Deep Backward Point

Blog against the machine.

Tag: Indian Premier League

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.

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.


Chennai Super Kings Terminate the Kochi Franchise

I’m going to harp on this until N. Srinivasan is either out of the BCCI or no longer owns CSK. From the Cricinfo report:

When asked if Kochi had any chance of returning, Srinivasan responded: “No, we have terminated the franchise because the breach is not capable of being remedied.”

That is, BCCI president  CSK owner N. Srinivasan announcing the termination of Kochi Tuskers Kerela. I’m not saying Kochi didn’t deserve it, but I am saying this situation is untenable.

For more background:

How Lalit Modi and the BCCI (Almost) Killed Willow TV

UPDATE: Willow TV CEO, Vijay Srinivasan, tells me that Willow is alive and well. Willow will broadcast the English summer. Updates to the site are underway. He has disputed the article. Every financial deal I have reported in this article is backed-up by either an article in a reputable news source or an official corporate release. I have simply laid it all out on one page. Perhaps reports of Willow’s death are exaggerated, but to all appearances they have been on life support since March.

I’ve tracked this story for a couple of months now, both as a blogger and as a long-time Willow TV customer, and I finally have a breakthrough. Willow TV was a victim of the BCCI/Modi saga. The details are as follows:

Willow TV— the website that has provided legal live streaming of cricket on the Internet in the United States for 8 years– is on life support. The web site has not been updated since the World Cup. There are no working links to subscribe to their service. Customer support has been non-responsive. The silent masses wonder– what’s up with Willow TV? (see Samir Chopra’s recent woes that inspired my investigation.)

What Happened to Willow?

Willow TV was acquired by a company called Global Cricket Ventures in 2010. Earlier, there had been interest from Anil Ambani, but after that deal fell through, GCV stepped in. GCV had the rights to the Champions League T20 as well as the IPL. Add to that the World Cup rights in 2011, Willow TV seemed destined for greatness. In late 2010, an India-focused private equity firm called Elephant Capital invested $10 million in GCV for a 50% stake. The Willow TV World Cup broadcast, after some initial hiccups, was a success. They streamed the matches to browsers, IPTV devices (PS3, Roku, Wii, etc.), iPhones, Androids and iPads everywhere and even got their own channel on satellite television.

It was a great pleasure and gave US viewers a taste of a possible future where cricket was available all the time on any device of their choosing.

Enter: Lalit Modi

I don’t have all the details, but here is what I know: GCV sub-licensed the IPL on-line and mobile broadcast rights from World Sports Group (WSG). Last June, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) scrapped the agreements for global media rights with WSG. The reason? An alleged improper facilitation fee of $90 million paid by broadcast firm by Multi-Screen Media (MSM, owners of Set MAX TV Channel) to WSG. The BCCI claimed that former IPL chief Lalit Modi had struck the deal independently without prior knowledge of the board.

Coup de grâce? Lalit Modi is the father-in-law of Gaurav Burman, one of the directors of Elephant Capital.

So, suddenly, WSG->GCV->Willow TV was left without rights to the IPL and CLT20. This time the IPL online rights went to Indiatimes. And everything went further downhill.

In March 2011, Elephant Capital decided to pull their investment out of GCV and since then all their online properties have gone silent. It appears they have no more money to run the operations.

WSG went to court after being stripped of the TV rights, and it seems the court has instructed them to settle with BCCI in a civil court. The BCCI, for its part, is in no mood to do business with anyone from the Lalit Modi era.

And that’s what happened to Willow TV. They were at their peak, offering a great service across a range of devices when the rug got pulled from under them. Their only crime was that they were acquired by a company who was in bed with a company who allegedly did a shady deal with Lalit Modi.

[Of course, this doesn’t excuse the fact that they are unresponsive, opaque and apparently, giving people a hard time when they want to cancel their subscription.]


Yet– hope springs eternal. If you have a working subscription, the current Pakistan tour of West Indies works just fine in a browser, though they’ve dropped IPTV device, phones and tablet support. And I did get a mysterious email from them a month ago about IPL streaming that made me very happy for a couple of weeks. But mostly, it’s a near-dead web site and a service on life support. Indiatimes streams IPL in the US with a three hour delay. A three hour delay for an IPL game. I have no words.

For a few weeks in 2011, Willow TV showed us a glimpse of a possible tomorrow. Cricket available where you want it, when you want it. I miss it already. Read the rest of this entry »

IPL: 100% Recycled Material, Dispose Without Guilt

Tariq Engineer reports for Cricinfo:

[A] cumulative total of 146.4 million viewers have watched all the games so far, a number that exceeds the 143.7 million that saw the entire 2010 season (60 games). This suggests that while the IPL continues to attract new fans, they are watching each game for shorter periods.

Two reasons come to mind:

  1. If you train your audience to respond only to the thrills, and not the sport, then sooner or later they will only tune in for the thrills. The IPL becomes one of the many programs to channel-surf through, between musical reality show #31 and political shouting match #33.
  2. Even in this short, thrilling format, most games are one-sided and decided early.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that audiences are just suffering from cricket or IPL fatigue.

The Objective of Playing in the IPL

Ducking Beamers asks: what is the objective of a domestic player in the IPL?

But does it ever really translate into something more meaningful for these players? [..] Is it worth it for most of these players? Look at the top run getters and wicket-takers of 2009 — not many no-names there. A cursory look at the other seasons shows the same trends — a few low-fame players (Vinay Kumar, N. Ohja, A.T. Rayadu) — but not much else.

So, what is the objective?

Short answer: to increase your salary next year.

Long answer:

  • There’s an off chance they make it to the internationals.
  • They make a considerable amount of money.
  • It’s not like they don’t contribute to a win, just because they don’t figure in the top 10 wickets/runs. Just take a look at today’s RCB v. DD match: Ojha, Rao, Mithun, Mohammed all played significant roles. And that’s where it gets interesting– if they do well this year, even if they don’t get selected for India, their IPL salary next year will go up considerably.

In fact, I would argue that in a tournament like the IPL where there is no real allegiance to the team, the goal of every single player is to be worth more next year.

How to Become an IPL Team Fan in Four Easy Steps

Ducking Beamers* wonders how to become a fan of an IPL team– the teams changed drastically year-over-year, there are only weak city-based ties and some teams are just plain bad:

This is my major problem with the IPL: why should I support one franchise over another?

In my opinion, it’s easy to pick a team. Here are my steps:

  • STEP #1: Never root against Sachin Tendulkar.
  • STEP #2: Make a list of all the players you love to watch. It doesn’t matter why you love to watch them. Maybe they swear a lot. Maybe they are good-looking. Maybe they slapped a player you hate. Maybe they actually play decent cricket. It does not matter. This is the IPL; the Filmfare Awards of cricket. It’s your license to be absurd.
  • STEP #3: Remove all the bowlers from your list. IPL is a batsman’s game. Nobody likes watching the bowlers. Nobody.
  • STEP #4: Find the team that has the most players on your list. The IPL is a cult-of-personality event, treat it as such. For me, that team is Kolkata Knight Riders, because it has Shakib, Eoin, tenDo and Yusuf. Kallis and Gambhir are just icing on the cake.

Now you have a team to root for! Wasn’t that easy?

And remember: the IPL is a Twenty20 tournament. Twenty20 is a fickle format, so be a fickle fan. If your team starts to falter, shift your allegiance to a team that actually plays well.

But until you know which team is playing well this year, my four-step program is fool-proof!

* I make it a point to attribute links to the individual who wrote the article, not their institution or company or blog (e.g. Bhogle instead of Cricinfo, Jarrod instead of Cricket with Balls, etc.). Ducking Beamers is not the name of a person, as far as I know. But I don’t know his real name.