The reason for this is due the introduction of the IPL (Indian Premier League) last year, where teams were quite literally bought at draft picks, in a similar fashion as in American football, with the top fees Â– millions of US dollars – being paid for players with Â“iconÂ” status, such as Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly, amongst others. Needless to say, for the average county cricket player, the IPL offers a chance to almost triple their annual salary. Players such as Mahendra Dhoni, the flamboyant Indian batsman, ranked no.1 in the world for ODIs, and the dreadlocked Australian Andrew Symonds earned $500,000 for just six weeks work last year. It is not just down to the playerÂ’s ability that they fetch such high prices, but also their marketability that is taken into account.
The sport has seen figures of money invested into it like never before, and the television rights, which were won by a consortium featuring IndiaÂ’s Sony Entertainment Television network, and Singapore-based World Sport Group, were sold for a record $1.026 billion over the next ten years. Teams were bought at auction by businesses and other consortiums at prices ranging between $67 million and $111.9 million. The list goes on, but the point is the cricket has never been so lucrative.
Financial involvement is set to go one stage further at the end of next month with the Stanford Super Series in the Caribbean. It is set to last a week, and the main attraction will be a $20 million match between England and an All-star Caribbean side. Normally such events would be a one-off, perhaps in aid of some cause such as the Help For Heroes rugby match at Twickenham last month, for injured soldiers. However, this match is simply a winner takes all, with each player on the winning side receiving a million dollars each. For once, not even football can match this amount of prize money per player.
One possible danger from all this investment is that the Super Series could prove to be the start of an upward slant taking cricket into similar territory as that of the Â“BillionaireÂ’s ClubÂ”, otherwise known as the Barclays Premier League. Without sounding too critical, what is its purpose? Is it simply a one-off, or does cricket secretly aspire to be a big-bucks business? When the IPL started, after a couple of press reports of county cricket players looking to go and earn the big bucks abroad, the ECB claimed to be drawing up a rival tournament to begin in 2010. This may all be well and good, but the truth is the ECB has been almost forced to create another big money rival tournament in order to keep its players in the country. What happens when the IPL offers even more money, will the ECB then be forced to match that too? If so, the cricket – whilst it may not exactly get to the stage football has reached, in which people are foolish enough to pay Frank Lampard a ridiculous Â£150,000 a week – the game will only get more and more expensive.
If this is to be so, then it will definitely not happen overnight. FootballÂ’s rise- or demise depending on which side of the fence you sit – has been gradual up until the last decade, where the amount of money that is invested in the game is at a level not far short of ridiculous, due to both foreign investors and television rights. This is not only the case for just football however; all sports have profited as a result of increased fees and interest by television broadcasters. For cricket to reach the same sort of level as footballÂ’s millions, it would take a massive cash injection, which, given the current credit crunch and state of the market, is more unlikely to happen now than ever.
Putting that to one side, another question could be: is cricket as marketable in the first place as football? 20/20 is a relatively new format, but there was a similar sort of euphoria on the introduction of ODIs back in the 1970sÂ… would we not just end up with another format becoming tired? Could a cricket match between say, Glamorgan and Worcestershire, really bring in weekly crowds of even the lowest average Premiership crowd of 25,000? Probably not, but then with enough advertising, funding, and marketable players in the David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo mould (of which the most prime examples are Pietersen, Flintoff, Panesar), cricket could become the biggest sport in the worldÂ…but I doubt it.