Anniversary Special #20YearChallenge: The Man Who Showed Indian Cricket The Money
The fact that the TV rights for the cricket World Cup now routinely command sponsorship worth thousands of crores; that IPL teams are worth hundreds of crores; that some big cricketers earn upwards of Rs 100 crore a year; and the BCCI, on account of its financial clout has over the last two decades, become the most powerful cricket body in the world, are all because of the vision of one man who brought American style marketing expertise to Indian cricket in the 1990s. Mark Mascarenhas was the subject of our second cover, alongside Sachin Tendulkar, who he had made a millionaire overnight as his agent. It was a tragedy to Indian cricket that he died prematurely in a car accident a few years later.
Mark Mascarenhas is a big man. Literally. He is over six feet tall, well over 200 pounds, He looms over most people like an oak over a lawn. This is something he is comfortable with. He leans into you when he talks. He looks over your shoulder while you write. When asked about Kerry Packer, the Australian media magnate and owner of Channel 9. Mark mentions with a smile that one of the reasons the Packer persona appeals to him is because Kerry saab himself is a very big man. Bigger than Mark Mascarenhas.
Oh yes, says Mark. Kerry is a big man. He split international cricket, founded a media empire, and engineered the form that world cricket would take, post the World Series of the late ’70s. There is unmistakable admiration in Mark’s voice when he talks of Kerry Packer. Does Mark want to be as big as Kerry?
Mark Mascarenhas talks big numbers. In a country that is just getting used to saying a hundred thousand instead of 1 lakh, Mark talks of millions. In US dollars. At the start of the decade, World Cricket didn’t talk in those terms. Then, Mark’s company WorldTel bid successfully for the telecast rights to the 95-96 World Cup, and along with PILCOM (the managing company that the cricket boards of Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka set up) brought the cricket circus to India. To a country raised on Doodarshan’s less than useful coverage and Narottam Puri’s trivia-laden commentary came Tony Greig, Ian Chappell, Michael Holding and gang, along with IL-76s full of cables and satellite dishes and qualified professionals from abroad, sporting shorts and WorldTel T-shirts and “V” signs for the camera. Umpteen centres, matches up the yin-yang, three countries and a faultless tournament later, India, if such a thing were possible, was even more hooked on cricket. And Mark Mascarenhas was a star. A big star.
Mark’s numbers abet the star persona. They are round numbers, numbers that one savours when speaking them aloud. Two million dollars of his own money, says Rajan Bala, went into the original bid Mark made way back in 1993 for the rights to the 95-96 World Cup. The total bid was for $10 million for the rights, plus $4 million for the movie that he personally guaranteed would be made when the entire extravaganza was over. “I was in the hole, man,” he told me in his forthright way. But let the record show that he found his way out of the hole. The PILCOM World Cup of 95-96 was a windfall for everyone concerned.
And it all began with Mark’s big round numbers and his nose for the big gamble. He has the bottle for it, as his whiter commentators would say. It has led to his managing Sachin Tendulkar, our modern deity, and the new captain of India, Saurav Ganguly. It had led to his picking up the rights to the Sharjah tourney for the paltry sum of $100,000 because no one else wanted it at the price. It has led to a cricket magazine and a cricket website, and access to all that is best and holiest in cricket in this country, and indeed in the world. It has led to a man who lives in Connecticut, on the eastern seaboard of the US, having an enormous influence on the fortunes of cricket, in India and abroad. The simple fact is, post-Mark and WorldTel, India is where the present and future of cricket as a business is, never mind the quality of our present test team.
Yes, indeed. In a country like ours, used to the congenital windiness of the testicularly challenged, Mark Mascarenhas stands out because he has balls. Is that why so many people can’t stand the man?