Zee, Ten-Infront, Nimbus table ICC global rights bids

MUMBAI: The bidding for the audio-visual rights for International Cricket Council (ICC) conducted events from late 2007 to 2015 is certainly not going according to the expected script. For starters, there have only been three global bids tabled and a significant absentee from the list is ESPN Star Sports.

As it turns out, two of the global rights bidders -- Zee Telefilms and Ten Sports-Infront -- are acting in consort while the third contender is the now familiar name in all matters cricketing -- Harish Thawani's Nimbus.

As for ESPN Star Sports, sources familiar with the developments say it has tabled a territory bid that covers the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East.

Confirmed bids have also come in from DirecTV (North America); a combined bid by Supersport and SABC (South Africa Broadcast Corporation) for the Africa territory; News Corp's Sky for the UK; Geo TV (for the Pakistan territory); and ARY for Middle East/Pakistan/ Europe and UK.

Another likely bidder is Channel 9/Fox for Australia.


What seems to be emerging out of all this is that the fears of "crazy bidding" that Set India CEO Kunal Dasgupta expressed, which ultimately kept Sony out of the bid process altogether, might well prove unfounded.

This is best exemplified by the comments Zee Telefilms CMD Subhash Chandra made in an interview to business news channel CNBC TV18 following that announcement that his company had taken a 50 per cent controlling stake in Taj Television, the Dubai-based holding company that owns and operates Ten Sports.

Asked a direct question as to whether Zee's bid was above or below $ 750 million, Chandra stated it was well below that. The figure Zee has bid is in the region of $ 620 million, industry sources aver. If that figure proves correct when the tenders are opened on Friday at the ICC's headquarters in Dubai, it will mark the first serious "correction" in cricket rights bidding since 2000, when Chandra and Rupert Murdoch had fought over the ICC rights.

It is worth noting that in 2000, Zee's global bid was an astronomical $ 650 million. This is not to imply that Zee has actually gone lower this time round though. One condition that the ICC has introduced for the current tender is that if a company bids for worldwide rights, then it has to deduct production costs (approximately $ 70 million) from the bid before submission. Add those costs and Zee's bid works out to $ 690 million or $ 40 million higher than what it bid in 2000.

Queried by TV18 as to the reasons for his being so conservative when Zee had nothing by way of cricket properties other than BCCI neutral venue event rights, Chandra said: "We would go up to the point where it makes sense and it makes profit. We will not be buying it as a loss leader. If it comes sensibly, then we will take the rights, otherwise we will wish good luck to whosoever buys those ICC rights at a much higher price."

If that much higher price is dished out by new channel on the Zee block Ten Sports, it would add yet another angle to the still unfolding equations at play. If the joint bid of Ten Sports and German sports marketing company Infront is higher than that of Nimbus, then one can expect Zee Sports to take the India rights, Ten Sports the Pakistan and Middle East rights and Infront the international rights. On the other hand if Nimbus' bid prevails, then one would expect Thawani to keep the international rights while ESS would take up the Indian subcontinent / Middle East rights.

That would be the logical expectation but since nothing in this drama has unfolded according to script there is another possibility that could crop up. Which is of current ICC rights "incumbent" Sony making a late play from the sidelines. Dasgupta did say as much when he earlier spoke to regarding his network's withdrawal from the bid process: "We believe that the terms (of the tender) are quite onerous. We do not want to put our company at risk so we are constrained to hold back our bid. But that does not take away our right to enter into post-bid arrangements with the winning bidders."

Friday is when the financial bids are expected to be opened (going by Chandra's comments in the interview), so expect some more interesting twists to the tale before the final denouement.

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