New Delhi: India’s unexpected win, on this day 25 years ago at the World Cup, cricket’s top tournament, may have sowed the seeds for the sport’s progress into a lucrative business here. But those seeds were slow to germinate, and it wouldn’t be until the late 1990s that the process would accelerate.
When India won in 1983, the Board of Control for Cricket in India had no money to reward the team, the then president of the organization, N.K.P. Salve, said recently in the Capital. He recalled that he could only offer a reward of Rs200,000, to which Sunil Gavaskar, a senior member of the team, had responded: “We are not asking for tips, sir.”
Down memory lane: BCCI president Sharad Pawar and minister of state for sports M.S. Gill (centre) with 1983 World Cup team members pose for a group photo in New Delhi on 22 June during the 25th anniversary celebrations of the historic win. (Photograph by Atul Yadav / PTI)
The BCCI then had to set about organizing a fund-raising concert, featuring popular Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar, and each team member finally received around Rs100,000.
In 2007, by contrast, each member of the Indian team that won the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa received Rs80 lakh each from the BCCI. In 2006-07, the latest year for which its financial details are available, the BCCI clocked revenues of Rs650 crore.
“That anecdote really gives us a benchmark of where the board was then, and where cricket was,” says Gaurav Seth, business head at VGC Sports, a sports consultancy. “Ironically, the Indian Hockey Federation was rich at the time. They’d won the gold at the 1980 Olympics, and hockey players were revered.”
Cricket writer Raju Bharatan remembers that, shortly after the 1983 World Cup, when the West Indies came to India on a tour, Vivian Richards was curious to know how much money the victorious Indian players had made—and was shocked to find out that they hadn’t made much at all.
Euphoric innings: A 1983 photo of the Indian team with the World Cup. Photograph by Shirish Shete / PTI
“He went around asking each of the players of the squad,” Bharatan remembers. “Then he began asking journalists like me. He just couldn’t believe that the players hadn’t been feted and showered with rewards for such an achievement.”
Still, 1983 was a beginning, says Sunder Raman, CEO of the Indian Premier League. “First the sport had to become big for the business of it to become big. So when the 1983 World Cup win happened—and it was back-to-back with the 1985 World Championships win in Australia—those years became truly remarkable for Indian cricket.”
The 1985 World Championships, conceived as a sort of a mini World Cup (only one of its kind was held), also exposed an entire generation of Indians to high-quality cricket broadcasting. By then, more Indians had colour television sets at home; indeed, colour TV had only entered India in 1982, to mark the Asian Games held in New Delhi.
This live coverage of cricket, as well as India’s success, broadened the sport’s “catchment area,” says historian Ramachandra Guha. “It got more housewives involved in watching cricket, as well as more people outside the big cities,” he says. “So as the viewers increased, the game spread, and advertising and branding followed.”
India’s win in 1983, and the interest of Reliance Industries Ltd in sponsoring the next edition of the World Cup, saw the event leave England for the first time since its inception in 1975.
“It was a sign of things to come,” says Seth. Asian cricket was on the ascendant, and this move was “a natural progression... Reliance demonstrated, for the first time, that Indian companies had the money to pull off something like this,” says Seth. “And people began to see that the subcontinent could host a show like this.”
Television, corporate involvement and the growing relevance of the Asian countries contributed to make cricket a richer sport than all others in India in the 1990s.
But the real tipping point came only after 1999. “I don’t think 1983 was a turning point commercially,” says Samir Kale, managing director of CMCG India, a sports consultancy. “There was no satellite television at all, and commercial success comes from television success.”
Kale identifies the period between the 1999 World Cup and the 2003 World Cup as the real tipping point. “The rights for the 1999 World Cup were sold for $12 million,” he says. “The combined rights for the 2003 and 2007 World Cups were sold for $250 million. Nobody believed Sony (Entertainment Television) would recover that money—but it did.”
Sony would go on to pay $1.026 billion for television rights for the first 10 years of the IPL.
Shashi Kalathil, CEO of Future Group’s Galaxy Entertainment, also puts the inflexion point much later than 1983. “Cricket was always big in India, but it became hugely commercially leveraged only starting from the mid-1990s,” he says. Towards the second half of that decade, Jagmohan Dalmiya became chairman of the International Cricket Council. “It was Jaggu-da who completely changed the rules of the game,” Kalathil says.
IPL’s Raman, too, sees the 1990s as the defining decade: “It was only with the cable TV revolution that good-quality cricket became accessible to everyone. It required cable to dish out the exhaustive entertainment from cricket across the world,” he says.
The 1983 victory also made Indian cricketers saleable names, media stars in their own right, ideal to push brands and products. Cricketers had endorsed brands before, of course. But after 1983, “there was much more attention on that particular side and its players, and a nascent endorsement culture began to rise,” says Seth. Krishnamachari Srikkanth, the highest scorer in that 1983 final, remembers the “novel experience” of being asked to endorse brands such as Toshiba and Maltova.
“We must remember that players like Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar were stars even before 1983,” says Kale. “Maybe Kapil would have seen a slight increase in his endorsements, but I doubt it would have meant any real money.”
Dev himself says he recalls no significant leap in his media value. “I don’t think the win made a lot of difference,” he says. “If I remember, we weren’t looking at the money anyway. The contracts would be for Rs30,000, or Rs50,000, amounts like that.”
“When we won the Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket in 1985, of course, the volume of our media exposure hiked yet again,” says Srikkanth. “But the endorsement culture exploded in volume only in 1991-92, when the economy began to open up and cable television started to make its entry into India. But it all began with 1983.”