6 May 2007

Too long...

Commentators and observers have been falling over themselves in criticising the 2007 World Cup. Simon Barnes might have called it "the worst sporting event in history" in The Times, but was it really? There seemed to be so many things that the tournament could be criticised for that no-one focused on any particular area and dissected what the reasons for that particular failing were and how to avoid them again. Of course the duration of the tournament seemed to be top of many people's list for criticism and Malcolm Speed admitted as much, "We'll seek to reduce this 47-day World Cup by seven or ten days, and hopefully we'll get it down to somewhere between five and six weeks next time."

But did any one of the commentators journalists that have been so scathing about the tournament's duration, go public with their concern prior to the tournament? Not that Cricket Burble heard - if you know different please let us know. The tournament schedule was released well in advance and little was said, except to argue that some of the minnow sides shouldn't be taking part. This, perhaps, is the real issue - there were too many one-sided games and even those that could be expected to deliver a little excitement (eg. England v South Africa) failed to live up to even the most pessimistic expectations.

So the duration then....how does 47 days compare to other sporting events?

2007 Cricket World Cup - 13th March to 28th April
2006 Football World Cup - 9th June to 9th July
2002 Football World Cup - 31st May to 30th June
2004 Football European Championships - 12th June - 4th July
2004 Athens Olympics - 11th August - 29th August
2007 Rugby World Cup - 7th September - 20th October

So the cricket World Cup was undoubtedly very long compared to other world sporting events and yet the event had considerably less teams competing than for example, the football World Cup. Recovery time between matches is often a crucial factor in sports such as rugby, but no such concerns exist in cricket (unless you are Shane Bond), and yet the rugby World Cup scheduled for later this year will be fractionally shorter than the cricket World Cup.

So why exactly was the cricket World Cup so long?

For that, it seems you have to look at the commercial side of the World Cup. The cricket World Cup is, after all, an advertising and sponsorship extravaganza in India. Indian cricket is a 185m pound industry according to India Today. The World Cup was surrounded by various product launches and special edition products such as the Yuvraj Singh Xbox 360 game and special edition Pepsi Gold.

Although final figures for the current World Cup are still to be compiled, revenue is likely to be around $300m of which India's contribution is 65%, despite the early exit of their national team. "It is estimated that over 45m pounds was directly riding on these men through advertising spots that media buying agencies bought on behalf of their clients from Sony Entertainment" (who had the TV rights in India), say India Today, so not unsurprisingly there was outrage when India didn't make it through.

The sheer size of some of these numbers demonstrate why the World Cup was as long as it was. Sony thought that they could cash in on the World Cup in India - the Indian public would watch every night of the World Cup and they would make huge amounts of money through advertising slots. But, even in India, with a population of over 1 billion people, viewers can only watch one channel at a time, so even though Sony had two channels at its' disposal to televise cricket, they understandably wanted to increase their revenue by showing one game per evening. From the players' perspective, of course, there was nothing to stop two or more Super 8 games being played on the same night.

As well as Sony wanting to maximise their returns on the Indian TV rights they purchased, there were of course the 12 sponsors of the event who wanted to maximise their time in the spotlight. In the space of the last 3 cricket World Cups, the number of sponsors has gone from 4, to 8, to 12. All these commercial pressures are undoubtedly what pushed the ICC into creating a tournament schedule that relied upon tight games to keep the public's interest - the fact that there were a lack of close games was not their fault of course, but to gamble on that being the case in pursuit of greater revenues was.

This is not a vote of no confidence issue and it's not a resignation issue. But it is something that the ICC can learn from when scheduling the next World Cup. Malcolm Speed has suggested that they will seek to reduce the World Cup by 7 to 10 days, but why is he putting a figure on it? What the ICC need to do is go away and come up with a sponsorship and media rights deal that takes duration out of the commercial equation. They are then free to look at the duration that suits the players and fans the best.

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