Cricket to drive Sony bid for the top with World Cup rights officially in the bag

The World Cup Network is what it is now calling itself. Sony Entertainment made it official today that it has acquired the Indian television satellite broadcast rights for a six-year package of ICC (International Cricket Council) tournaments, including the World Cups in 2003 and 2007.

The declaration comes over a month after SET had made what was virtually an advance announcement that it had it all in the bag (on 15 February). SET had issued a release then that it was in advanced negotiations with Global Cricket Corporation (GCC) & World Sport Nimbus (WSN) for acquiring the same. The GCC is a joint venture between WSG and News Corp and is managing the commercial programme for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003.

Announcing the mega acquisition, Sony Entertainment Television (SET), Kunal Dasgupta, CEO, said: "We have bagged the rights to beam live all the matches of all three key ICC Cricket tournaments, namely, two ICC Cricket World Cups, three ICC Champions Trophies, and three Under-19 Cricket World Cups."

The terrestrial rights rest with national broadcaster Doordarshan and it will be telecasting all matches involving India, including the semi-finals and finals of all the ICC tournaments, Harish Thawani, co-chairman World Sports Nimbus, said.

At a reported $ 250 million, this is the "single largest broadcast licencing deal" in cricket history and has involved a long and meticulously managed bidding process. From six players during the initial bidding, the field was narrowed down to three players at the final stage.

According to the information available, left in the race at the end were SET, ESPN Star Sports and Sahara India. Though Sahara, which is also the official sponsor of the Indian cricket team, reportedly made a higher bid in value terms, SET was able to sell its pitch that it had the better credentials to showcase an event of this magnitude having already successfully telecast Sharjah cricket.

The deal was finally signed and delivered after some intense negotiations over the fine print only on Tuesday night, said Seamus O'Brian, co-chairman, World Sports Nimbus.

As far as the cricket is concerned, it works out to a total of over 300 international matches over the next six years. Next year's World Cup (February 2003) will have 54 matches covered. But before that in September, there is the ICC Champions Trophy tournament which will have all the cricketing nations participating. This will be followed by the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup to be played in New Zealand in January-February 2003.

World Sports Nimbus, which is also doing the television production for the events, will have a 350-strong crew and commentator team with 23 cameras covering every possible angle during the tournaments, Thawani said.

Rajat Jain, executive V-P and business head of sister channel MAX, which will be telecasting the matches, gave some indication of what was being lined up when he said the effort would be to build viewer interest for non-India cricket as well (India matches are a gauranteed draw). This would be done through innovative presentations as well as contests and promotions around the event. There are also plans to leverage the Youth World Cup into a major event. A whole slew of initiatives are planned the details of which will be announced in due course, Jain said.

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