LA Olympics: Easy ride for cricket with promise of TV deals, fresh market
Despite not gaining much traction outside the ICC member nations, cricket is a proven money-spinner when it comes to TV and media rights
The attention on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) congress, set to begin in Mumbai on Sunday, may have suffered a little owing to the ongoing ICC World Cup, but a couple of the most important headlines have been written already.
While cricket is all set to make a comeback in Los Angeles 2028, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) has been banned for recognising four regional sports bodies annexed from Ukraine.
The IOC executive board, which met with president Thomas Bach in the chair, gave the nod to men and women’s T20 cricket along with baseball-softball, flag football, lacrosse (sixes) and squash. The formality of putting the proposal on vote during the three-day congress remains, but Bach, who has been camping in India for more than a week, has been long convinced about how the inclusion of one sport can work wonders for the financial health of the Olympic movement.
A push for the Olympics for any sport can be a long drawn process — ask squash. As many as 20 million people, according to a conservative estimate, play the sport in 185 countries, but it has taken it more than a decade and a number of rejections, while the route for cricket has been relatively easier.
It was two years ago in August 2021 when the International Cricket Council (ICC) made its intentions known of pushing for the game’s inclusion in Los Angeles 2028 and started working together with IOC on the mission. The US, with a population of 5.4 million Asians and counting, has been a market long untapped, and both sides must have realised that it would be mutually beneficial if cricket could make the journey to the dream destination of LA.
Experts predict that broadcast rights for the 2028 Olympics could fetch as much as $185 million with the addition of cricket, compared to only $19 million guaranteed for the 2024 Olympics
The ICC Olympic Working Group, headed by England Cricket Board chair Ian Whatmore, had an astute corporate brain in Indra Nooyi, the ICCs independent director, and they had been working closely to reach this goal.
A key step was taken when the ICC awarded the 2024 T20 World Cup to the US and West Indies, while Major League Cricket (MLC), which launched its first edition a few months ago, will also be expected to build awareness about the sport in the US.
The global sporting landscape has undergone a sea change since cricket made an isolated appearance in the 1900 Paris Olympics before being dumped. But the sport, despite not gaining much traction outside the handful of ICC member nations, has proven to be a money-spinner when it comes to TV and media rights, which has gone a long way in filling the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and ICC coffers. This is an area the IOC will also hope to tap, with digital rights expected to fetch the highest price.
A report in The Guardian quotes experts as predicting that broadcast rights for the 2028 Games could fetch as much as $185 million (Rs 1,550 crore) with the addition of cricket, compared to only $19 million (Rs 160 crore) guaranteed for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Viacom 18, the broadcasting arm of the Reliance Group which has bagged exclusive Indian subcontinent rights for Paris, is expected to pull out all stops for Los Angeles as well.
Nita Ambani, chairperson of Reliance Sports Foundation and first woman member of the IOC, has been the face of the host nation for the IOC congress. Viacom, which forked out a fortune last year to grab Indian Premier League broadcasting and digital media rights for a five-year cycle between 2023 and '27, will surely go all out for Los Angeles.
Given the T20 format and with more than five years to go, the ICC can certainly create a window for the quadrennial showpiece so that the leading countries can send their A teams. Who knows, a few years down the line, we may be rooting for an India-Pakistan cricket final in the Olympics, too!