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'Open Source' Cricket


You may have noticed that the sport of cricket is changing rapidly, with new leagues, big-money challenge matches, etc. It's been debated whether these changes are good for the sport or not, but I contend that these changes do not address cricket's fundamental problems. I propose here, in the abstract, a radical change which would truly be in the interest of the sport.


I think what would benefit cricket is an "Open Source" league. I use the term metaphorically, because I'm not proposing that anyone off the street could come in and bat 3rd in any given match. What I mean is that the league would cede much of its intellectual property rights in order to spread interest and adoption. We've seen that this formula can create successful businesses in technology. Why not for a sports league?

International cricket has been falling short of its potential outside of areas where big money is flowing in. I imagine that in India the sport of cricket looks extremely healthy right now, and West Indian cricketers are counting their profits thanks to their Stanford Challenge win. But in most of the world viewership is down because cricket is hard to watch, even if you want to. Even in England, fewer and fewer people are watching because matches are only available to paying cable subscribers.

The fundamental problem of cricket is not that there aren't enough matches but that in most of the world fewer people are watching. The ICC and other leagues haven't been building cricket's "brand", they've been trying to cash in on what's been already built, but in a way which is not sustainable.

So my radical solution is for someone (personally, I lack the resources) to start a league which releases intellectual property for the good of the sport.

What could be put into the public domain?

1) Television/Video rights. This is the biggie, and any businessman with an ounce of greed will shudder at this idea, but it may be possible to build a business model that's not based on ownership of TV rights. The fastest way to spread the sport is to allow anyone in the world to broadcast it without restrictions. Suddenly cricket would be everywhere. If you're an adventurous businessman, but you've run the numbers and decided there's no way you can pay the players without a TV contract, there are still some big steps you can take. You can negotiate non-exclusive broadcast deals. Or, if no TV network is willing to pay for a non-exclusive deal, how about a fast-expiring rights deal, where after a week the broadcast becomes public domain. The network has the value of the match when people are most interested, but after a week anyone can do what they want with it. What's a TV network going to do with a week-old cricket broadcast, anyway? They'll
just lock it in a closet, and maybe they'll put 5 minutes of it into a highlights show that they'll broadcast once and then lock in the same closet.

2) Radio and internet audio rights. Here in France the only matches I can listen to in any form are matches played in England. Why does it have to be that way? Who benefits from that? And what's wrong with some fan coming to the stadium with a cell phone and doing his own internet broadcast via some kind of relay? At the very least, broadcast rights should not be limited geographically and should be non-exclusive.

3) Team logos and other brand image. The standard way of dealing with logos and branding is to have licensing deals for any merchandising. What if anyone could do whatever they wanted with team logos? Sure, a few people could do some offensive things, and maybe the teams would see some leaks in their revenue pipe, but as with free software, allowing anyone to profit from the league's image will surely spread that image. In the long run, teams may sell more merchandise by allowing others to compete with them.

4) Fan photos. Currently in the professional sports world you do not really own the photos you take when you go to a match. Sure, you possess the photos, but your rights to do anything commercial with them are limited. Does it have to be that way? Why not let fans sell calendars, trading cards and t-shirts from the photos they take at matches? This increases the value of tickets and will surely encourage more attendance. It will also, as with the releasing of team logo rights, make the league more ubiquitous, since products portraying it will be much more common.

So, now that I've proposed this, is there any chance it could become a reality? Right now the ICC is in the role of rights watchdog and guardians of the old way of doing things, so I don't expect any help from them. There are currently two potentially disruptive actors in cricket who have been behind recent changes - the ICL and Allen Stanford. The ICL is closely aligned with Zee TV, as I understand, so I think my proposal about TV rights would be a non-starter with them, although they might be willing to open up some other rights if it gives them a weapon against the BCCI's attacks. Allen Stanford is probably much more receptive to this sort of idea, but so far he's been cutting deals with the ICC. If the ICC breaks with him, then someone should encourage him to try this approach.

It's most likely that I write this proposal to put the idea into the head of a future benefactor of the sport. With a worldwide financial crisis, it could be a while before another cricket-mad eccentric millionaire comes along, but if you ever meet someone like that, please let him or her know about this idea.
(Click here to know more about Alan)

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