Cricket is big business

Published November 15, 2021
Pakistan's players celebrate their win in the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup cricket match between Pakistan and Scotland at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on November 7. — AFP/File
Pakistan's players celebrate their win in the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup cricket match between Pakistan and Scotland at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on November 7. — AFP/File

Did anyone watch the T20 world cup final?

Hard-core cricket fans, yes, but the spirit of goodwill that is carrying over from the Pakistan-India clash is not sufficient for the masses to watch a match devoid of the boys in green.

Cricket is big business. In 2019, before Covid-19 became a pandemic, International Cricket Council (ICC) events generated revenue worth $603 million, according to ICC’s financial statements for 2020. Lockdowns in 2020 dwindled down this amount to $35m. The ICC is the governing body for international test matches, ODIs (one-day internationals) and T20 cricket and is responsible for its development.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), known to be the richest of the cricket boards, makes a chunk of its revenue from the Indian Premier League. While its recent financials are not available, an April 2020 article by Hindustan Times: BCCI bailout plan: play more matches with India, quotes a BCCI official with the breakup of its revenue streams.

“The T20 World Cup is not a priority for the BCCI, and neither is the Asia Cup,” says the article. The Indian board is estimated to earn roughly $336m from IPL at the current exchange rate while bilateral cricket was expected to net it around $127m in 2020-21. No wonder there were calls to trend “#BanIPL” on Twitter after its matches against Pakistan and New Zealand.

About 13.2pc of people in urban areas watched the Pakistan vs India match on PTV Sports, according to rating company Media Logic

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is not a big fish in comparison, raking in Rs9.34 billion (roughly $53m) in 2020 according to its 2019-20 annual report, less than a tenth the size of ICC. However, Pakistan Super League (PSL) is becoming a strong brand and source of revenue in its own right. PSL earnings climbed by 50pc last year — that too keeping in mind the pandemic conditions that had matches being played in empty stadiums and the deferment of the semi-finals.

The rating game

The Dubai International stadium was a sea of green t-shirts and flags as Pakistan watched the cup slip from its grasp. The many who were watching from their homes may have changed the channel in the last few overs as they watched hope die ball after ball.

The number of people watching the match is accounted for by ratings. Ratings are essentially percentages measuring the portion of a given group — be it households, adults 18-49 or women 25-54 — watching a given show.

India-Pakistan rivalry is legendary, which means big bucks for many parties involved. According to data shared by TV rating provider Media Logic, 13.2 per cent of people in urban areas watched the Pakistan vs India match on PTV Sports, the most popular sports channel in Pakistan. Ten Sports viewership was 7.2pc and A Sports was 4.5pc. As a benchmark of comparison, the arguably popular story about eternally hopeless love, Khuda Aur Mohabbat’s season three last episode was watched by 9pc of the urban audience and Geo News Aaj Shahzaib Khanzada Kay Saath was watched by 1.9pc on Oct 28.

Channel challenge

There is no differentiation of content for sports channels — everyone was watching the same dropped catch of Hassan Ali.

The pre-game and post-game shows and the duration of advertisements is the differentiating factor, explained Salman Danish, Director, Media Logic. A channel of ARY, A Sports’ bait was to have a bunch of legendary cricket players around a table chat away with camaraderie.

Another factor influencing popularity is the placement of the channel in the bouquet. So if a cable operator places A Sports next to Ten Sports, it is likely to get viewership compared to if it was placed among foreign channels that no one is really watching but are included in cable operator packages to boost the number of offerings. Given its launch right before the world cup, it garnered interest and was distributed quickly though not as well as PTV Sports, says Mr Danish.

Streaming rights rake in a pretty penny — according to documents available on PCB’s website, the consortium of Tower Sports and SportzWorkz won the tender as the broadcast production partner for the HBL PSL 2020 at $5.4m.

Sports channels are generally encrypted to discourage piracy compared to free-to-air (FTA) channels. Anyone with a satellite dish can receive an FTA channel but encrypted channels require a modulator with a code that allows them to access the frequency at which the content is aired. Exclusivity of streaming rights allows higher advertisement revenue; after all, how many people would be watching PSL re-runs on Geo Super while Fakhar Zaman was redeeming himself in the eyes of the nation.

Cricketing hope

PCB’s total income grew almost ten times from Rs1.1m in 2016 to Rs11.2m in 2019 before the pandemic impacted its 2020 numbers. Each PSL team is valued at millions of dollars and the gems discovered and polished during the domestic matches shone during the world cup.

While PCB’s financial worth is not that of the big three of cricket, the performance of Babar Azam and co has added lustre and to some extent, detracted from the perception of volatility. The future, even without the cup, regardless of the pain the semi-final caused, is still bright — in terms of trophies as well as dough.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 15th, 2021

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