestic broadcasters looked willing to pay handsomely for the right to screen matches.

But according to a report in next month’s Sports Business International magazine the collapse of the rights market has left the GCC well short of its target. The magazine estimates that only $400-million has been raised after broadcasters came up with much less cash than they initially suggested.

This explains the unease within the ICC’s Lord’s headquarters over Zimbabwe and the Indian players. Both issues involve a potential breach of the contracts signed between the ICC and the GCC, and the last thing the ICC wants is to give Murdoch’s company a chance to launch a legal action. Hence in part the ICC’s unequivocal support for Zimbabwe as a World Cup host.

Similar concerns have driven the ICC to an compromise deal with the Indian board. Under the GCC agreement four sponsors have exclusive sponsorship rights to the tournament. To protect that investment the ICC’s constituent boards agreed that players would not sign individual agreements with the sponsors’ direct competitors.

This was problematic in India, where players earn the bulk of their income from endorsements. Sachin Tendulkar, among others, has a deal with a sponsor’s main local competitor, and has been reluctant to give it up.

The Indian board backed the players and forced the ICC to offer them unique terms.

In exchange the ICC will place India’s $9-million share of the World Cup pot in trust, pending compensation claims and possible legal action. It has also threatened to suspend India, though ICC tournaments shorn of the biggest draw in cricket would be even less attractive to the News Corporation accountants.

The GCC, its CEO Ian Fryckberg and the parent company News Corporation declined to comment. —

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