Imagine going to a café and being offered an empty bottle of Coke. There’s a bottle, it’s labelled, has a cap, but there’s no Coke. No, you must pay R200 for that soft-drink.
That’s essentially what Haroon Lorgat and Cricket South Africa (CSA) tried to sell to broadcasters with the T20 Global League (T20GL). An empty bottle for a hefty price.
The most valuable sports leagues around the world were already established brands by the time they sold rights to the highest bidder.
The National Basketball Association in the US - which sold rights a couple of years ago to the Walt Disney company and Turner Sports for $24-billion (about R318bn) - has been around for 70 years.
The rights for the English Premier League were sold two years ago for £5.14-billion (about R91bn). That brand in its current guise has been around for 25 years. SuperSport’s last deal with the local Premier Soccer League in 2011 was reportedly worth R2-billion. Again the PSL was by that stage an established brand.
What is the T20GL? It’s an event in name only. Most sports fans knew nothing about it until now. Having a couple of hashtags trend on social media does not a brand make - not a sports one anyway.
It’s the matches on the field which do that, and Cricket SA didn’t have that and yet were demanding enormous fees, from SuperSport in particular, to broadcast matches in this country and from companies in India, cricket’s biggest market.
To make the T20GL a valuable entity it needs to be a competition most South Africans can access, and that means a big sacrifice from Cricket SA and SuperSport for the first couple of years. Get people excited by the product and you’ll get them wanting it more, which means it had to be available on free-to-air channels - in our case, the SABC.
For the first two years of the T20GL, matches should have been made available on the SABC.
Now the public broadcaster, given it’s own shortcomings, is incapable of showing 57 matches over six weeks - nor will it pay for rights to broadcast the competition. But it can do one match a week for that period, and some kind of highlights package.
That way CSA, and by extension SuperSport, build the brand with the public, create something that excites, and then after two years, reduce the coverage on SABC - take away the live matches perhaps - and entice people to the pay-TV channel.
Instead CSA - and Lorgat in particular, given that he was at the forefront of the League’s creation - demanded enormous fees from SuperSport, which already owns the rights to broadcast domestic cricket.
Cricket SA has been left with egg on its face and South African cricket in general is a laughing stock to the rest of the world.
There is a chance that the T20GL will still be rescued. For now CSA is keeping on staff who were working on the event, including tournament director Russell Adams.
Most of the owners have pledged their support but there is also recognition that whatever broadcast deal is tabled now will be far less than what CSA wanted.
And how will that affect the quality of international players in the event? Now that the first year has been postponed, players will be sceptical about attaching their names to the tournament, making it less attractive to the public and broadcasters.
First though, Cricket SA has to clean up the mess by running a detailed inquiry. Isolating what went wrong, who did wrong and who didn’t ask the right questions.
A staggering amount of money seems to have been flushed down the drain here. Significant damage has been done to the brand.
And who will want to buy damaged goods?