Before The Flood

How Mark Mascarenhas first broke open the business of cricket

Mark Mascarenhas, one year after he secured the world broadcasting rights to the 1996 World Cup. HEMANT PTHWA/THE INDIA TODAY GROUP/GETTY IMAGES
01 February, 2012

ON 27 JANUARY 2002, an otherwise unremarkable Sunday exactly a decade ago, a large car carrying four people hit another vehicle and overturned somewhere near Nagpur. It soon became clear that only three had survived. The dead man, Mark Victor Mascarenhas of Connecticut—but earlier of Bangalore and sometimes of the Oberoi Hotel in Bombay—was, until that moment, a puller of rugs, a stormer of barns, a breaker of closed oak doors. In the nine years that he had flit in and out of India, he had been embraced by the most powerful man in Indian cricket, represented its most famous cricketer, and issued the first ripples of the tide of wealth that would wash over the sport within a decade of his death. He would not find justification in the eventual creation of the private league along the lines of what he had envisioned, or witness the rise to dominance of Lalit Modi; these things sprang later. But his world, at that moment, was so small, and its characters so few, that everything that came after—the valuations game, the football money, the relentless search for new markets—were only branches of a tree nurtured by him and other men who all knew each other by name and reputation.

Jump back another decade—so long ago that the third umpire was a revolutionary idea—to a meeting that was held at the coffee shop in the Blue Diamond hotel in Pune. On one side of the table were Jagmohan Dalmiya and Inderjit Singh Bindra, cricket administrators who were still some years away from disrupting the international power structures of the game. They represented the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Opposite them were Henry Blofeld, the cheery, clubby commentator who looks just as he sounds, and Andrew Wildblood, who would go on to help Modi transplant an entire tournament between continents 18 years later. Wildblood was part of an expedition by the sports production company TWI—a wing of the global talent management juggernaut IMG—into cricket’s dark continent, where they hoped to find value for Sky, an English broadcaster. Over a coffee, they negotiated the cost of television rights for England’s looming tour of India. They haggled over “the last $25,000” for a bit before reaching an agreement. Wildblood later said, with the slightest hint of exaggeration, that the price they paid wouldn’t have bought a single over of cricket today.

The deal marked a break between the BCCI and Doordarshan, which had for a long time used its status as India’s monopoly broadcaster to demand payment for carrying cricket on its network. The BCCI was a monopoly as well, of course—but Doordarshan was a government agency whose programming appeared on every television in India, and until that moment it had the upper hand. To the BCCI, the broadcaster offered coverage but little else. Poor equipment transmitted weak signals that grew fainter until TV sets projected more grain than grass.

The cable and satellite upheaval that came along with India’s new economy brought down the curtain on the 1940s aesthetic that defined the look of cricket broadcasts in the Doordarshan era: for the first time, matches in India began to look good on television. TWI hired an international crew of cameramen and technicians for the England-India series in the first months of 1993. Cameras were placed down the ground at both ends of the pitch; eight of them were put to work across the stadium. Over one handshake, Indian coverage vaulted into something like modernity. But TWI was just getting started: it was already in talks with the organisers of the 1996 World Cup, the Pak-India-Lanka Committee (PILCOM), to acquire television rights.

The lure of that World Cup contract is what brought Mascarenhas back to India, and he appeared just as the custodians of Indian cricket were emerging from their long and abusive relationship with Doordarshan, shaken and a little unsure of their worth. But over the course of the era that he helped define—and then in the decade after him—the sport grew up from a gawky adolescence to an irresponsible adulthood, and the hesitations of yesterday were cast aside for the noisy satisfactions of a protracted financial bender. Looking back now, the sums involved were minute, but they made headlines at the time: when one of Mascarenhas’s clients became the first cricket millionaire in 1995, it was big enough news to make the cover of the weekly newsmagazine Outlook. A million dollars is what some cricketers now earn in a month. Mascarenhas was derided for the price he paid to acquire the 1996 World Cup; 16 years later, that amount wouldn’t have bought him two days of Indian cricket coverage. The transformation of the game wasn’t accomplished by one man alone, but Mascarenhas made the first move. Two years after India began to relax controls over the economy, Mascarenhas kicked off cricket’s liberalisation when he bagged the World Cup assignment, setting in motion the idea that the sport could be a lucrative engagement for players, administrators and businesses.

INSIDE A MEETING ROOM at the Pakistan Cricket Board headquarters at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium one afternoon in 1993, PILCOM was about to make a decision. Until then, TWI had been in long and frustrating discussions with the organising committee over purchasing the World Cup’s television rights. Now, as Mascarenhas stood alone, facing the committee’s members, he held them in thrall. Years later, Amrit Mathur, an Indian cricket administrator on the panel, remembered Mascarenhas’s confidence and, more significantly, his willingness to do as they asked. “We’d ask him for guarantees,” Mathur said, “and he’d get us guarantees. We’d ask him for more, and he’d call up his people from a phone in the room, and they would tell him that it was possible. We’d ask him for something else, and he’d get it done right there. He was calling people in other countries. It was the first time we had seen this.”

There were misgivings about Mascarenhas’s ability to deliver, but these doubts were not based on his inexperience with selling the rights of a major cricketing event. Instead, they wondered about bank guarantees and the initial payment, and when every requirement was met, the committee decided to give him the rights there and then. (They had a flight to catch.) “He was so confident,” Mathur said, in the tone of a man who had been shown the future. “He told us what was going to happen next.”

In his book Sphere of Influence, the cricket historian Gideon Haigh described how Mascarenhas turned the World Cup into money. “His production company, WorldTel, offered a knockout $10 million in August 1993, planning to offset the costs by breaking the rights up and onselling them to other offshore broadcasters. He had obtained a bargain, almost making his money back with his first two sales.” By comparison, the various television rights for the previous World Cup had all been sold for a sum of roughly $1 million, according to Wisden, the authoritative cricket almanack.

In recent interviews, friends and acquaintances testified to Mascarenhas’ supreme self-possession, but on that afternoon his manner and bluster were misleading. He later told Mathur and others that his poise had been a front and that the deal nearly wrecked him. Peter Hutton, who then worked for TWI, said that an earlier deal WorldTel had signed with a British broadcaster fell through when the broadcaster collapsed, leaving Mascarenhas with huge personal risk. Mascarenhas hinted at his troubles later, saying, “When I finally got the World Cup rights, I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’”

WorldTel had big ambitions, but it was still a small shop, and so when the thwarted personnel at TWI heard about the collapse of the British broadcaster Mascarenhas had sold rights to, they began to believe that PILCOM would call off the deal. “We thought the rights would come to us,” Hutton said. “We waited for him to fail.” But Mascarenhas swung back by reselling World Cup rights in lucrative television deals, and the spectre of failure grew fainter. TWI was dismayed; they reasoned that Mascarenhas had a natural advantage. An official from TWI said, “He was just one guy, and he was able to make decisions instantly. We were a company, and processes were slower. There’s no way we could have competed with one guy.” By one estimate in Wisden, Mascarenhas earned PILCOM $50 million in profits by seeing value where few others did. In the months before the 1996 tournament, the World Cup was everywhere. Hoardings on streets played up individual rivalries, and advertisers released new commercials for the occasion, creating for the first time the atmosphere of frenzied commercial anticipation that now attends every major international cricketing event. As the journalist Mihir Bose wrote in Wisden: “The tournament was marketed on a scale never before seen in cricket. There was an official sponsor for every conceivable product, including the official World Cup chewing gum.”

Depending on whom you ask, Mascarenhas’ standing in history swings between that of a visionary and that of a scavenger who picked at the sport’s ever decreasing returns. Wildblood, whose company TWI competed with WorldTel until Mascarenhas’s death, was convinced that Mascarenhas wasn’t a visionary. “He saw that we had created a market and then he tried to break into that market,” Wildblood said. “Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not the work of a visionary.” Vivek Menezes, a writer who worked with Mascarenhas in the US after the 1996 World Cup and saw him up close, called him a “machine” and a man ahead of his time. Menezes recognised that Mascarenhas treated him differently—“on western terms”—than his other employees, and he had plans that reached into a future that not many could conceive. Another employee dismissed Mascarenhas as full of bluster.

What was undeniable was Mascarenhas’s charisma and charm: Wildblood, now a vice president at IMG, says he nearly resigned to work for him before changing his mind: “I felt that Mark was so big, there was no place in the room for anyone else.”

The business of cricket, especially its Indian incarnation, is filled with individuals who make rooms smaller. They mark its history like signposts, each one denoting a more exciting, and more moneyed period than the last: Mascarenhas and BCCI President Dalmiya in the 1990s; Kunal Dasgupta, the head of Sony Entertainment Television, who made the game more alluring to female audiences with the 2003 World Cup; and Lalit Modi and Harish Thawani (whose production company, Nimbus, won four-year rights to Indian cricket for a then boggling $612 million), who pulled out some of the wildest numbers cricket had ever seen half a decade ago. Hutton, the broadcaster who knew Mascarenhas, contemplated why cricket grew when it was influenced by strong individuals, and very carefully said, “It requires imagination to move forward.”

But even as cricket marched forward, conflicting internal interests, some of which recurred with demoralising frequency, brought it to a standstill. Sharad Pawar and Modi’s entrance (as chief and vice president of the BCCI, respectively) in 2005 was marked with declarations that India’s cricket administration would turn a new leaf, and accounts would be less opaque, but five years later it was apparent that little had changed. Whispers of backroom deals, nepotism and serious conflicts of interest were common.

As with the dealmakers who came after him, talk about Mascarenhas’s closeness to the administration stained discussions of his achievements. In an interview with, he was asked why his company was shrouded in mystery. His reply transcended his situation: “India is a mystery in itself. Everything is mysterious. Anyone who does anything, anyone in the limelight, is suspect.” Mascarenhas’s answer described the predicament businesses that dealt with the BCCI found themselves in. The board was riven by infighting, and broadcasters and production companies eager for its business picked sides. When a senior executive at a large sports agency was contacted for an interview for this story, his response was telling: “It depends. Is the story pro- or anti-BCCI?”

THE SON OF GERARD MASCARENHAS, a renowned surgeon at St John’s Medical College and Hospital in Bangalore, Mascarenhas showed no early indication of his eventual occupation. He played, instead, the role of predictable hellraiser. One story detailed the pickling of a new teacher. “Before he started,” an old school administrator said, bringing out his broadest brush, “Mark stood up in class and said, ‘You can’t start a class without the prayer.’ The teacher was unsure, but Mark started anyway and went on until the end of class.” This happened during the next class as well. Perplexed, the teacher approached the school principal, Father Hedwig, to ask how things worked around there. After he heard him out, Hedwig voiced his weary suspicion: “This boy who told you about the prayer … is he tall and fat?”

By the time he was 14, Mascarenhas was six feet two inches. He was attracted to bowling fast, as tall men of a certain type are, although this had little effect on the results of the immense appetite that remained throughout his professional life. “He’s what we call a big healthy boy in the Punjab,” a colleague said.

He had intended to study medicine, but a technicality prevented him from following his father and grandfather into the field. Mascarenhas turned, strangely, to cricket commentary for All India Radio, a decision that befuddled his family. However, a reverend who knew the family, and who was then director of the communication arts programme at St Xavier’s College in Bombay, heard Mascarenhas and recommended that he sign up for the programme. “Once there,” he told an alumni magazine at Mascarenhas’s university in 1999, “he excelled in TV production … and showed considerable creative powers. I recognised that he could do bigger things, and told him so.”

A short stint in England followed Xavier’s, and then the reverend dipped into his inheritance so that Mascarenhas could study at Fairfield University, a Jesuit school in Connecticut. After completing his studies at Fairfield, Mascarenhas began work at a radio station in New York before moving on to CBS, where he imbibed the clean aesthetic and clear communication of the cable network’s legendary designer, Lou Dorfsman. His time there was a success: he rose quickly, had millions in billings, and at that point met Karen Reed, who would become his wife.

Mark Mascarenhas embraces a young Sachin Tendulkar after the cricketer led India to victory in a match against Australia in 1998. Mascarenhas, having identified India’s most marketable athlete, became Tendulkar’s agent in 1995. AFP PHOTO

After he turned his attention to India, Mascarenhas played up his local roots to gain an advantage over competitors in the cutthroat—and still disconcertingly free-for-all—business of cricket broadcasting and marketing. “He was a great storyteller,” Hutton said. “His heritage is something he certainly made use of. He had Indian history, and he knew it. And that separated him from the others.” Excited by his success, the press depicted him as a local boy come good. Locals within the profession saw him as a beacon. “He made us believe that as Indians, we could do this,” Gaurav Behl, who worked for both ESPN STAR Sports and the Zee network, said. “He was the first guy to bet big on us. It was a huge gamble. [Until him] we looked up to the goras. We were employees before then.”

In July 1995, Ravi Shastri, the former cricketer, asked Mascarenhas if he was interested in managing Sachin Tendulkar. Within months, Mascarenhas found himself representing Tendulkar after guaranteeing him $7.5 million over five years. The guarantee assured the player a fixed income. This came as a surprise because, until then, risk-averse companies avoided making unconditional promises. But where others saw risk, Mascarenhas saw India’s most marketable athlete. Tendulkar had been promoted to open India’s batting at a limited-overs game in Auckland the previous year, and the violence of his 82 runs was so electrifying that Indian cricket, or at least the one-day version of it, suddenly appeared far more exciting. Tendulkar, who was only 22 when he signed the deal, told Outlook that “advertising agencies offering something or the other” had played on his mind, but the contract would let him focus on the game. Mascarenhas fawned over the “genius” in interviews, coating him in lavish praise. Former colleagues recalled the intensity of his passion for the batsman, and described him in terms of a fan who could not believe his luck.

Together they planned to start a chain of celebrity restaurants in Tendulkar’s name, and create merchandise for fans. These ideas were left incomplete, but Mascarenhas marketed him to brands eager to work with the idea of Tendulkar. A colossal spree of endorsements followed, which then inspired a popular Times of India commercial that parodied his life on the field and away from it. As a fake Tendulkar flit between batting and acting out advertisements, a voice asked: “One poor guy does what all, no, for the country? Batting, bowling, brushing, washing …”

Joy Bhattacharjya was a producer with ESPN STAR Sports when it made a losing bid in excess of half a billion dollars for the four-year rights to international cricket in India in 2004, just nine years after Mascarenhas signed up Tendulkar. The value of rights had always been open to interpretation—one broadcaster described it as “pulling numbers out of a hat”—but, in Bhattacharjya’s opinion, when Mascarenhas offered Tendulkar a guaranteed $7.5 million (and $17.5 million five years later), other values went up as well. “Mascarenhas had a huge effect. At the end of the day, he felt that this is what Sachin was worth. Now, if you say that, people turn around and ask, ‘So what is Indian cricket worth?’ So the value for money that the sport gets or what the sport is worth—he changed the entire profile of that.”

SUCCESS STORIES TEND TO BE GIFTED a few more inches, and Mascarenhas was often served a generous helping. The 1999 profile from his college alumni magazine boasted (with considerable exaggeration) that “Mascarenhas owns the global rights to televise the game. And much more.” Negotiations were compared to skiing downhill without poles, and his status as a minor visionary was bolstered with the well-worn examples of the sale of the Alpine Ski World Cup and certain football games from the 1990 World Cup—which he turned over for profit. Nowhere did the profile mention that he had also proposed selling American college football to the Soviets.

“Every one of Mark’s ideas had to be new and big,” the sportswriter and editor Ayaz Memon said when we met at the Mumbai newspaper DNA four years ago. “Many of them were, but not all of them bore fruition.” Mascarenhas hired Memon to bring out a magazine called Cricket Talk alongside a new website Mascarenhas had launched in 2000 called They quickly assembled a team of talented writers for both ventures. In Memon, who had previously edited the Bombay tabloid Mid-Day, and Sambit Bal, who had edited Gentleman magazine (and would later become editor of Cricinfo), Mascarenhas had qualified personnel. Yet he had trouble letting go. Every month he would gather Memon and two other department heads in a room and bombard them with editorial ideas. “Mostly these editorial meets were Mark talking and the rest of us listening,” Hisham Mundol, who previously worked with Mascarenhas, said. There was a complete lack of structure within the organisation. “His view was that he wanted to make money” and build a large cricket franchise. But publishing was an expensive proposition, and Mascarenhas “bled” plenty of his own money, according to an employee.

In late 2000, the publications were subjected to a dispiriting raid by the income tax department, which lowered morale further. But when Hansie Cronje, captain of the South African cricket team, admitted in 2000 that he had accepted money to underperform, interest in cricket nosedived, and advertising money evaporated. This hurt the magazine and website badly, and rumours of the companies shutting down swirled. The management fought to raise morale, a task made more challenging by Memon’s sudden departure. Mascarenhas was furious at Memon for the perceived betrayal. “There are only three things that truly mattered to Mark,” an acquaintance said. “Money, cricket and loyalty. He was like Bush about loyalty.”

By this time, Mascarenhas had seen other disappointments. A close associate disclosed that WorldTel had firmed up plans in the late 1990s to buy and the India Today group at a cost greater than the price of the 1996 World Cup. However, both ideas fell apart. Mascarenhas also had the idea that he would one day deliver broadband Internet to millions in Bombay, so he purchased a disputed network of gas pipelines more than 300 km long. It became clear that the decision to acquire the pipelines was based on “inflated projections by a consultant”, one of Mascarenhas’s confidantes said—though here Mascarenhas may have just been ahead of his time: the subscriber numbers he had expected in 1999 have almost been realised by now. In another venture, WorldTel attempted to make American cricket an attractive proposition for advertisers who didn’t bite.

Mascarenhas gradually realised that the value of television rights were reaching levels he couldn’t afford. A number of his former colleagues said that he had invested his own money in the business. Others who were willing to pay more for these rights promised money that wasn’t entirely theirs and, sometimes, wasn’t there either. “He wasn’t able to rise above being a visionary,” Mundol said. The qualities that helped him succeed were the very things that prevented the company from growing. “I don’t know if he could have led a 500-person organisation. He didn’t have discipline. Working for him was highly entertaining, but it was unstructured,” Mundol said.

Wildblood professed a grudging admiration; he believed that WorldTel had punched above its weight for a while because of Mascarenhas’s gumption: “At the end of all that, what did he really have? As far as anyone can see, he had a business that was not really substantial. It wasn’t particularly diverse. He was a one-man band in a world where there were corporations operating. To get as far as he did, and cause as much noise as he was able to do, is a consequence of his character. He was a single guy with a briefcase and a big pair of balls and he was out there doing stuff.” By the end, the only national rights Mascarenhas owned were to Bangladesh cricket. “Believe me,” Wildblood said, “I was happy to let him have the Bangladesh rights.”

“There was only so much he could stretch himself,” Hutton said. Indian rights surpassed $400 million, $500 million, and then $600 million. These rights were then split into television and digital rights, for which the BCCI conjured up even higher prices (however, only the television rights were purchased in 2010, but at a price per game that took these rights from dot-com boom levels to housing bubble levels). The International Cricket Council signed a billion-dollar deal with ESPN STAR Sports. Modi then shook $1.6 billion out of Sony for rights to the Indian Premier League (IPL). Several of these deals were seen as dangerously inflated, just as Mascarenhas’s World Cup deal once was.

Mascarenhas hustled in the era of the dealmakers, which led in quick succession to an era when talk of valuations, equity and venture capital became ubiquitous. This air of wealth inspired optimism, and so there was hope that new money would finally bring in administrative rigour. As an organisation, the BCCI resembled an antagonistic housing society where outside forces dictated its general drift, but inside which everyone wanted to handle the finances. It operated on the central principal of winging it. Few things—how its members found their titles, which grounds received matches, the schedules it prepared—could claim to be in Indian cricket’s interests. And when it came into money, its members did what they had done before—muddy, complicate—but on a grander scale. In 2004, the bidding process for rights to Indian cricket was stained by allegations of favouritism and rule changes, and then the courts were pulled in. Dalmiya and his cohorts, who had long held Indian cricket’s reins, were deposed the following year when Pawar and Modi came to power. Modi took Dalmiya’s spiritual position, if not his designation, and was called “the new Dalmiya”, which annoyed him. He began well, if words are any indication, with yes-we-can plans for everything: professionalism, transparency, leagues, an air-conditioned stadium, a cricket museum, a centre for medicine. He saw off the challenge of a rival league financed by Zee with a league of his own. But this period too was opaque. There were charges of conflicts of interest within the IPL, of large payments to former players who provided no obvious value, and other indiscretions. Then, when the Rajasthan government changed, Modi, who had thrived with the state’s support, suddenly became vulnerable. Like Dalmiya before him, Modi faced the sort of pushback that comes from changed regimes—where everything is the same and yet different—and he was persuaded to live in exile in 2010. Indian cricket was richer due to characters like Mascarenhas, but the compulsions behind its decisions had changed little since Mascarenhas’s time.

Mascarenhas once confided to a colleague that he wanted to turn WorldTel into an all-purpose agency like TWI’s parent company, IMG. But on the face of it, there were few plans to ensure this. A raft of possible leaders left as the dot-com era deflated, and then the year after Mascarenhas died, so did the next man who took over. In 2002, his wife signed over the Bangladesh rights to ESPN STAR Sports, marking an end to the company’s participation in the liberalisation it had started. The company’s revenues plummeted, and his sister Jeane quit as a director last year. When I asked an employee (who had long since resigned) what form WorldTel took in later years, he ventured, “I’m not sure, but isn’t it a small real estate company now?”