ICC~~s billion-dollar deal with ESPN in quandary

Published: Thursday, May 24, 2007, 1:01 [IST]
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Sydney:The diminished brand value of Indian cricket following India's disastrous World Cup campaign has cast serious doubts over the sustainibility of ESPN Star Sport's billion dollar television deal with ICC.

According to media reports, ESPN Star Sports is yet to sign any contract with the International Cricket Council (ICC), sighting regulatory changes in India as as the main reason.

However, ESPN Star Sports spokesman in Singapore denied there were any concerns over the contract. ''We're not renegotiating with the ICC. We're pretty happy.'' ''Everyone was disappointed with India's performance (in the World Cup) but I'm sure they'll bounce back,'' The Australian quoted the spokesman as saying.

The ICC has also denied any approach by ESPN Star Sports to re-negotiate their existing agreement.

In December, the ICC announced that it had sold the rights of 18 events over the next eight years, beginning with the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in September, to ESPN Star Sports for an undisclosed sum believed to be around US$1.1 billion.

India's early exit from the showpiece event cost broadcasters millions and raised concerns it could happen again at future big events costing even more. ESPN Star Sports paid twice as much as the previous seven-year ICC deal for the rights.

This would be a crushing blow for the game's governing body and its 10 Test-playing countries as the crisis once again highlights the economic hold India now has over cricket globally.

''ICC dividends are one of our major income streams,'' a Cricket Australia (CA) spokesman said yesterday.

''Broadcasters like us may suffer for a few months but at the end of the day we may end up walking away from the rights. That's bad news for the (cricket) associations because in the end the sport will suffer,'' the CA official said.

Head of rival company Harish Thawani says, ''There has been a lot of talk on the streets that there has been some alarm in the minds of rights holders.'' ''That effectively kills our potential, as well as that of ESPN Star Sports, of being able to charge even a fair price,'' Thawani added.

''I can confirm on our own behalf, given the fairly dramatic regulatory changes that have taken place in India of late, I think it's a matter of concern for all sports broadcasters and agencies as to that cricket rights are going to be worth."

''That is a real, real problem that is destroying the industry. We're all struggling to figure out a new business model,'' he said.

Because of the regulatory changes in India, Thawani's Nimbus is in the process of negotiating compensation from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which will run to many millions of dollars.

''I think there is going to be some pretty serious shaking down. It's a tough world at the moment. The ICC's position is delicate. But that's the price the sport must pay for its over-dependence on one market (India),'' Thawani said.

This contract includes the 2011 and 2015 World Cups and at least three Champions Trophies. ESPN Star Sports planned to show the events in Asia and on-sell them to broadcasters in other parts of the cricket-playing world.


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