In September of 2011, Jose Maria del Nido, the president of Sevilla FC at the time, decided that enough was enough. The distribution of the TV rights deal was to be decided. What was on the table was this: 16 La Liga clubs would get 45% of the share; Atletico Madrid and Valencia would share 11% between them; meanwhile Real Madrid and Barcelona would get 35% of the money. The inequality was to be institutionalised; Spain, as fans of everyone outside of the 'Big Two' feared, was to become Scotland with better weather.
And so del Nido had had it. Only four years earlier, Sevilla had competed for the title – they had probably been the best team in the league that season, but a combination of inexperience and fighting on too many fronts caught with them. They managed to win the Cup and the UEFA Cup, but fell just one win short of their first league title in over fifty years. The team was young and exciting. In another country, maybe in another era, that would have been the start of a dynasty. Instead, within twelve months, their best player was in Barcelona, their coach was in London and the team was outside the Champions League spots. And despite returning to the Champions League the following season they have never come close to challenging Madrid and Barcelona since. The fact that they were forced to sell their two best players to Manchester City last summer means that any resurgence looks unlikely.
Thus, in 2011, del Nido decided to call for a resistance, he even compared it to the French Revolution at one stage. Representatives of 12 of the 18 other league clubs (i.e. apart from Madrid and Barca) turned up to a meeting in Seville a week before the official meeting at the league headquarters. They agreed to be part of the resistance. A week later only Villareal and Sevilla stood up, the rest had wilted under the pressure from the ‘Big Two’ – the revolution was dead before it had begun.
The argument from Madrid and Barcelona was simple: we are the ones earning the dough, it’s because of us that the TV companies pay so much. But what they failed to acknowledge was that in trying to stay ahead financially of the other clubs in Europe they would need to grab bigger and bigger pieces of the pie as time went on, as relatively speaking, the La Liga rights would be worth less as the league became a less attractive proposition compared to Germany, Italy and particularly England. There’s only so much lack of competition the casual fan can handle. It is no surprise that the two the biggest sporting leagues in the world (The Premier League and the NFL) are almost socialist when it comes to their TV rights deals – especially when it compares to La Liga.
International cricket is not club football. The difference in finances purely from TV rights does not have as big an effect on performance; and you can’t “buy” success in international cricket (apart from when you are fixing matches that is) as easily as you can in club football. Money isn’t the elixir of all problems - otherwise BCCI would have found a decent pace bowler in a billion people. But it does help. It helps in providing the best facilities and coaches from the national team down to the lowest levels, it helps with keeping the players focused and professional, it helps with attracting the best foreign talent for development of your lot and it helps (supposedly) with keeping them away from nefarious dealings.
And it’s what the other nine boards are signing on for. The meetings in Dubai on 28th and 29th of January started off with calls for revolution from the ‘Small Seven’. The ‘Small Seven’ ended up being the ‘Spineless Seven’ – with all due to respect to Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Carrots were dangled and they jumped on them like hungry rabbits. Turkeys voted for Christmas because they were told that chicken would be on the dinner table. Much like del Nido and his allies, the revolution wilted even before it had gotten off the ground. In trying to protect their narrow short term interests, the boards (particularly Bangladesh) have given up all power and sense of equality they could ever hope to achieve. If at any time over the next decade a board complains about Test cricket not being “financially suitable” or cancels/rearranges tours because of its coffers, then one can always point to these series of meetings where they decided they would be happy to get less money because they didn’t have the courage or unity to stand up. Every time another domestic T20 league is launched, every time the board members complain about not having the money to invest in grass roots cricket, every time they talk about not being able to play bilateral series against the ‘Big Three’, they’ll have to be reminded of this era when they decided to relinquish the initiative.
So, the immediate future for cricket is pretty clear. Pakistan might tour India or it might not; Australia, India and England will keep playing each other; South Africa get no respect despite being the best in the world; and the inequality will be formalised. Pakistan fans can look forward to some more series against South Africa, and a lot more against Sri Lanka. 2013 will be repeated ad infinitum. I guess we’ll get used to it.