A picture of Don Bradman, complete with the Australian’s colossal Test batting average of 99.94, hangs proudly behind Geoff Allardice when he dials in to speak with SportsPro.
While it would be tempting to spend the next hour reminiscing about the greats of the game’s past, the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) chief executive is busy looking to the future.
It is almost a year since Allardice was appointed to the top commercial role at cricket’s global governing body on a permanent basis, following an eight-month stint in an interim capacity. A former first-class cricketer from Australia, the 55-year-old initially stepped in when his predecessor Manu Sawhney was suspended in March 2021 following a review into his management style.
After a subsequent disciplinary hearing, Sawhney left the ICC in July last year, claiming he was the victim of a “premediated witch hunt”. It was hardly the happiest set of circumstances that led to Allardice landing the job. Nevertheless, he has had little time to dwell on the fallout, with the last 12 months headlined by various significant deals and developments for the ICC.
In a broad interview on the SportsPro Podcast, Allardice discusses everything from the importance of the Twenty20 (T20) format in emerging markets and the growth of women’s cricket, to the ICC’s new Disney Star media rights contract and managing an ever-expanding schedule.
The ICC believes T20 is key to establishing cricket in new markets and engaging younger fans
There will be lots more T20
A big focus for Allardice has been the ongoing Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia, which got underway on 16th October and runs until 13th November. When asked what success will look like for the tournament, he points to “good crowds, close competitive cricket [and] engaged fans around the world”.
“One of the things about playing in Australia [is] the promotion of the event is very strong,” Allardice continues. “They embrace world events and normally, from a fan point of view, they’re very well organised.”
Though it remains a sometimes polarising format, particularly among cricket’s traditionalists, the ICC is doubling down on T20, deeming it the best way to get into new markets and reach younger audiences. It also offers emerging nations more opportunities on the international stage, which will be further helped by the fact the Men’s T20 World Cup is expanding from 16 teams to 20 in 2024.
“We want to give every member of the ICC the opportunity to compete internationally in the T20 format and have an accessible route to a T20 World Cup,” Allardice says.
“By adding extra teams into the events and allowing for qualification directly from our regional events, we’re opening up the T20 World Cup to more teams than ever before.
“[T20 is] the format for globalising this sport. The fact that it was used in the Commonwealth Games recently in Birmingham, for the women’s events, it’s certainly the vehicle that we see to take forward the game.
“If [you are] used to following other sports, chances are those are going to last a few hours, not a number of days. So if you’re going to try and build your profile in a country that has a football following, you are going to use the shortest form of your game to try and attract that interest.”
Geoff Allardice was named permanent ICC chief executive in November 2021
New Disney deal reinforces value of cricket to the Indian media market
The end of August saw the ICC confirm a new bumper four-year Indian broadcast partnership with Disney Star. Running from 2024 until the end of 2027, it covers all of the organisation’s major events, including the men’s and women’s 50-over and T20 World Cups.
Perhaps most noteworthy is the reported value. According to The Economic Times, the deal is worth as much as US$3 billion, a hefty increase on Star’s current eight-year pact that expires in 2023 and is believed to be worth US$2.02 billion.
Having already forked out I₹23,575 crore (US$2.87 billion) to retain domestic television rights to the Indian Premier League (IPL) earlier this year, Allardice says the reasoning behind Disney Star’s latest investment is simple.
“If you want to gain traction in the Indian market, the safest and the best way to attract eyeballs is through cricket,” he explains. “The premium cricket properties, such as the ICC events and the IPL, are extremely sought after from broadcast partners because that is their way of attracting the Indian fan to the medium in which they’re watching the cricket.”
The ICC’s next broadcast deal with Disney Star is reportedly worth around US$3bn
Indeed, the relationship Indian fans have with the game is one that is hard to replicate in other countries. The size of the market has also led to increased competition for rights, which most notably resulted in Viacom18 and Times Internet joining Disney Star in stumping up a combined ₹48,390 crore (US$5.9 billion) to secure coverage of the IPL from 2023 to 2027.
While cricket might see itself as a global game, a significant portion of its wealth is increasingly concentrated in India.
“It’s a really good time for cricket,” continues Allardice. “And I think you’ve seen that with the opportunities for Indian franchises to acquire teams in leagues around the world. It’s a focal point in the cricket economy.”
The 2025 Women’s Cricket World Cup is big for the female game
Speaking of India, putting the next Women’s Cricket World Cup in the sport’s biggest market makes sense for a lot of reasons. This year’s tournament in New Zealand was the ICC’s most engaged women’s event on record, not to mention the organisation’s third overall, clocking up 1.64 billion total views across its channels.
That momentum has been strengthened by the imminent arrival of the Women’s Indian Premier League (WIPL) next March. Speaking at SportsPro APAC last month, Disney Star’s head of sports Sanjog Gupta outlined his belief that the new competition will offer unprecedented reach for women’s sport domestically and abroad.
“In India, almost 450 million viewers watch IPL, which is one out of two TV viewers,” he said. “Now, if we are able to capture that market for women’s cricket that itself will give it the kind of scale that perhaps no other sport anywhere in the world has.”
The 2022 Women’s Cricket World Cup was the ICC’s most engaged women’s event on record
While Gupta also said there is “immense headroom for growth”, he pointed to several barriers the likes of the ICC and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) need to overcome to develop the women’s game. Chief among them, he believes, are low awareness and buzz for matches, a lack of players who are household names, and public perception of the quality of play.
The WIPL may do a lot to help combat those issues, but the onus is on the ICC to play its part ahead of 2025. If it does, the tournament could drive unparalleled growth and exposure for women’s cricket.
“The opportunity to grow women’s cricket in India is enormous,” Allardice says. “Having the next World Cup in India in 2025 is a big part of that.
“One of the really encouraging things that we’re seeing is that all of the conversations that we’re having with broadcasters, in all of the cricketing territories, they want the women’s rights and the men’s rights because they see them as complementary.
“The interest level is high. So we’re really looking forward to the way that’s going to unfold.”
If you’re going to try and build your profile in a country that has a football following, you are going to use the shortest form of your game to try and attract that interest.
Test matches aren’t for everyone
All this added attention for T20s and one-day internationals (ODIs) prompts another question: what does the future hold for Test cricket?
ICC chair Greg Barclay said in June that there could be a reduction in the amount of matches, adding that the format is not “part of the landscape” for the women’s game moving forward.
“In ten to 15 years’ time I still see Test cricket being an integral part [of the game] – it may be that there is less of it,” Barclay told the BBC.
The ‘big three’ nations – England, India and Australia – will probably be least affected on the men’s side, with Barclay indicating that others could see their Test commitments cut to as little as four games a year. White-ball cricket, he went on, is “driving the money”.
Given the size and scope of the international calendar already, coupled with the domestic schedules, something has to give. But will Tests end up as an anachronism? Allardice insists the ICC “isn’t discouraging” countries from playing the format but its viability in emerging markets has to be considered.
“If you’re in Australia and you’re going to the Boxing Day Test, or you’re in England and you’re going to the Test at Edgbaston, Old Trafford, the Oval or Lord’s, that is an occasion that brings people to cricket,” he says.
“In other territories, you’re staging a Test match that doesn’t have the same impact. A lot of that is cultural and historical. And that’s why each member needs to choose the balance of the formats that best suit their market.
“Each group of fans in each territory is different.”
Allardice wants cricket to continue selling itself as a three-format sport
The calendar must adapt
“I think there’ll be an equilibrium found between [the] formats as the calendar evolves,” says Allardice, in response to a question about whether the schedule is at breaking point.
Covid has meant a bit of catchup has had to be played. Looking ahead at the men’s Future Tours Programme (FTP) for 2023 to 2027, there is hope within the ICC that a balance can be struck between domestic and international competitions.
Putting that into practice will be a different matter, especially given that Allardice feels cricket must continue selling itself as a three-format game. That choice offers flexibility, but the sport cannot be properly accommodated in such a packed calendar. If things remains the same, ICC members will soon have to reveal whether their loyalties lie with the red or white ball.
“Each of those formats resonates differently within our member countries, but all for the good of promoting the sport,” says Allardice. “And that’s the same between the international and the domestic.
“The international fixtures in a number of countries are the ones of most interest [and] in some countries the domestic leagues capture the fans the most.
“But, overall, cricket is getting stronger as a result of that mix.”