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Meetings with broadcasters, agencies for great cricket auction begin; ICC cash registers set to ring

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The International Cricket Council (ICC) on Tuesday began meetings with broadcasters and agencies in Dubai, marking the latest stage of its sale of media and sponsorship rights for ICC events from late 2007 to 2015.

The ICC's team of negotiators include former President Ehsan Mani, who played a key role in securing the current agreement with the News Corp owned Global Cricket Corporation (GCC) through News International Limited.

That agreement, which began in 2000 and ends with the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 in the West Indies next March and April, includes two ICC Cricket World Cups and three ICC Champions Trophy tournaments. The GCC had paid out $550 million to secure the rights after a fierce bidding war with Subhash Chandra's Zee Telefilms. At the time of bidding the GCC was a 50:50 JV between News Corp and World Sport Nimbus (itself a 50:50 JV between Harish Thawani's Nimbus and the UK-headquartered World Sport Group). News Corp subsequently bought out WSN's stake in the JV.

The first question that comes to mind of course is what are the numbers that will be thrown up in this round of bidding? Before doing that, it is worth examining how much more in terms of events are available for purchase. The number of World Cups (two) remain the same. The "Extraa Innings" are a possible one Champions Trophy (there were three in the previous package while this one has at least three and maybe four tourneys), two 20/20 World Championships and two Women's Cricket World Cups in 2009 (Australia) and 2013 (India).

Additionally, there are also the Cricket World Cup qualifiers and four ICC U/19 Cricket World Cups included in the eight-year timeframe.

All told, there are a total of 18 ICC tournaments, the big ones being the two World Cups, in Asia (2011) and Australia / New Zealand (2015) respectively, and a minimum of three (possibly four) Champions Trophy tournaments.

That is as far as the events themselves are concerned. On the revenue front, there will be a huge difference on the subscription side because of direct-to-home (DTH) and the rollout of conditional access system (CAS), as well as increasing broadband penetration.

Sony had factored in some inflows from DTH when it made its bid for the current property, but the delay in the launch of DTH services put paid to that. For Sony, income from its ICC properties has been advertisement-led (to the tune of 65-75 per cent) rather than subscription driven.

It would be safe to assume that this would get directly reversed in terms of revenue break-up between advertising and subscriptions by the time the next World Cup comes around in 2011. Subscription revenue will come in principally from digital cable (all cable-penetrated areas should be CAS-delivered by then) and DTH. Broadband will also offer significant revenue opportunities by then.

Now, coming to the bidding. Even if the number of events were the same, and looking at the valuations that would have been obtained back in 2000, this would have been a higher value proposition because one of them is being held in India and the other has a clear time zone advantage for Indians (Australia / New Zealand as opposed to 2007's edition in the West Indies). So if we were to look at a like to like comparison, the base value in 2000 would have at the very least been the $ 650 million that Zee had bid then for the same rights.

The value of this property is essentially linked to what is the bid that the India part of it was worth. Sony paid $ 208 million for the C&S rights and the terrestrial rights that national broadcaster Doordarshan took would be another $ 47 million tallying up to $ 255 million. To find the base value of the India part of the rights using the above formula would imply a 25 per cent mark up or $ 320 million as being what they were worth then.

What are the toppings to that? One Champions Trophy (if four are held) and two 20/20 events. Let's say $ 400 million is what this would have been worth to Sony in 2000. Today we believe it will go for around $ 1.2 billion. Assuming that the India part will take up around 70 per cent of the total value of the ICC rights, we're looking at bidding anywhere between $ 1.7 to $ 2 billion as being the range in which the punts will be made.

Who has that kind of money? Star, Sony, Zee and maybe Anil Ambani's ADAG if it decides to throw its hat in the ring. One player that is almost certain not to be in this particular game is Harish Thawani's Nimbus. He has been taken out of the equation by the News Corp distribution deal. So could it end up being a fight between Sony-Ten Sports, News Corp-Nimbus and Zee Sports if Reliance doesn't enter the fray? Quite possible.

And if we were the betting sort our gut punt would be on Sony again walking away with this one. It is the more hungry and needs it more than News Corp. And being the incumbent will give it a clear advantage over an at least as hungry Zee.

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