An Indian television network on Monday agreed to shell out a staggering 308 million dollars to secure the rights to telecast all international cricket played in the country for the next four years.
It represents a six-fold increase from the 54-million dollars paid by national broadcaster Doordarshan for the last four years, and dwarfs the recent deal of 48 million dollars struck by Sri Lanka Cricket for a similar four-year period.
Zee Network, which plans to add an exclusive sports channel to its multi-language bouquet of nine channels, won a fierce bidding war with Rupert Murdoch's ESPN-Star Sports network to secure the rights from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
"Zee are the highest bidders, so they will get the rights provided certain conditions are met," said BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya.
The BCCI has asked Zee to make an initial deposit of 20 million dollars by Wednesday and also furnish a bank guarantee of 75 million dollars by next week before the deal is formalised, Dalmiya said.
Zee supremo Subhash Chandra, who described BCCI's decision as "a dream come true", said his company will comply with all the directives in time.
"We have worked very hard to get this contract and will not be found wanting," Chandra said. "I promise the viewers high-quality coverage."
Zee, which begins coverage with a four-Test home series against world champions Australia starting on October 6, has been guaranteed a minimum of 144 days of international cricket over the four-year period.
In effect, Zee will pay approximately 2.1 million dollars a day for the rights.
The pay-out is worth every cent. The Times of India quoted media analysts as saying that Zee stood to make a post-tax profit of around 200 million dollars at the end of four years.
The growing television advertising market in a cricket-mad country of over a billion, and the sale of international rights, will ensure that.
Air time during the high-profile India-Pakistan series in March and April reportedly sold at 5,500 dollars per 10 seconds.
Cricket's popularity remains undiminished in India despite the national team losing three Limited Overs tournaments this season in Sri Lanka, the Netherlands and England.
Millions will be glued to the Test series against Australia next month following the Indian team's remarkable 2-1 victory over the world champions at home in 2001 and the absorbing 1-1 draw down under earlier this year.
Zee had initially bid 260 million dollars for the deal. But when ESPN-Star upped their offer from 230 million dollars to 308 million dollars, Zee matched that amount and were granted the rights for initially being the highest bidder.
ESPN-Star, which had lobbied hard to secure the rights, was livid when the BCCI gave Zee the nod.
"We were not given any opportunity for discussion, further clarification or to alter our bid," said ESPN-Star managing director Rik Dovey.
"In the few minutes we had with the committee, we stressed that we continue to be the highest legitimate eligible bidder.
"We feel the proceedings clearly were a denial of natural justice and a violation by the BCCI of its own tendering process."