ICC media rights tender: Broadcasters have lot of questions but few answers

MUMBAI: At a time when the BCCI has raised the bar for transparency by hosting the sale of Indian Premier League (IPL) media rights through an e-auction process, the International Cricket Council (ICC) is asking broadcasters to submit a closed bid when the global governing body’s rights tender comes up for sale very soon.

The chatter around IPL media rights selling for a boggling Rs 44,390 crore hasn’t slowed down yet and it is time already for another big-ticket ‘cricket rights tender’ to hit the market. In less than 10 days from now, the ICC will come out with its own tender for global rights.

However, for the first time, the governing body is looking to sell the rights across territories separately starting with the Indian sub-continent as against the usual practice of coming out with a global tender. The idea behind the move, and rightly so, is to close the tender first in a market that brings close to 70% of the game’s global revenues. Media broadcasters who made a pitch for the IPL auction, and even some who did not, have evinced interest for the same. However, a majority of these broadcasters have been busy these last few weeks flagging certain aspects of the tender and brought them up in privately held discussions with the ICC. The broadcasters have raised the following points and their reasons behind it. TOI also spoke to ICC chairman Greg Barclayabout the same and his views are mentioned below.

A) The ICC has decided to call for a closed bid.

Broadcasters say: Why not call for an e-auction? The recent sale of IPL has conveyed it clearly that an e-auction does help derive optimum price discovery. More importantly, just the way BCCI thinks it is important and rightly so, why is ICC not ready to underline the term ‘transparency’ here?

Barclay: Yes, that’s the decision that we’ve made, because we think it’s best for the ICC, and basically, the ICC members.

B) The ICC wants potential bidders to submit two separate bids – one for four years and another for eight years.

Broadcasters say: What is the need to ask for two tenders – for four and eight years? In this day and age, the idea of blocking a rights cycle for eight years doesn’t make any sense, especially for a market that has multiple takers and technology is advancing at a pace where blocking of rights for a longer period doesn’t work. But even if it were to be considered as ICC’s “personal choice”, most broadcasters insist the choice of an eight-year cycle merely adds to the confusion. “We tried asking the ICC how exactly will they determine between four and eight-year bids? What are the parameters to determine the winner? – there are no clear answers, because this will be a closed bid and it’ll be their call,” broadcasters say.

Barclay: Of course, there are alternative views that the broadcasters hold, I know, who would prefer to do it differently. But they’re our rights and we’ve chosen to take them to market and as I say, that’s based on some fairly extensive research, advice and understanding of the market. So, we’ve decided that we will hit the market on that basis.

C) The ICC will only make the winning bid official and not the details of others who contested the bid and what values came in.

Broadcasters say: Why the secrecy? At a time when we just saw the BCCI conduct an auction where we knew exactly who the other players in the room were, why is the ICC not being transparent about it? Does a closed bid work in today’s day and age?

Greg Barclay: Yeah, look, talk to anyone, a number of administrators now. They’ll have a slightly different view. We’re a very capable internal team, they’ve taken external advice. The position the ICC has taken is in terms of leveraging the best outcome from the next cycle and, we believe, it was the best approach. For the record, the ICC’s tender document is expected to mandate that after the closed bids come in – the broadcasters have a choice to put in a bid of four years or eight years or both – the ICC’s internal team will study the bids and only reveal the winning bid and no other detail.

At the very core, this is the primary bone of disagreement the broadcasters have as the rights come out in a few days from now. BCCI too, say those tracking developments, had in fact asked the ICC to go ahead with an e-auction. “It’s like this: If we put in a bid for eight years and it doesn’t really work then we’re losing more than just the rights because we’re putting a number out there, meaning we’re laying down our next eight-year strategy. Why will any broadcaster do that? It’s fine that the ICC says it’ll study all bids, but shouldn’t the bidder know what parameters will be applied?” two broadcasters told TOI. The ICC tender document, it is learnt, has been cleared by its board and is waiting to be brought out very soon.