The ICC made a mess of venue selection this year with four of the 18 matches abandoned so far.
The top cricketing body must learn its lesson from the England debacle.
Between the 10 countries, currently, a part of the International Cricket Council (ICC) 2019 Cricket World Cup in England and Wales, resides 25 per cent of the world population or almost 1.9 billion people, with 1.3 billion of those coming from India. Of the 1.9 billion people, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan alone make up for 1.7 billion people.
Often, when it comes to TV viewership, the final numbers are often inflated as it works in favour of the advertisers, broadcasters, and other stakeholders. Thus, it is not uncommon to come across headlines stating a billion viewers tuned in for a game. Even though the final viewership numbers are far from the one billion mark, they are impressive.
The 2011 semi-final between India and Pakistan was watched by an estimated 495 million unique viewers on TV. Interestingly, the number decreased to 313 million for the game between the two teams in the 2015 World Cup due to the time difference. The group game between the two nations of the 2017 Champions Trophy was watched by 324 million viewers, as per the estimates of the ICC. This was before streaming services took over completely.
Hotstar, one of India’s prominent streaming services which is owned by the Walt Disney Company of India, registered over 18 million concurrent viewers for the final of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in May 2019. Over 300 million people had used the service across 50 days to stream the IPL matches.
Viewership drives numbers, numbers drive advertisers, advertisers drive revenues for broadcasting mediums, and the same mediums help in the propagation of the game and the earnings of the ICC. The above numbers are critical to this year’s cricket World Cup.
This year, the combined viewership from TV and streaming services is expected to cross 500 million for India games.
However, the ICC made a mess when it came to venue selection this year.
As of now, the World Cup has witnessed four of the 18 games abandoned, with three being abandoned without a ball being bowled, and that is one game more than the total games abandoned between 1975 and 2015, across 11 World Cups and 402 games.
The ICC comes across as helpless on this front.
In a statement to the press, ICC chief executive Dave Richardson cited the inability of having a reserve day for every league game. Factoring in pitch preparation, team recovery, travel days, accommodation, venues, staffing issues, and logistics for the teams and broadcasters, Richardson cited the unprecedented weather conditions in England this year as the reason for the games to be a washout.
The washouts have consequences on multiple fronts.
One, the cricket loses. In a round-robin tournament, every single game is important. While a point each may seem acceptable in the early days of the tournament, for some teams, it makes a world of difference in the final days of the league stage as the number of wins and net run rate (NRR) comes into play. For a better understanding, refer to the final IPL table from 2019.
Two, the viewership goes, and that results in gigantic losses for the advertisers, and thus, the broadcasters. The impact of a washout is far greater outside the field, as any logistic or broadcast expert would tell you. Apart from the TV and digital broadcasters, many third-party analysts on digital media stand to lose. For a market like India where digital consumption of content is the new norm, a washout brings economic misery for many. This does not go down well for the future investments by advertisers.
Three, it pushes away advertisers from other tournaments. As per a media report, Star India is looking to earn around Rs 3,000 crore from the advertising revenue during the World Cup. This includes advertising revenue from TV and from Hotstar. Also, revenue includes national and international distribution rights.
Given how the weather is playing out in England currently, it will not be premature to assume five to six more games being a washout in the second half of June. From the 48 games, we could be staring at 10 washed out ones.
While the variation of the advertising rates across matches make the estimation difficult, a washout costs the advertisers and other distribution mediums somewhere between Rs 50 crore to Rs 60 crore. Already, they must be staring at a cumulative loss of more than Rs 250 crore from the four games, given one game, was that of India.
Four, the washout is a punishment for teams like Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and West Indies who do not get enough international cricket, especially Test cricket. Washouts like these take away the opportunity of witnessing cricketing upsets. For instance, the abandoned game between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka would have hurt the former, for they were looking to cash in on a victory. Sri Lanka has already lost two of its nine games to rain.
However, going forward there are a few solutions the ICC can work around.
One, venue. There is enough evidence now with the ICC that England and Wales are not an ideal place for 50-over tournaments. In 2013 Champions Trophy, of the 15 games played, one was abandoned due to rain, and six were curtailed due to rain. That’s half of the tournament going under the impact of rain. Eventually, the final of a 50-over tournament was a T20 game between India and England.
In 2017 Champions Trophy, of the 15 games, five were curtailed due to rain. Australia couldn’t complete two of its three league games. The story, until now, in this year’s World Cup, is similar with four out of 18 games abandoned.
If one takes infrastructure, viewership, weather, and fan-following into account, here are the possible venues for the future World Cup matches.
Not West Indies, as we saw in 2007. Even with decent infrastructure, there is no crowd turnout. The timezone takes away the potential viewership, thus harming broadcaster interests. Australia and New Zealand, even though with a slight timezone problem and lack of crowd turnout, unless it is an India game, are the third-best option for hosting the World Cup.
Second best, South Africa, with their impeccable state-of-the-art stadium, crowd strength, and most importantly, viewership numbers, as one witnessed in 2003 and 2007. Also, the size of the country makes it easier for the logistics.
The best option is that of the Indian subcontinent minus Afghanistan and Pakistan for security reasons. Host the tournament across India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, and probably, Nepal, in the future, assuming they rise in the 50-over stature. In the past, any tournament conducted across or independently in these three nations has seen greater viewership, ideal weather conditions, and a thriving infrastructure to back it up.
ICC must consider hosting the 50-over World Cup between these three venues alone. In this manner, each of the three venues shall have the opportunity to host the pinnacle of 50-over cricket once every decade, and six of the 12 Test-playing nations will be able to host the World Cup. England (and Ireland in the future) and West Indies can be chosen to host the T20 tournaments.
Two, the reserve day mechanism should not be confused with the Elder Wand from Harry Potter to magically solve the issue of washouts. Firstly, this frequency of washouts is a rarity, and venue specific. Clearly, one wouldn’t encounter these weather conditions in the above-suggested venues.
Secondly, there is no sense in having a reserve day for each game as not only that prolongs the entire tournament, but adds to the logistic and broadcasting nightmare. Also, if the weather conditions are anywhere close to what we are having in England right now, following each game day with a reserve day would be of no help in most cases.
Having two games each day would not work in the interests of the broadcasters as advertising revenues would suffer. Thus, the reserve day mechanism needs to be flexible enough to suit the situation at hand.
The ICC, going forward, can have a five-day cushion between the league games and the knockouts (semis and final). The five-day cushion should involve three to four stadiums, must be checked for forecasts, ground conditions, and must not be far apart. This would enable a team to play at least two washed out games (of the nine) and would allow for at least five and maximum 10 games to take place.
If, and the probability of this happening is low, a team has a third game washed out in the league stage, the points will have to be shared between the competing teams. The final authority must lie with the ICC in this regard.
There is another way of going about the reserve day mechanism. This one would require elaborate attention on the logistic side. Instead of having a separate reserve week, the ICC can look to reschedule a washed out game within the league stage.
For instance, for the Bangladesh-Sri Lanka encounter that was washed out on 11 June, if one takes into account the remaining games of both teams, eliminates a day before and after the game-day, there are two days where the game can be rescheduled. In this case, 13 June and 3 July. What would work in favour of this process is that one team would already be on the venue having finished a game or preparing for one and the other team can join them. The only downside of this approach is that a team may have to play two games in a space of three days.
Similarly, for the washed out game between India and New Zealand, the reserve day would work out as 14 June. However, if at all the ICC plans to implement something on these lines, it would have to eliminate the concept of two simultaneous games over each day of the weekend as that would enable them to stretch the schedule to make enough room for reserve days such as these.
Again, the reserve day and the discussion around it is a rare occurrence, and clearly, will not be a subject of such great botheration in 2023 when 10 teams come together for the World Cup in India.
For now, the ICC must learn its lesson from its debacle in England. As the fans and everyone remotely associated with the game emotionally or economically express their disappointment over the abandoned India-New Zealand game, a World Cup encounter last seen in 2003, one wonders what would it mean for the reputation of the ICC and this year’s World Cup if the Sunday game between India and Pakistan is washed out as well.