COMMERCIALISM: A CATALYST IN PROFESSIONALISM

Cricket has evolved as a lucrative profession, to say the least.

By KHALIL AHMED
Dec 19 - 25, 2005

The Great Hanif Mohammad witnessed the 3rd ODI of Bank Alfalah Cup between Pakistan and England at Karachi's National Stadium last week. There is Hanif Mohammad enclosure at the stadium named after him, a tribute to his indelible contribution. This cricket legend played under the captaincy of Abdul Hafeez Kardar in the budding days of Pakistani cricket. The legends like Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Hanif Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood and Imtiaz Ahmed laid the foundation of Pakistan cricket from scratch. The nation owes to the all time great captain Kardar, sensational bowler Fazal Mahmood and dependable batsmen such as Hanif Mohammad & Imtiaz Ahmed.

Cricket was not a commercial sport at all in those days so these legends made incessant efforts only to keep the flag flying at international level. The players who played from 1950s to 1970s could not capitalize on situations and perhaps they did not want to do the same since the objectives were only to represent the country, play for the country and win for the country. They were provided with no facilities at all. There was no concept of getting huge contractual salary per month, provident fund, product endorsement contracts and so on.

I was shocked to read a couple of years ago that some of our former cricket heroes were in dire financial crises. But there is a ray of hope due to some of our contemporary cricket stars who feel the pain and empathize. It was an excellent move by Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq who revealed that every player in the team would donate five percent of his earnings from every match, apart from the auction of bats and other accessories, and PCB would also contribute the same amount to give financial assistance to the former cricketers who are in need. Looking at this situation one can imagine the hardships our legends might have gone through.

Till early 1980s, cricket was not a very popular game in Pakistan due to lack of publicity, non-availability of cable television network in South Asia and dearth of matches played between the countries. Radio Pakistan and PTV were the only sources but their contribution was not sound as well owing to the lack of commercialism in the realm.

At present, cricket means plenty of money, overnight fame and luxurious lifestyle.

It has evolved as a lucrative profession, to say the least. Things are different from the past. There are over 06 exclusive sports channels which give ample coverage to sports including cricket, and these channels with their sheer professional approach have been instrumental in fascinating over 02 billion population of the globe to watch the matches of quality production. Today, the cricketers have too hectic schedule to cope with. I remember Zaheer Abbas decling an offer to play in a foreign country for another team however at present cricketers can be seen playing for various English counties etc. It was a treat to see Imran Khan in an advertisement of a tea company and then of Pepsi only as compared to our young cricketers who can be seen abundantly in the ads of shampoos, biscuits, toothpastes, medical devices, beverage companies and so forth.

Let's look at a few commercial aspects of cricket which have evolved over a decade or so making the sport a commercial commodity. The influx of sports channels, lucrative contracts of the players with their respective boards and saleable features of the individual players are some of the things worth-mentioning.

Public throughout the world adopts what their heroes endorse. Sponsorship is about brand awareness. Association of a brand with a cricket hero has helped to take public recognition of the brands to heights. The sponsors give hefty offers to the cricket heroes for the endorsements of their products which help the products sell dramatically. Saeed Anwar endorsed a shampoo, Shahid Afridi endorsed toothpaste, Abdul Razzaq and Shoaib Akhtar endorsed biscuits, Javed Miandad, Rameez Raja, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, and other team members endorsed Pepsi.

Contemporary cricketers earn millions by individual endorsements of the products. Endorsements by the Indian players are more lucrative than our Pakistani cricketers. By virtue of endorsements, Sachin Tendulkar has emerged as one of the most opulent elite in the realm. He signed a record US$7.5 million deal with World Tel in 1995 for the period of five years. He endorses Pepsi Cola, MRF tires, TVS scooters, Visa Card, Britannia biscuits and a number of other products. Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid charge at least Rs 25 million, Rs 15 million and Rs 7.5 million, respectively, for each endorsement. Virender Sehwag, who endorses Coke, V.V.S. Laxman, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Ashish Nehra and L. Balaji also bag millions for endorsing products.

Apart from product endorsements, performance related bonuses and per match fee, the cricketers are paid monthly salary irrespective of matches played or not.

The Australian cricketers receive up to $3000 as per match fee. The match fee paid to the Indian cricketers for a home series is Rs. 2,00,000 for a Test and Rs. 1,60,000 for an ODI. On the other hand they are paid Rs. 2,40,000 for a Test and Rs. 1,85,000 for an ODI for the matches played abroad.The Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (BCCSL) offered a more motivational monetary incentive to its cricketers in 2003. The proclamation reads that the players would be given an additional $500 for each win and that the match fees for Tests and ODIs which were $1750 and $1250 respectively would be enhanced by 50% in case the win is against the top four teams of the world. The better the performance, the more the money.

Sports channels, entertainment channels and advertising industry are raking in millions in the wake of higher viewership as predilection for cricket has grown rapidly. Because of Englandís tour of Pakistan, the viewers are enjoying the joint production of ARY Digital and Ten Sports nowadays. It is because ARY Digital and Taj Television struck a joint venture in 2003 for around $60m in order to attain the world telecast rights for all international cricket played in Pakistan. During last tour of Indians to Pakistan, Ten Sports was said to have earned over $100 million by selling advertising spots. It sold 30-second spots for the series at $15,000. There were approximately 366 such spots for each dayís cricket and the Indian tour lasted for 20 days of cricket with 05 ODIs and three Test matches. This is to remember that SET Max charged $4,500 for the same duration for the last Indo-Pak World Cup match. Sony Entertainment Television, which has paid $255 million for the satellite television rights, charges up to $6,000-$7,000 for a 30-second. The channels charge more in case the match is between Pakistan and India. It depends on the players also. If the players like Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Akhtar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Muhammad Yousuf, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, who are considered to keep the interest of the game alive, play then the viewership is high.

The electronic revolution has helped players, teams, satellite channels and the brands alike.

Cricketers like Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Hanif Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood and Imtiaz Ahmed did not live in the material world and were gratified with victories only, however today's Pakistani cricketers are more successful in terms of name & fame than any highly qualified Pakistani or a top bureaucrat. At present Inzamam-ul Haq, Muhammad Yousuf, Abdul Razzaq, and Shoaib Akhtar are A-category cricketers so they receive a monthly salary of 200,000 rupees. Players in the B and C category get 125,000 rupees 75,000 rupees a month respectively.

Another world cup, ICC Cricket World Cup 2007, is approaching which will bring about another wave of interest in the cricket crazy nation of South Asia. Inevitable commercialism wave will touch the heights again.