Who wants to be a millionaire?

There is a game being played tonight in which the winning team will be paid $20 million and the losers paid nothing. This in itself is quite newsworthy for a sports economist, but the fact that the game in question is cricket surely tells us that change is in the air. Ten years ago a professional cricketer in England was paid around $30,000 per year, and a top professional might make as much as $100,000. Now the average salary is more like $100,000 while the big international stars make over $500,000. Why is this happening? Because cricket is finally catching up with the TV revolution. The escalation of player salaries in all sports has been driven by TV: first in baseball and golf, then football (footbaaaaall as my children like to say), basketball and tennis, then football (the other one) and rugby, and now, finally, cricket. Why is cricket the last to catch up? Because it never had a format that could sell on TV. The game was played either in the purist’s 3 to 5-day version (wonderful, but who has five days?) or a one-day version (an invention considered radical by the cricket authorities but still not enough to unlock big TV audiences outside of cricket-mad India). However, five years ago a new format was invented in England- Twenty20: a format allowing a game to be completed in 3 hours. Suddenly there was a version that most people could watch from beginning to end. This year has seen a major step forward in cricket’s earning power. Earlier this year India staged a new competition, the Indian Premier League, featuring American-style franchises and the world’s top players in a Twenty20 competition that paid top players $1 million for a six weeks’ work ; it was an unbelievable success.

Which brings us to tonight’s extravaganza. The game is being staged by Texan billionaire Sir Allen Stanford (a Yankee with a knighthood!) who has been trying to revive cricket in the Caribbean where he now spends most of his time. The game is between the England team and an all-star Caribbean team. The obvious attraction is the tension of the players- drop that catch and you could lose your team mates a million dollars each, not to mention your own!

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Author: Stefan Szymanski

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