Tough times for WICB finances by Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
October 28, 2001

It'S fellow full members of the International Cricket Council (ICC) have left the West Indies squeezed very tightly between a rock and a hard place.

Their binding agreement on a set, and plainly inadequate, fee for Tests and one-day internationals to be paid by the host team to its visitors was taken against strong and justifiable objections by successive West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) presidents, Pat Rousseau and Wes Hall.

It replaces the previous arrangement by which such issues were settled through bilateral negotiation and which, because of their reputation and attraction and notwithstanding their recent slump, proved a financial boon to the WICB, especially on the most prosperous tours of England and Australia.

The style of cricket they played under Frank Worrell in Australia in 1960-61 and in England in 1963 had such an impact on the game that England hurriedly rearranged their programme to include the West Indies for a return tour in 1966.

Their popularity led Kerry Packer to sign an entire West Indies team for his World Series Cricket (WSC) in 1977 and the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) to bring the West Indies back six times in the 1980s once Packer disbanded his show.

It was the reason why the WICB could strike lucrative deals wherever they went. Everyone knew they were good value and guaranteed healthy gate receipts and television ratings.

In contrast, with their small grounds and high expenses, they couldn't reciprocate at home where they usually came out with a deficit. The opposition, especially England and Australia, often railed privately against the discrepency for they received substantially less than they got when they toured the Caribbean but they knew they were onto a good thing when the West Indies came visiting.

For their part, the West Indies were satisfied they could always recoup on their overseas ventures.

Those days have now passed under the new ICC dispensation.

Its proponents explain that the reason for the change is the 10-year future tours programme implemented by the ICC last year.

Under it, the 10 Test-playing countries are obligated to playing each other in the period, home and away, and all but the West Indies regarded the new system as the most equitable in the circumstances.

The other members, all nine of whom voted for it, felt it would prevent the newer, less appealing teams, like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, from being disadvantaged through negotiation or being neglected altogether, as Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe were to a large extent.

The West Indies, for instance, have played Sri Lanka in only three Tests in 16 years since they gained Test status. England have grudgingly met them in six. It was eight years after their entry that Australia and the West Indies got around to taking on Zimbabwe.

All well and good but on even cursory examination, it is obvious how the West Indies will miss out, just as it is clear how the main financial beneficiaries will be England and Australia, the classic case of the rich getting richer and you know the rest.

The truth is that the payment of US$62,500 per Test and US$25,000 per one-day international is totally inadequate to cover any visiting team's commitments of players' fees and return air fares.

England and Australia, as well India and South Africa, with their profitable gate receipts, valuable television contracts and the sponsorship their sizeable commercial markets guarantee, can comfortably compensate at home for losses made overseas.

The West Indies certainly cannot, even though their payout under the new system would be reduced by as much as half of the previously negotiated figure.

For a series of five Tests and seven one-day internationals, the WICB's bill to their touring board would now be US$497,500 (exclusing local accomodation, expenses and internal travel), compared to just under US$1 million for major tours in the past.

Gate receipts from the five West Indies Tests in England last year, even with one Tests ending in two days and two in three, grossed US$101,712,665 (read it again). Under the present arrangement, the West Indies share of that would have been US$162,000.

Compare that with what the WICB has taken in from both Tests and one-day internationals over the last three home series - US$3.1 million from Australia in 1999, US$2.7 million from Zimbabwe and Pakistan in 2000 and US$2.9 million from South African earlier this year (figures provided by the WICB).

As president Hall, estimated last week, there will be a loss of around US$300,000 on the forthcoming tour of Sri Lanka. The last, and only, time the West indies were there, they brought that much back with them.

They were also out of pocket from the most recent tours of Zimbabwe and Kenya as well and will most certainly be for every one in the future.

So how does West Indies cricket pay its way it future, as it must?

In Hall's expressive phrase, it cannot just lie down and play dead. It has to see to it that it takes in more revenue from home tours.

It is easier said than done. No matter how hard it tries, it can never draw the crowds they do in Australia and India nor charge the whopping entrance fees they do in England that earned US$3.5 million for the three-day Test match at Lord's last year.

With a combined population of around 8 million (to India's one billion, England's 40 million, Australia's 19 million, South Africa's 43 million), shaky economies and the most likely domestic companies largely restricted by their insular boundaries, possibilities for proper sponsorship are limited.

Still, Hall reported a 91 per cent increase in takings at the gate over the past four years through a better ticketing system and there is scope for more.

Successive tours by India, Australia and England should attract lucrative television contracts and the World Cup 2007 has the potential - a key word, potential - to be an unimaginable bonanza.

It would also help if the West Indies started winning again and if some new stars caught the cricket world's imagination.

Somehow, those who make the cricketing decisions in New Zealand, with a population only half ours and an equally faltering economy, voted for the measure.

Perhaps the WICB needs to take the lead from them but still tough times seem to lie ahead.