Saturday, April 14, 2007

The BCCI Cap On Player Endorsements... My Column In The Deccan Herald

What is common to Ronaldinho, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods?

The fact that they are among the greatest athletes the world has ever known?

Yes. But it is also that they are among the highest earning athletes in history by virtue of their endorsements.

The greatest athletes in the world are the ones with the greatest number of endorsements, a fact that has held true from Pele to Sachin Tendulkar. In fact, the Indian cricketers actually had MORE endorsements when they reached the World Cup finals in South Africa than they did heading into the fiasco in the West Indies.

In some senses, the market economics that drive the business of endorsements are an incentive to perform better rather than a deterrent because a non-performer will never be offered endorsements.

Any attempt to impose a cap on endorsements ignores the fact that at the end of the day endorsements are all about performance, which is what the BCCI should be focused on.

If a cricketer is not performing or is distracted by commercial pursuits, the obvious and logical course of action is to drop him. Nothing stops the BCCI from doing so. However, the BCCI has chosen to avoid logic, resort to short term populist gestures and stop the actual performers from earning what they deserve instead of punishing the non-performers. The equivalent would have been if the English football authorities decided that the solution to David Beckham’s non-performance in the last football World Cup is to limit how many endorsements Wayne Rooney could do! Fortunately, the English FA decided to refrain from knee-jerk announcements and took the logical decision of dropping David Beckham… and to reinforce the point of how endorsements are about performance, so did brands like Gillette.

Who actually benefits from the BCCI’s announcement? There’s no surprise there, it’s the BCCI!

There is a cap on how many brands a player can endorse. No one brand can have more than two cricketers.

However, there is no limit on how many team sponsors the BCCI can have. And no cap of 2-3 cricketers these brands have access to. As soon as the players hit their limit of 3 endorsements, the only access to them will be through a BCCI sponsorship. And if any brand wants access to more than 2 cricketers, they can only do so by approaching the BCCI. The result… more sponsors for the BCCI and sponsors who are willing to pay much more than they currently do simply because there is no other access to cricketers. So the BCCI has effectively used the poor performance in the World Cup as a fig-leaf to increase its own sponsorships and wealth, while claiming that this is a measure that is aimed at improving the player’s performance!

The BCCI is one of the richest sports bodies in the world. With the latest announcements, it is about to get even richer. According to the BCCI’s own members, no more than 26% of this income will go to the players. While there is no denying that the BCCI might be legally entitled to take the measures it is, there is something undeniably immoral about a situation where a controlling body run by people who have never played cricket gets richer at the expense of the players whose efforts on the field are actually responsible for every rupee that comes to the BCCI.

In the 21st century, being a professional Indian cricketer is not easy. It is a journey that begins with 10 year olds practicing at the break of dawn while the mandarins who run the sport sleep in their air-conditioned homes. A journey that involves hours of practice on dust-bowls in the middle of the Indian summer. Of educational sacrifices that begin with lower grades and end with the absence of any sort of higher education or professional qualification. Of a life where the only professional skill the person has is the ability to play cricket. A professional skill that at best will last 10-15 years. That at worst is one injury away from a life of anonymity and penury.

It is on the back of these sacrifices that a bunch of 20 year olds embody and carry forth the hopes and dreams of a nation and our collective aspirations.

What gives any of us the right to sit in judgement on what the financial value of these sacrifices is worth?

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