Mark Mascarenhas - a controversial life cut short

The death of Mark Mascarenhas in a road accident near Nagpur over the weekend closed the chapter of a fiery albeit controversial personality who left his mark on the world of cricket broadcasting.

A friend indeed - Mascarenhas with Sachin Tendulkar

Mascarenhas shot into the limelight when he bagged the coveted telecast rights for 1996 World Cup cricket and then the 1999 ICC knockout championships in Kenya. 1996 also marked the beginning of another partnership - the signing of a breakthrough Rs 280-million deal with Sachin Tendulkar, which continued through the years despite ups and downs.

An NRI settled in America, the 44-year-old Mascarenhas flew down frequently and cricket ensured that he kept up the links with India. The five-year contract between Tendulkar and WorldTel was renewed late last year for an undisclosed amount, believed to be in excess of Rs 500 million, setting a new benchmark in cricket. Mascarenhas was reportedly also planning to start a global chain of hotels carrying Tendulkar?s name.

The bespectacled, beefy Mascarenhas left India in 1976 at the age of 19 to go to the US to do his Masters in communication. As a student of Christ College, Bangalore, he had played alongside cricketers like Brijesh Patel, who was representing India at the time. Mark was reportedly a hard worker and excelled in TV production and showed considerable creative powers when he was doing his communication course in Mumbai. After the course, Mascarenhas spent 6 months at the BCC Centre in London, before enrolling in Graduate Communications in the US.

Mascarenhas with his family

A few years later, he channelised his interest for sports into a business proposition by grabbing cable rights for telecast of college football throughout the United States. In April 1993, Mascarenhas got wind of the fact that India was to stage the 1996 World Cup and the organising committee was looking for someone to buy the television rights of the tournament. Four months later, WorldTel had won the rights for the tournament, jointly hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Three years after the event, the man who started WorldTel in 1989 after brief stints with radio broadcasting stations in the US, including WCBS, CBS?s number one news radio station, found himself in the eye of a storm, accused of allegedly depriving Doordarshan of $4 million in respect of telecast rights for the International Cricket Council?s knockout tournament in Dhaka in October 1998.

His special skill in identifying underdeveloped sports markets made him a player to be reckoned with in a highly competitive, often cut-throat industry. When major US broadcasters showed little interest in televising non-US games during World Cup soccer in the early 90s, he bid for and won the rights. The profits earned from selling the rights to televise these matches to international broadcasters made him a millionaire. He then bought rights to the Alpine Ski World Cup, with similar results.

Mascarenhas shared a close bond with both cricketers and cricket

The cricket World Cup rights too were not easily obtained. Mascarenhas had to outfox veterans like Mark McCormack?s IMG/TWI and Rupert Murdoch?s News Corp, which he did through a bid to the governing agency, PILCOM (Pakistan/India/Lanka Committee of Management). The deal included a $2.5 million down payment as part of a $ 10 million guarantee and won him the rights to bring the 1996 World Cup Cricket tournament to an international audience of over a billion people.

Once won, Mascarenhas did not stinge on quality of the telecasts. He used eight cameras and four videotape machines for the Wills World Cup, and pressed into service 18 cameras and 16 videotape machines for the Wills International Cup in Dhaka, unprecedented in cricket coverage anywhere in the world. WorldTel set up offices in Bangalore, from where Mascarenhas managed the business of player management, production, and marketing of cricket events.

Not one to lose an opportunity, Mascarenhas purchased a 344-mile gas pipeline network that was lying unused under the streets of Mumbai some years ago, hoping to convert it into an advanced telephone/cable television network capable of linking the city?s half a million households and offices. The pipeline that was to ?simultaneoulsy deliver gas and optical fibre?, is currently caught up in red tape.

Another venture the intrepid entrepreneur was reportedly engaged in was a partnership with Mick Jagger to bring live cricket to the Internet.

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