LONDON (Reuters) - An unprecedented auction at the Hilton Towers hotel in Mumbai on February 20 illustrated just how dramatically sport is spreading beyond traditional boundaries and merging into the global entertainment industry.
At the conclusion, India’s one-day cricket captain Mahendra Dhoni was richer by $1.5 million for approximately six weeks’ work. Dhoni was the biggest winner after eight franchises had bid around $20 million for players to take part in the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 tournament starting on April 18.
The sums in themselves were eye catching, if nothing outlandish compared to the purses commanded by leading prize fighters.
But they were paid for a form of cricket specifically designed to appeal to a worldwide television audience and featuring players chosen not by selectors but in a marketplace for a competition sanctioned, but not organized, by the game’s traditional authorities.
“A hundred years ago your community was your local town and village,” Mark Waller, a senior vice-president with the National Football League (NFL), told Reuters. “Two thousand of you wandered down to the stadium or the church or whatever and that was your focal point. Then it became your county or your country and now it is a global community. There are no boundaries now.
“The world is a global one. Brands, entertainment and sports properties operate at a global level and our job is to make sure that we cater to these people.”
Last October, the NFL staged its first regular-season game outside the United States, a sellout meeting between eventual Super Bowl champions the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins at London’s Wembley stadium, home of the English national soccer team.
Boosted by the success of a game Waller believes could have been sold out four or five times, the NFL has committed itself to at least one game in Britain for the next three years.
IPL chairman Lalit Modi has said his goal is to make his new competition bigger than English Premier League soccer, the most popular championship in the world’s favorite sport.
His comments followed proposals from Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore for a 39th regular-season game with 10 fixtures in five different cities across the world in the middle of a two-week break in the domestic season every January.
“We cannot stand still. We are sitting in a privileged position but we are also in a vulnerable position. Sport is globalizing whether we like it or not,” Scudamore said in a briefing with British reporters.
“The Premier League is a global phenomenon. And you either seize the moment and look to move it forward or other people do it, other football leagues, other sports, other forms of entertainment.”
The plans are on hold after FIFA president Sepp Blatter said they would jeopardize Britain’s bid to stage the 2018 World Cup.
At a news conference before the National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star game in New Orleans on February 17, commissioner David Stern was asked to comment on a report that the league was planning to put a five-team division in Europe.
“This is not a new subject,” Stern said without further elaboration. “We are watching various markets on a global scale in a very serious way. It’s really a continued viability study because we’re always selling television, we’re always selling merchandise.”
Sophie Goldschmidt, an NBA vice-president, said there was huge international demand for NBA coverage. The NBA, which has regularly staged pre- and regular-season matches abroad for the past 20 years, draws more than half the traffic on its Web site (www.nba.com) from outside the United States.
“Why are we going international? Really because it’s a tremendous opportunity and there’s a huge demand for basketball which has increased year in, year out,” she told Reuters.
“We have TV programming in 215 different countries, you can access the NBA anywhere.”
The NFL and NBA both have offices in China, where the NBA estimate 300 million people play basketball.
Trans-Tasman rugby union rivals New Zealand and Australia will stage one of their annual Bledisloe Cup matches in a neutral venue for the first time this year, playing in Hong Kong on November 1.
“It is in our interests to grow the game in Asia and the Pacific,” Australia Rugby Union chief executive John O’Neill told a news conference. “The rewards that can be generated in this part of the world are extremely significant.”
Even golf, pastime of the western middle classes, is spreading into uncharted territory.
Jack Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 majors, now designs golf course for others to play on.
“We are working in 56 different countries and 26, 27 of them are new countries. We are exploring the world by going into markets that don’t have golf. We can shape the game and its future in these countries and we can particularly do this in the old Eastern bloc,” he told The Observer newspaper.
Editing by Clare Fallon