Ten Sports stands to reap ad, distribution windfall if Indo-Pak tour goes ahead

MUMBAI: There is still many a slip possible between the cup and the lip. But if the Indian cricket team goes ahead with a tour of Pakistan early next year, 15 years after it last played there, Ten Sports, which has exclusive telecast rights for all international cricket played in Pakistan, stands to hit pay dirt.

External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha on Wednesday authorised the BCCI to talk independently to its counterpart in Pakistan, signalling the end of a four-year moratorium on bilateral cricketing ties.

The news was welcomed by BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya, who said that the board had been ‘‘pleading’’ for resumption of cricketing ties. And, though Dalmiya said ‘‘nothing was final’’ regarding the tour schedule, industry sources say three Tests and seven ODIs have been planned for a five-week tour beginning 26 February 2004 and ending on 7 April.

The implications of this especially on the distribution front for Ten Sports are huge. To gauge just how significant the development is, one has to only look ahead to the upcoming tour of Australia by India that kicks off early-December.

ESPN Star Sports has exclusive telecast rights for the series. Not only is ESS expected to ramp up declarations from cable operators big-time ahead of the series, but is expected to announce its annual rate hike at that time.

Just how crucial is the cricket can be gauged from what happened recently in Chennai, the only conditional access-driven metro at the moment. According to cable industry executives, the biggest short-term spike in set top box demand was when South Africa confirmed it was going ahead with its tour to Pakistan. Demand will be multiplied manifold when India heads Down Under (expected "slaughter of the innocents" notwithstanding).

And if the industry is looking at the first big market-driven push for CAS to tie in to the Australia tour, the even bigger push could be when the India team heads for Pakistan.

Sena's Thackeray, VHP's Togadia slam moves to ease Pak ties

Of course all this is possible only if the politicians allow the tour to go ahead. In a statement to the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna on Thursday, party supremo Bal Thackeray said cricket with Pakistan was unacceptable.

Adopting a similar belligerant tone, Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Preveen Togadia said that in April, "(Prime Minister Atal Behari) Vajpayee had said it was his last offer of peace and India would close all doors till Pakistan stopped cross-border terrorism. From where has this new initiative come?"

"The government must halt talks for dialogue and prepare for war," the VHP leader said.

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