Will the West Indies be the first casualty of cricket’s hyper-commercialisation?

Shashank Nagasamudra Nagaraj

Posted: November 3, 2014

Several days ago the West Indies (WI) cricket team decided to cut short its tour of India due to a wage dispute with its board. While WI cricket has been constantly plagued by player-board disputes, this is the first time that an entire squad has boycotted an away series mid-way (Devers 2014). The cause of the dispute was the new Combined Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the head of West Indies Players Association (WIPA) Wavell Hinds on the 19th of September. The players claimed that they were not consulted before the signing of the CBA/ MoU and that they were shown the new contract only after arriving in India (Cricinfo 2014).  The team requested the WICB to reinstate the old CBA until the end of the series and called for the resignation of the WIPA board. But the WICB refused to negotiate directly with players and the WIPA board dismissed the players’ concerns and refused to step down. Crucially, neither the WICB nor WIPA attempted to engage in a constructive dialogue with the players.

While this may seem like a familiar player-board dispute, this case is unique in that the boycott may have disastrous consequences for the WICB while the players may face no punishment. The premature end to the bilateral series is estimated to cause a loss of around $65 million (Karhadkar 2014) which the BCCI may choose to demand from WICB. The BCCI has also suspended all bilateral tours with the West Indies (the last time India toured the West Indies the WICB made $22.3 million in revenues) (BBC Sport 2014).  The WICB is already $5.6 million in debt and is headed towards bankruptcy ( Bull 2014). It has lost its credibility in the wider cricketing world, with other countries now uncertain about inviting or touring the West Indies which further dents hopes of financial recovery (Marks 2014). The WICB also faces the prospect of being suspended from the International Cricket Council (ICC) (Dobell 2014).

Clearly these are desperate times for the WICB, but what are the ramifications for the players who went on strike? Well, despite the WICB’s initial attempt to pin the blame entirely on the players (Gollapudi (a) 2014), the international cricket community showed no desire to punish them. The BCCI has absolved players of any responsibility for the boycott (Gollapudi (b) 2014) and four players (from the tour) have since signed contracts with franchises in the South African T20 league (NDTV Sports 2014). Perhaps sensing that the cards were squarely stacked against them, the WICB and WIPA began talks with the players this week to try and negotiate a compromise (Telegraph Sport 2014).

Ten years ago, the actions of these players would have invoked widespread criticism and calls for bans. However, the commercialisation of cricket and especially the advent of T20 leagues have redrawn power differentials within the cricketing world. International players have shifted from being important stakeholders (largely) of a single organisation (national or regional boards) to stakeholders of multiple organisations (including, for example, the ICC).

Mitchell et. al. (1997) proposed a typology for identifying stakeholder salience based on three key attributes – power, legitimacy and urgency. Considering WICB as the focal organisation, in the space of a few years, its international players have shifted from dominant to definitive stakeholders, i.e. their urgency quotient has increased exponentially (refer table 1). This is illustrated by the fact that in 2009 the WI cricket team played four series’ without contracts before refusing to go on a tour to Bangladesh (Cricinfo 2009), while this time they did not hesitate to boycott mid-way through a series.

However, the legitimisation and incentivisation of the WI players’ actions presents a new dynamic for cricket governance. The attitude of other boards towards the players suggests the presence of powerful agency within the cricketing fraternity. One reason might be that out of the ICC’s 10 full members (members who can participate in all three formats of the game) the Indian, English and Australian boards wield the greatest influence (they are permanent members of the newly formed ICC’s executive committee). And after recent changes in the ICC’s revenue sharing model, are entitled to around 62% of the shared income (Berry 2014). This leaves the other eight test playing nations with a paltry 5% each. This formula is bound to increase the economic disparities between the boards. In this context, the international players become valuable assets to boards in their attempt to increase revenues through popularising domestic T20 leagues leading to opportunistic behavior. Also, given that obtaining a ‘test status’ is all but impossible (and uneconomical) for most countries and that current cricket calenders do not offer much room for expansion into new markets, these new developments seem to be pushing cricket in the direction of commercially beneficial country specific T20 leagues. It is not unthinkable that in the near future, countries like the UAE and Oman which are associate members of ICC (not eligible to play test cricket) may be hosting their own T20 leagues attracting the best international talent with lucrative contracts. The newly elected ICC chairman, Mr. N. Srinivasan in his acceptance speech also indicated as much when he said “…there will be more support for those who first show they can help themselves” (Ibn live 2014).

The current ICC board has already moved in this direction by scrapping the planned World Test Championships in 2017 and 2021 and replacing it with the Champion’s Trophy which is a one-day format (Berry 2014). The case of the WICB should serve as a wake-up call to other test playing nations – reorient your priorities or risk cricketing irrelevance.















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About Shashank Nagasamudra Nagaraj

Shashank is a recent MBA (International Sport Management) graduate from Coventry University. Previously employed in the sports education sector in a managerial position, with experience in undertaking end-to-end responsibility for grass-roots projects. Currently looking for employment within the sport industry, preferably in a role involving sport sponsorship and/or marketing.