A quick question! Which is India’s most successful organization, a market leader by far across the world and well on its way to become the virtual monopoly? No! Not any IT company, not even a consumer product, engineering or a petrochem giant. It is the Board of Control for Cricket in India, BCCI for short. If you think I have lost my marbles, well read along. Had BCCI been a business venture (I concede you your moment of mirth that your “Aren’t they already?” arises) with a listing in stock exchanges, I would think its market cap would rival the best in any business, definitely by far the largest for a ‘sports’ company!
To a large extent the history of India and the BCCI moves in tandem, exceptions apart. Indian cricket achieved independence before India the country did in 1932 when it was granted Test status. But for this small anomaly, India and Indian cricket were almost the same, servile in their attitude to their ‘masters’, British Crown and the MCC respectively. India invariably found itself subjected to racial prejudice and Indian Cricket invariably followed suit with the rub of the green mostly going against her. Best players of England or Australia would not travel to play in India, the tour schedules invariably dumped the colder, wetter half of the English summer on India’s lap while the top guns invariably got to play at best times and at best of venues. BCCI’s moment came post India’s victory in the 1983 Prudential World Cup, more specifically while co hosting the 1987 Reliance Cup. Indian economy opened up four years later. The overwhelming success of the tournament thanks to the might of Indian sponsors, a multitude of passionate fans on the ground and billions glued to TVs, set the BCCI’s juggernaut rolling towards the summit of the business of Cricket.
When I look at BCCI, I see a very intelligent and aggressive strategist any business house in a competitive market would be proud of. Some of its moves rival the action one sees in a ‘cola war’ or a ‘detergent war’. Let me elucidate.
Poaching: Essentially disrupting the competition by hiring its talented personnel. Though not exactly indulging in poaching, BCCI broke the hegemony of the MCC, Australia and its ‘vassal’ countries like West Indies and New Zealand by setting up a parallel power centre in collaboration with the teams from the sub continent. Backed by an ever increasing war chest, thanks to mega sponsorship deals and burgeoning broadcasting rights, Associates were weaned away from the status quoists for votes. Gradually the epicenter of Cricket moved to India.
Flanking: A strategy employed by market leaders,by launching a ‘me-too’ brand in the same category which chips away at the competition and protects the market share of the leader. To give an example, Coca Cola bought Thums Up to flank its premier offering, Coke and tried keeping Pepsi busy fighting Thums Up. While BCCI let its wishes known on any legislation on the conduct of the game, it let ICC which had come into being by then and which almost entirely depended on Indian Cricket for revenues and by that logic its survival to lead the charge. With the hotline permanently on ‘on’ mode between Dubai, the ICC headquarters and Mumbai or Kolkata or Chennai depending on where the BCCI president came from and given its dependency on the largesse from Indian cricket, ICC did the master’s bidding. While BCCI got flak, a lot of the artillery was pointed at the ICC too.
Economies of scale: Do you know the first shampoo brand to be sold in sachets? No! It was not a Unilever or a P&G. It was a Chennai based ‘local’ upstart called CavinKare with their brand ‘Chik’. Once the concept found acceptance with the consumers, the larger companies copied the concept and went ‘national’ in no time on the back of their deep pockets and wide distribution network to drive large volumes. What started as an innovation to spice up the English summer was fine tuned and was taken beyond the realms of anyone’s imagination by BCCI. The innovation was called T20 and the new beast in town, IPL. Glamour and glitz were the sidelight which was visible; while the real highlight of the IPL, equally visible was the money honey. Rival boards which often depended on sponsorships from Indian companies which channelized the left over budgets their way and on very attractive terms, thanks to the insatiable appetite of the Indian fan to devour any international cricket, found the revenue streams squeezed further to the extent many boards are now facing bankruptcy. BCCI also hit the rivals where it hurts them most, their core ‘assets’, the players who often ‘retire’ or refuse to appear for their national side and queue up for an IPL contract. Soon a ‘window’ for IPL magically appeared in the Future Tour Programme of most national teams.
Entry Barrier: As the name suggest, it is an attempt to stall the entry of a rival organization or product by denying the market or shelf space. This is done by either political backroom dealing, (Thums Up in its original avatar as an Indian company pressurized through its lobbyist in Delhi to stall the entry of Pepsi through multiple objections and painting Pepsi as an East India Company in disguise out to enslave India all over again). Partly Political it maybe but BCCI’s ‘treatment’ of Pakistan Cricket Board is one such. While an Indian tour to Pakistan is out of question for obvious reasons, an India-Pakistan contest in a ‘neutral’ venue is stalled for some reason or the other and if the same is scheduled in India, the deal is made commercially unviable for PCB. The only time such a contest can be held in the near future is during ICC conducted ‘global’ tournaments like the World Cup or when it suits the BCCI, on its own terms needless to add. Denying permission to Indian players to participate in rival T20 leagues like SLPL, Big Bash or BPL is yet another example of this tactic.
Ambush Marketing: Remember Pepsi walking away with eyeballs and accolades with its “There is nothing official about it” campaign while Coca Cola was the ‘Official’ drink of the World Cup’96? Organizing a West Indies tour out of the blue to put a marquee Indian tour to South Africa in jeopardy! Rings the bell? BCCI will stand to make approximately Rs.300.00 Crores from the WI series and Cricket South Africa far lesser than anticipated or none at all from a truncated or cancelled tour.
Many more parallels can be drawn between a ‘business’ and BCCI, its ‘customer service’ for example. But we will leave that for another day.
PS: Did you know, BCCI through multiple well wishers ‘requested’ Doordarshan to telecast the 1987 WC live? Dear BCCI, you have come a long way since then baby!