Daily Newsletter

29 February 2024

Daily Newsletter

29 February 2024

In-depth with ICC media rights head Manoharan

The International Cricket Council's vice president of media rights assesses sales' progress for the next major event cycle.

Euan Cunningham February 29 2024

The International Cricket Council (ICC) is now coming towards the end of its media rights sales process for the next multi-year cycle.

The ICC - which has seen its broadcast income rise exponentially over the last 15 or so years - has already seen processes concluded in multiple of its major markets, including India, the UK, Australia, the US, and the Middle East, for the cycle covering the next tranche of its major events, beginning later this year.

These deals - covering both men's and women's major events - form a cornerstone of the governing body’s wider revenue strategy during each commercial cycle, and in turn, are integral to the funding the body can provide to each of its member nations (there are 12 full test-playing members and 96 associates). In some cases, they run through 2027, and in others extend to 2031.

This sales process has already seen a major streaming giant in Amazon Prime Video secure ICC rights for the first time, snapping them up in Australia from the previous holder, pay-TV’s Foxtel, while pay-TV networks in India (Star), the UK (Sky Sports), and South Africa (SuperSport), have also signed on.

Earlier this month, the ICC began its tender process - only for the next two years in these cases - for rights across the subcontinental markets of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, and is aiming to strike deals through 2025.

With the process, therefore, closer to the end than the start, and the first major event covered by the new cycle - the ICC Men’s World T20 in the US and the Caribbean, this June - coming up, Sportcal (GlobalData) spoke with Sunil Manoharan, vice president of media rights at the Dubai-based ICC.

Having held that position since October 2020, after two lengthy stints at Star India, he is well placed to assess the current situation regarding the ICC’s broadcast partners program, the entry into the sector of new players like Amazon, and which major markets are likely to see the most growth in terms of cricket rights values in the short and long-term future.

Manoharan starts by explaining the order in which the ICC has looked to sew up its deals for the next cycle - India, he says, came first, with that nation being “the main market for cricket on a global basis, a lot of time and energy went into that as we changed the previous deal quite significantly.”

The tie-up with Star unveiled in mid-2922, is reportedly worth $3 billion for the ICC in total.

The ICC also waited for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to sew up its domestic rights sales process for the top-tier Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 competition, before taking its rights to market.

Then the body moved on to the next batch of countries - the UK, South Africa, the US, and Australia. In those first two territories, deals were struck without the ICC going to the market - direct renewals were unveiled with the UK’s Sky Sports and with SuperSport in South Africa in early 2023.

On the other hand, tender processes were run in the US and Australia, resulting in deals being struck with Willow TV stateside and - strikingly - with Amazon in Australia.

Following that, the ICC took the process to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), culminating in a four-year exclusive partnership with Evision, before tenders were formally sent out in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The ICC plans on sorting deals with broadcasters for those countries within the next month, it is understood.

In those Asian markets, Manoharan explains, the idea was to wait until the conclusion of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup (CWC) in India last November - which took place in a favorable timezone for South Asian broadcasters - before taking the rights packages to market.

He also believes that Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing markets worldwide when it comes to the value of live cricket rights, and indeed says he won’t be surprised if “we end up getting more broadcast revenue from rights in Bangladesh within the next eight years than, potentially, what we get in Australia … Bangladesh as a market is evolving fast.”

For the CWC, which ended the 2015-23 commercial cycle, rights in that country were held by Gazi TV and T Sports.

It is understood, meanwhile, that processes in the Caribbean and New Zealand, two other markets where cricket is very much a mainstream sport, are also very near completion.

In the remaining regions, meanwhile, where cricket is not traditionally popular (such as the majority of continental Europe, Central Asia, and South America), the ICC plans to put all action from its top-tier events on its in-house streaming service, ICC.tv, it can be revealed.

ICC.tv was launched by the body in February 2021, through a deal with Endeavor Streaming which also involves IMG Arena, and initially provided a home for pathway events - for example, the games through which smaller teams could qualify for World Cups.

Manoharan explains that now, the plan has evolved, with the ICC’s thinking for this cycle being: “Let’s just retain these rights and slowly grow the market size.”

Indeed, most of the member boards have also made their content available on ICC TV - for free in some cases - in the aforementioned ‘dark markets.'

The age of streaming?

Turning to one of the most noteworthy tie-ups struck for the next cycle, the ICC’s four-year deal in Australia with Amazon Prime Video, Manoharan comments that he feels it represents “a total opportunity … it’s a forward-facing deal.

“Amazon has been a breath of fresh air, they think differently, they are a totally new option and their business thinking is new and refreshing.

“The way they will market and present ICC events is very exciting and we think it will attract new fans.”

In terms of the rationale behind changing things up from the ICC’s previous Australian partner, pay-TV’s Foxtel, Manoharan explains that the subscriber numbers for Foxtel and Amazon in that market stack up more favorably for the streaming service.

He says: “We think they will reach as many or more viewers than Foxtel.”

In terms of Australian anti-siphoning laws that cover cricket, meanwhile, the first men’s ICC event that will be affected by those regulations comes in 2028, with that year’s T20 World Cup. Anti-siphoning regulations (dictating which sporting events must be covered on free TV) only extend to World Cup games played by Australia, in Australia - the four-year deal with Amazon does not contain any of those.

Touching on the length of the deal - it only stretches to 2028, as opposed to the Sky and SuperSport tie-ups which run until 2031 - Manoharan comments that “we gave all broadcasters the chance to go until 2031 … but for Amazon, they just wanted four years - they want to see how it goes, it’s a first big bet on cricket for them.”

He points out that in some other markets, the ICC will continue to strike short-term deals simply because that is the more affordable option for media partners that do not have the same budgets as they had for other cycles.

This type of process will likely take place in Afghanistan later this year, Manoharan says.

On the subject of whether the ICC would ever contemplate selling rights in multiple different markets to the same streaming provider, the body’s broadcast rights director says: “We want direct broadcasters in local territories - we don’t want a global deal to overshadow a local tie-up, because we want direct relationships with each broadcast partner.”

Pay-TV or free-to-air?

For the last few commercial cycles, pay-TV heavyweights have ruled the roost in terms of snapping up ICC rights, as those networks continue to offer far greater sums for premium sporting content than their free-to-air (FTA) counterparts.

The Sky, SuperSport, Evision, and Star tie-ups are all further examples of this dominance, although the Indian broadcaster’s pay-TV status is essentially only nominal due to its cheap pricing structure.

Manoharan explains that in some cases, as with the tie-ups in the UK and South Africa, the fact these networks have deals with the respective member boards in those nations is a relevant factor.

He says: “We take a leaf out of the book from what our members are doing - in the UK for example, Sky is underwriting the future of cricket there.

“Yes, potentially free-to-air audiences would be bigger if we did deals with that part of the market, but it doesn’t feel like cricket in the UK is going backward at all.

“The ICC Cricket World Cup in England in 2019, for example - that was a fantastic event, with full crowds. And of course, certain partners end up sharing big games with FTA broadcasters anyway, like Sky did with that year’s final."

In the end, he concludes, “it’s up to market dynamics ultimately … It’s not like putting cricket on FTA is the only factor behind whether it’s popular or not.

“Our end game is to grow the sport and have as many viewers as possible. But, people often say that if you put stuff on FTA it automatically becomes more popular - I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.”

And, as the ICC relies predominantly on broadcast income to distribute monies to its member boards - under the current format - things are unlikely to change in this respect anytime soon.

US ambitions

Aside from the traditional cricket-loving nations in which deals were tied up as soon as possible, only of the early markets where a broadcaster was nailed down for the next cycle was the US, where Willow TV unveiled a four-year deal from 2024, in March last year.

The US, along with various nations in the Caribbean, will host the Men’s World T20 in June - the first time it has put on games from a major ICC event - and Manoharan explains that the ICC sees the US “as one of the pillars of our strategy going forward - we want to continue developing it as a market.

“Broadcast rights there are always very significant, as the South Asian diaspora there is massive.

“People are always surprised as to how many cricket fans there are in the US, the viewing numbers are very significant.”

He adds that “we get the data in terms of the numbers that watch ICC events there, and some of the bigger World Cup games do as well as English Premier League [soccer] matches.”

When asked about the possibility of a major US broadcaster snapping up ICC rights in the relatively near future, Manoharan says: "100% we think at some point a heavyweight US broadcaster will be interested - it will take time for cricket to become a mainstream sport there, but we are convinced that will happen.

“Major League Cricket has already started, they are slowly building their stadiums. It’s a slow process but we’re sure this sport will do well eventually.”

Willow TV has held ICC rights since an initial deal in 2016 and also covers MLC - the six-team T20 franchise competition that began last year.

The ICC’s keenness on placing part of a major event in the US has potentially had an impact on its talks with broadcasters in more traditional markets around match timings, Manoharan admits.

For example, it is noticeable that out of the games from the T20 World Cup, multiple will take place fairly early in the morning local time, to not be too late at night for a subcontinental viewership.

This is being done to maximize the audience in the subcontinent, where primetime games in the US “would be quite detrimental to our audiences” in that part of the world, “but we have to potentially take the hit.

“Overall, viewership will keep growing, that’s how I see it."

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