Only a miniscule percentage of cricket followers would remember WorldTel, the company which managed to create ripples in the cricketing world after bagging the TV rights of the 1996 World Cup. In today's age, it is hard to imagine a new company pipping established and bigger companies to bag coveted telecast rights of major sporting events.
But Mark Mascarenhas, with his panache and willingness to take decisions considered risky by more established peers, showed that sometimes following intuition can be rewarding.
Although WorldTel as a commercial enterprise did not quite live up to its initial promise, Mascarenhas would always be remembered for steering the commercial interests of Sachin Tendulkar to new heights with unflinching devotion, ensuring the Master Blaster’s game was never affected by off-field turmoil.
Mascarenhas's contribution to his development as a professional cricketer has always been acknowledged at great length by Tendulkar, who fondly remembers his old friend. Mascarenhas passed away in a road accident near Nagpur in 2002, at the age of 48.
The legendary cricketer told Moneycontrol that Mascarenhas came into his life at the right time and played his role to perfection.
"Mark's entry in my life happened at the right time. I wanted to stay focused on cricket and did not want to waste time negotiating contracts- which was not my or my family’s strength. So, we needed a professional who had the experience of managing these things and the relationship with Mark was simple – I wanted to stay focused on my game and Mark would handle the rest," Tendulkar said.
Illustrating the close bond between businessman and batsman, the Little Master added, "He was very clear that I should not miss my practice sessions to shoot commercials."
Harish Thawani, founder of Nimbus Communications, agrees that Mascarenhas played a pivotal role in the growth of Tendulkar’s career.
"Mark was an enterprising sports entrepreneur. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the world of cricket was managing Sachin Tendulkar professionally and with care," he told Moneycontrol.
Stoking Cricket's Commercial Value
Mascarenhas is credited with helping the game's mandarins realise the commercial potential of the game.
His efforts to ensure top-notch telecast of cricket matches and roping in top commentators from around the world made him a favourite among the cricket broadcast community.
For the inaugural ICC KnockOut Trophy in 1998 in Bangladesh, for which WorldTel had the rights, he deployed an 18-camera set up – unprecedented in those times.
Thawani, however, believes the unlocking of value happened four years later.
"The significant rise of cricket’s commercial value began only in 2000 with the ICC's eight-year media and sponsorship rights package being awarded for $550 million to a consortium of News Corp-owned GCC in association with World Sport Group and Nimbus. Till then, no cricket rights package had been sold for even $100 million," he told Moneycontrol.
In a piece for ESPNCricinfo, former Australian captain Ian Chappell recollected how Mascarenhas would successfully manage to entice him for broadcast assignments with WorldTel even if he was not up for it.
It is a pity that Mascarenhas was not around when the T20 revolution kicked off.
A visionary, he would have loved to play around the format with his trademark flamboyance and who knows, switch hit sixes could have been made more rewarding for batsmen.