Deep Backward Point

Blog against the machine.

Tag: BCCI

The End Game

Risk

Last year, I predicted the future of cricket in a post titled “Cricket in 2025“. The ICC F&CA position paper makes my speculative fiction not only seem more likely, but also optimistic. Big thanks to Freddie Wilde for inspiring much of what follows.

Product

The position paper, drafted by Giles Clarke of England, Wally Edwards of Australia and N. Srinivasan of India, is about one thing . And one thing alone. Creating the most valuable package possible for the next television rights cycle (2015–2023). Everything else is subservient to this goal.

The consolidation of power, the culling of dead weight, the polishing of brass until it appears to perhaps be gold, are all designed to assure the suits at television stations that ICC cricket is a reliable product. It won’t break, you won’t have to return it, it won’t have faulty parts and it won’t lose its shine for eight years. Then you can come back, and we’ll give you a good deal on another one.

Corporations–and indeed all large systems–have external dependencies, and their products are only ever as good as their worst external partner. Microsoft depends on the hardware ecosystem, so every time your piece-of-crap laptop bluescreens, you’ll be swearing at Windows. The product of televised cricket depends on Bangladesh, so each time they put in a dismal performance at a showcase event, the suits at Murdochcorp say maybe we need to move our money to a more reliable product.

The position paper reduces the external dependencies of cricket as a marketable televised product.

Welfare

The seven boards that (ostensibly) suffer as a result of the position paper have effectively been on welfare for some time now. From the point of view of the big three they are leeches on the game with poor money management skills at best and rampant corruption at worst. They take, and they take, and they take, and what do they give back? How much of the money would dry up if some of them just… ahem… went away?

You can only keep a deadbeat on welfare for so long before you have to cut them loose, right?

And so that’s what the position paper does. It puts the remaining seven teams on life support for eight years, hoping they either pull their weight or go away.

There is a weakness in all social welfare programs. It’s hard for marketworshippers to measure the benefits of social good, and some folks will always take advantage of handouts. One option is to remove or reduce all social welfare programs. The other option is to set a higher standard for receiving welfare (“if you want unemployment checks, you are going to have to attend re-education seminars”). This just filters some leeches, but not all. And still, the market will often refuse to recognize the benefits of social uplift.

In the end, you have to weigh the costs against the benefits. What kind of a world do you want to live in? Would you rather punish all the leeches, but also some of the deserving poor? Or would you let some people be leeches, because as a consequence, you are able to help so many who deserve (and need) it?

The ICC has no power to enforce fiscal discipline in the small-seven, and their incompetence is reducing the (perceived) value of the television contracts. And this is why the position paper is what it is. And this is why the position paper appears now, before the next contract cycle.

Part of the reason it’s catastrophic is that there is no escape clause, no democratic process to modify (or abolish) this power structure, and no accommodation of the fact that financial realities of the game may change. Dramatically. Rapidly. And the big three may no longer be the best, or the only, or the main players. The paper assumes the current financial reality is the final reality for cricket.

Another reason it’s catastrophic is that three men in foreign lands hold the fate of cricket in 100+ countries in their hands. If it makes “TV money” sense to drop tours to New Zealand this year– Giles, Wally and Srini have a teleconference, and boom, New Zealand is off the calendar. No appeal, no recourse, cricket dies in New Zealand. And so it goes.

And we haven’t even gotten to Papua New Guinea, or Nepal, or one hundred other teams who have suffered this fate in relative silence long before the position paper existed.

There is a sound reason for why the big-three would want to do this. But if we let the rich distribute wealth based on who they found worthy, we’d live in a very different world.

Or maybe that is the world we live in today.

End Game

But this document is not the end game. It is the opening gambit. We have now seen some of their cards, but by no means all of them.

This document is meant to serve a near-term deadline. If you are imagining the future of cricket based solely on the contents of this paper (Anand Vasu, “it’s not the end of the world“. No shit, sherlock.) you’ve only seen as far as the end of your nose.

In the short-term, the big-three make four main demands:

  1. We want to manage the money.
  2. We want veto powers.
  3. We want a larger share of the money.
  4. We want to scrap the FTP.

Everything else is collateral damage, including the relegation system.

I think the BCCI would happily walk away with a win on 3 and 4, dropping their demand of a veto. For now.

This document is a negotiating tactic, and it does not predict the future, but it does tell us the themes of their future. And the themes are thus:

  1. Defeat: Cricket will never meaningfully grow beyond the countries that currently play it.
  2. Resignation: The only growth that can happen is in the value of the product, not in the size of the market.
  3. Hubris: The cricket world is composed of makers and takers. To increase the value of the product, we need to lose the takers.
  4. Fear: Left to 10 bumbling boards, the money will diminish over time.

We don’t know the end game. In the past we only had hints. The position paper our first big clue.

(Image credit: Stephen Coles)

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Commentraitor

When I was a kid growing up in Baroda, I used to mispronounce the word commentator as “commentraitor“. Must have been cute or annoying, at the time.

These days, it seems apt.

The best assessment comes from a third [commentator]: “It feels like I am working not on the game itself, but in the grand Indian cricket commercial.”

Why the BCCI is Culling the Tour to South Africa: a Hypothesis

Somehow, for the season 2013-14, the home series are only 24 days[.]
— Sanjay Patel, BCCI Secretary, 3rd October, 2013

Somehow.

The more I read and think about this, the more I feel that the BCCI is using the CSA spat as an excuse for increasing revenue for 2013. The following is conjecture riddled with facts:

  • BCCI revenues are down year-over-year (year ending March 2013). I read the BCCI’s annual report so you don’t have to. There are other interesting details in there, which I’ll write about soon.
  • On March 31, Bharti Airtel’s contract as title sponsor for the Indian team’s home series expired. Airtel declared that they would not be renewing their contract with the board.
  • BCCI switched treasurers in May (Savant for Shirke) after the spot-fixing scandal.
  • Airtel had a three-month period where they could negotiate an extension. Airtel declined.
  • By July, they started realizing their 2013 International calendar was a piece of crap– revenue-wise– since there were no major home series. They also needed to sweeten the deal for whoever would replace Airtel (or for Airtel, if they chose to extend). So they told Cricket South Africa that they have “concerns” over the schedule. This, in my opinion, is the equivalent of a kid who doesn’t want to go to school tomorrow, so plants the seed in their parent’s mind that they have a tummy-ache, so that the next morning, when they fake a full-blown ‘flu, it doesn’t seem so out of the blue.
  • In the meantime, they got in touch with West Indies and New Zealand about filling the calendar. As soon as West Indies agreed, the BCCI went public with their reservations.
  • It’s a simple play for additional revenue– for themselves and their “stakeholders” (TV broadcasters). The new calendar satisfied Star India– so much so that they bought the Title rights this week for home games as soon as the new calendar came together. Star makes out nicely, since they already own the broadcast rights. Talk about financial eggs in one basket.
  • The five additional West Indies games net the BCCI 10 crore rupees from Star, not to mention higher broadcast revenue. In fact, the whole thing works out as a sweetheart deal for Star, more than anything else.

And so it stands.

Somehow.

I don’t claim this theory is original, but I do believe that the Lorgat story is a convenient red herring not the main show. It allows the BCCI to embarrass Lorgat, make a strong demonstration of the extent of their power and, oh by the way, increase their revenue.

You cannot tell people who are heavily invested that there will be no activity this year.
— Harsha Bhogle, 6th September 2013

(See also: BCCI Income Nosedives)

500 India rupee notesImage by Ravindraboopathi

In the World of Tamashas, There is No Room for Half-Measures

2013 has been an especially bad year for the BCCI’s image, with the IPL corruption, Haroon Lorgat and Tim May. I believe it is a tipping point in cricket’s relationship with India.

Gideon Haigh writes the kind of in-depth state-of-affairs article that few do the research, have the ability or own the cojones to write.

In the hundred years and more that authority emanated from Lord’s, cricket was run along the lines of an English public school, at least as defined by Lytton Strachey: anarchy tempered by despotism. Under the economic dominion of the BCCI, the world is converging on the opposite model: despotism tempered by anarchy, the anarchy coming mainly from within India itself.

Sharda Ugra zooms in, elaborating on the despotism—how BCCI came to own the media message surrounding Indian cricket.

The Gavaskar-Shastri duopoly was a beginning. As revenues skyrocketed through the IPL, BCCI set up its own independent TV production unit. This new team (partly cannibalised from Neo Sports/Nimbus who owned the TV rights to cricket in India until 2012) even purchased its own outside broadcast vans. Ownership over Indian cricket was to be established at every level.

Ugra talks about how the BCCI controls the message on TV (by producing broadcasts themselves, employing the commentators, and supplying them with a list of taboo topics) and controls player access.

There is another aspect of this that Ugra touches on lightly, but is worth highlighting. A threat of punitive action has a chilling effect, for sure. But on the flip side, withholding rewards can also have the same effect.

Last year, the BCCI paid large sums of money (at the time ~$13 million total) to former Indian cricketers, to “honor” them. This is great, and shouldn’t be belittled. However, everyone was entitled to the money, except Kapil Dev. Because Kapil Dev had been involved with the ICL, and had not “accepted amnesty”. Had not groveled sufficiently.

The message was clear: stick to the BCCI line, and we’ll make you rich.

Srinivasan: Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.

There is considerable power in controlling future earnings of all international cricketers of your country. These are your current and future  columnists, TV pundits, coaches, IPL consultants and newspaper rent-a-quotes. It’s a powerful lobby to have on your side (or at least not against you), perhaps the most powerful of them all.

Haigh (via his reading of James Astill’s recent book The Great Tamasha) sees this to its logical conclusion—where the ICC will shrink in power, and the IPL will grow to fill the vacuum. A sport produced by the BCCI for the Indian market. With feeder leagues around the world, I suppose.

Finally, Russell Degnan sees this future and zooms out:

If the BCCI wants to control cricket then they have that option. They have the market strength and sufficient control over the major stars of its biggest market to pursue that end. But [..] [c]ricket’s biggest threat won’t come from the internecine fighting amongst the boards; it will come from globally dominant sports that have better products to sell. And cricket, great sport that it is, has a rubbish product to sell. Over-long events, uncompetitive structures, no context to fixtures, lack of media access to players, incoherent last-minute fixturing and an obsession with local appeal over the total package.

What if the great tamasha (spectacle) that you are trying to capture in a bottle isn’t that great after all. In the world of tamashas, there is no room for half-measures. “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers“.

During the recent England-Australia ODI series, much of my cricket-obsessed timeline was tweeting about soccer. I was half-kidding when I wrote this tweet. I have no time for soccer. But most of the world does, and soccer has a great product to sell.

Footnote:
How many writers besides Haigh could write the following in Cricinfo?

Morale-boosting tributes from selected kiss-ass courtiers – congratulations, Mr Shastri, on a Sardesai Lecture that had it been delivered in North Korea would have brought a blush to the cheek of the Dear Leader!

It’s not an idle question. There are people who could write it, but not on Cricinfo, because they work for Cricinfo. There are people who could write it, but not on Cricinfo, because they are not published on that large of a platform. And there are people who couldn’t write it, because they share a paymaster, a green room, a studio with the courtier himself. Or wish to in the future.

Did You Get a Copyright Notice from BCCI on Twitter?

I was recently asked for advice on how to respond to a DMCA takedown notice from Twitter. I wrote an email to this person, and thought the advice was useful enough for other people to put up here on the blog.

I AM NOT A LAWYER. I DO NOT PLAY ONE ON TV.

All of this is advice that I would follow, based on years of reading and blogging on the subject at my other blog. In fact, it is advice that I have had to follow, as explained later in this article.

Sidebar: What is a DMCA Takedown Notice?

Here is what happens. Let’s say the BCCI owns copyright to video of the England Vs. India Test series. Someone posts a link to a pirated stream on Twitter.

The BCCI has employed a company based in Bangalore to monitor Twitter (and other sources, I suppose) for links that infringe copyright. When this company finds infringing links, it sends a DMCA takedown notice to Twitter to have that Tweet removed.

The United States passed a law in 1998 called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This law contains what is called the “safe-harbor” provision, which protects a service provider (in this case, Twitter) from monetary damages from infringing activity of its users, as long as the provider (Twitter) meets certain conditions.

One of the conditions is that if Twitter receives a DMCA takedown notice for infringing material, they must remove it. As long as they promptly remove it (and comply with other conditions), they can’t be sued for copyright infringement.

More on the DMCA: something I wrote in 2008 on the 10 year anniversary of the law and of course, the EFF.

Now that you “understand” the DMCA

So you received a DMCA notice from Twitter with the subject: “We’ve received a DMCA notice regarding your account”? Tough.

Perhaps this is what happened:

  • The tweet has a link to a pirated stream.
  • Someone at BCCI searches for these links and sends a DMCA takedown notice to Twitter
  • By US law, if Twitter receives a DMCA takedown notice, they must remove the content.
  • So Twitter removed just that offending tweet and notified the users.

If it’s a standard DMCA notice, you don’t have to respond. I suppose if a Twitter user is in violation repeatedly, their account could be suspended. But if this is just a one-off thing, and you know that the link was pirated, there’s nothing more to be done.

Now, if one strongly believed that the tweet was not infringing copyright, there are ways to fight it. But it’s hard to win, because people like us can’t afford legal fees and the law (DMCA) heavily favors the large companies that own copyrights.

I have tried to fight it for my short documentaries on YouTube, which use short clips from Hindi films, but have had no luck getting them reinstated. My videos are definitely fair use, and protected under US law, but the DMCA is a terrible law that has no legal recourse for the little guy. (Sidebar: when should you fight a DMCA notice? When your content is Fair Use.)

But my real advice is: don’t provide direct links to pirated content in public forums.

DMCA is bad law. It’s been bad for 14 years. But your public link to pirated content? Let’s not pretend that was a great idea either.

Cricket rights around the world are a complicated matter. Being smart about what you post on the Internet is not complicated at all.

References:

  1. The Electronic Frontier Foundation on the DMCA
  2. My article on the 10 year anniversary of the DMCA
  3. Chilling Effects has a searchable archive of DMCA notices. Search for “cricket” to see scores of BCCI notices.
  4. Twitter’s Policy on DMCA Notices

You Have Got to Be Kidding Me

India will travel all the way to South Africa for a single T20 match on the 30th of March. Nagraj Gollapudi writes:

The Twenty20 takes place three days after South Africa finish their tour of New Zealand with three back-to-back Tests. It is also a week after the end of the Asia Cup, and five days before the start of the IPL in Chennai.

In a recent episode of the podcast CouchTalk, Gideon Haigh suggested that this match was a you-scratch-my-back-i’ll-scratch-yours gesture.

And they’re calling it the Mandela Cup. If I was Mandela, I’d start some uncivil disobedience right about now.

Stop Praying for a Whitewash in Australia

I follow politics– U.S. politics– quite closely. In the two years preceding the 2008 election, you could say I followed it more than anything else.

In politics, broadly speaking, there are two types of people– the partisans and the ideologues. The partisans fundamentally want their party to win, and will give up on smaller points of ideology. The ideologues support a cause, and will oppose everyone opposed to their cause, regardless of party affiliation. Obviously, there is overlap between the groups depending on the cause.

Over a long enough time scale, neither side is obviously right. The partisan can claim to shoot for the 80% good solution instead of waiting for 100%, keeping the big picture in mind, and positing that the only way to effect change is by winning elections. The partisan votes for the team that is mostly like them.

The ideologue favors building movements, affecting public opinion. They may largely vote for a particular party, but this is by providence, not by design. The ideologue may be pure in intentions, but also may have the effect of sabotaging long term gains for ideological purity.

The partisan, on the other hand, may do the opposite. He may sabotage short term gains for electoral success. The mental calculus of the abominable partisan goes something like this: “I hope the economy tanks by November, so the ruling party loses and my party wins.”

And this is where we switch to talking about cricket.

Venkat Ananth, the writer for Yahoo! Cricket, has been beating this particular drum for quite some time now:

Four months ago, when Indian cricket should have been introspecting for its failures in England, the BCCI had two clear options – one, to bite the bullet, conduct a thoroughly honest review of everything wrong with Indian cricket and introduce correctives to fix the inherent systemic flaws; or two, to remain firmly in denial as if they never happened.

He launches in to an epic rant on every popular criticism of BCCI and the Indian cricket establishment. I agree with much of it, disagree with some.

Until he gets to this bit (emphasis added):

Lastly and more importantly, I hope that India gets whitewashed in Australia. Call me unpatriotic (and I’ve defended a lot of that tripe in the past), but quite honestly, that could be the best possible result for Indian cricket’s long-term interest, in my view.

So let me get this straight, dear partisan friend. If India end the series on 2-2, coming from behind to win the last two tests in what would turn out to be the most dramatic series in recent memory, you would be unhappy.

Thank you, I have no further questions.

The thing about partisans is that they need the world to fit their narrative. If the economy tanks by November, Obama is toast. So if you oppose Obama, you may end up hoping the economy doesn’t improve. In 2004, catching Saddam Hussein was viewed as a political victory for George W. Bush. As a partisan opposed to Bush, you may wish Saddam had not been captured. For all the wrong reasons

These are wishes (and people) removed from reality, but they pervade our political process.

The weird thing about Mr. Ananth’s article is that what he ultimately wants is an ideological victory– for the BCCI to change to suit his ideal. And it’s a worthy ideal.

But he’s willing to give up the present. He’s willing to give up on short-term victories, on short-term miracles. He’s willing to give up on the grind. Like a comic book villain, he wishes for short-term devastation, so that he can build a new world order.

If I ever wish for an Indian loss for the greater good, dear reader, I give you the permission to slap me sideways.

In Which Mr. N. Srinivasan Interviews Mr. N. Srinivasan

Here at Deep Backward Point, we are very proud to bring you the first in our series of interviews with the power players of the world of cricket. Today, you are in for a special treat.

Our interviewer for the day is Mr. N. Srinivasan, renowned businessman and owner of the IPL champion Chennai Super Kings.

He will be interviewing Mr. N. Srinivasan, the Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Let us begin:

CSK owner Mr. N. Srinivasan: Good morning, sir!

BCCI Secy Mr. N. Srinivasan: Good morning.

CSK owner Mr. N. Srinivasan: My you are a handsome gentleman.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: So are you, if I say so myself.

<awkward pause>

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Ahem. So let’s begin. How did you get involved in cricket?

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: I’ve always been a great lover. Of the game. What a sport it is. Chess is my favorite sport.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Chess? Two part question: one, did you mean cricket? And two, is chess a sport.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Err.. yes, cricket. Cricket! That’s right. Jolly good sport. Chess is for.. err… nerds.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: But you’re also the president of the All India Chess Federation, right?

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Nerds, I tell you! Golf. Now that’s a real sport. As President of the Tamil Nadu Golf Association, I always say-

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: You mean cricket.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Ah yes. The one where you swing at balls. That one.

<awkward pause>

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Don’t look so smug. How did you get interested in.. err.. cricket.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Well, I’m really a businessman. Got cement running through my veins. Really, a heart of cement– that’s what you want in a man. So anyways, a good friend of mine runs the BCCI– err, that would be you— and you told me they were selling some IPL teams and they would be a good investment for the company. So we put some money in to buy a team.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: That’s it?

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Yeah. And I always wanted to see Dhoni dressed in yellow.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Well of course!

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: And that was it. I don’t know why everyone thinks it’s a shady deal. It’s not like you benefit from this.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Of course not! I am an office-bearer in the BCCI.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Right. And I’m a simple managing director at India Cements.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Exactly, just a little managing director. Nothing more.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Err.. well, I’m the vice-chairman too.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: VICE chairman. VICE.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: And our.. that is, my father started the company.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Minor detail.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: And it’s not like I can do anything financially inappropriate with CSK. The BCCI would rake me over the coals, like Kochi and Punjab.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Well, I’d never let that happen.. honest.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Shush!

<tape goes silent>

Earlier on DeepBackwardPoint:

Scyld Berry Ready to Extend Domination of World Cricket Journalism by Using Hyperbole

That’s my headline. Here is Scyld Berry’s headline for the telegraph: India ready to extend domination of world cricket by proposing rules to allow an ICC president-for-life.

Conflict of Interest

Nitin Sundar, on the Indian Premier League finalé:

It all ended in ironic fashion as N Srinivasan, in his capacity as BCCI secretary, presented the winners medals to players of the Chennai Super Kings, the team he owns. Conflict of interest, anyone?