Samir Chopra October 25, 2008

Free for all

The spectacle of a keenly contested Test match being played in front of empty rows of seats rankles, and it does not comfort me too much to know that plenty of interest is being shown in people's living rooms

Why are Indian stadiums empty? © AFP
There has been plenty of concern expressed recently about the future of Test cricket; these have reached a crescendo (or so it seems) with evidence of the largely-empty stands at Mohali. Some commentators have even described the presence of schoolchildren who were let in for free as further evidence of the desperate straits that Test cricket finds itself in.

While I am concerned about the future of Test cricket in a world that seems to be increasingly headed towards the moneyed pastures of the Twenty20 World, I disagree that Tests are on their way out in India. And furthermore, I believe the Mohali schoolchildren experiment provides a very good model for how Tests could be further bolstered in India.

First things first. I do not think Test cricket is fading in India. Television audiences still remain gigantic, and there is no shortage of discussion about the game whether on the street, at homes, at schools and colleges and so on. Yes, there is more competition for spectators (most notably from English Premier League Football) but if interest in Tests is measured by whether it is on people's minds, and by whether advertisers think people are watching, then its levels remain high.

But why are Indian stadiums empty? The reasons for this are manifold. Indian stadiums are not comfortable places (BCCI please note), and there is competition for a family's live-cricket-watching budget. Why not just go watch a Twenty20 or an ODI instead when you are guaranteed a result at the end of the day? And of course, television coverage is of high-quality and you can make more frequent trips to the kitchen for snacks and drinks at home (and pay less)

Still, the spectacle of a keenly contested Test being played in front of empty rows of seats rankles, and it does not comfort me too much to know that plenty of interest is being shown in people's living rooms. How can this problem be fixed?

Here is my solution (perhaps applicable only in the unique economic context of the BCCI and Indian cricket). Tickets are sold in order to make money for the local cricketing association. It also makes money from the advertising hoardings that line the ground, and presumably it picks up a piece of the action from the television rights deal. What I suggest is that admission to the ground be made free. Don't charge anything. Let people walk up to the gate, go through the security check, and walk right in.

In order to make up the associated loss of gate receipts, the BCCI and the local association should carry out a calculation of estimated revenues, and simply add that on to the television rights and ground advertising deals. The television company in question will not only get to show an Indian Test team at home, they will be able to show a reasonably packed stadium, which can only add to the spectacle. Advertising rates can also be adjusted upwards in order to reflect the reality of more eyeballs at the ground. And the state association will see increased revenues from sales of food and drink at the ground.

Or perhaps some other subsidy deal can be worked out. The details are not as important as the idea that Test entry should be made free. If it is a form of the game worth preserving (and hopefully the BCCI and the state association can agree on this), then it behooves them to come up with some other revenue model that lets the ground association make up their gate receipts.

Yes, I'm saying that attendance at the game should be subsidised. But this is not such a radical idea. Giving away something for free so that a larger customer base can be attracted, who might then go on to become bigger spenders on other forms of the game, is an idea that is present in many other forms of entertainment (most notably in the modern music industry where music might be given away for free so as to attract a larger fan base to live concerts who then spend money on T-shirts and the like). The BCCI could land up creating a whole new generation of cricket fans brought up on Test cricket.

I think some simple number crunching will show that this is a viable idea. I welcome reader suggestions on other possible subsidy arrangements to make Test entry free in India.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on October 27, 2008, 6:18 GMT

    You know how much it costs in the USA to get a ticket to see a baseball game? $7, $16, that sort of range.

  • testli5504537 on October 25, 2008, 19:44 GMT

    It's a good point Sameer. Anjo:I too find it really hard to believe that the telecast rights are sold for 50% of the revenue generated at the ground. Overall, almost all the points are covered here in the article and the comments received so far. I feel better facilities at the stadium is the first and foremost need to get more people to the stadiums. Though stadiums for ODIs are packed today, it won't be long when that crowd too starts shrinking. We face 100 restrictions to enter the stadiums, right from long queues for tix, hassles to run back to keep ur cameras, cellphones somewhere (mind you this is trouble some), at times u cant enter wit a particular color of dress (i recall one incident at Blore, pathetic) and more such things... All in all to keep crowds at the stadium they should get more than they get sitting it their comfy sofas at home. And it starts from basic amenities and then can be extended to carnival atmospheres or so on...

  • testli5504537 on October 25, 2008, 15:14 GMT

    I was in Chennai for 2 days when Sehwag made his 300. One of the better stadiums in the country we still got fried. Took us 2 days to recover. WE had paid 600Rs per day for decent stands. If the BCCI and state associations improve the quality of stadium for the public it would go a long way in reviving the interest. Good point about making money and more money from advertising. Mohali one of the good stadiums in the country also does not have a over head cover for most of the stadiums. How does one expect crowds to come and get fried when they are comfortable in there living rooms.

  • testli5504537 on October 25, 2008, 11:33 GMT

    @Anjo: I agree, this particular solution does not address the business of stadium comfort, which is a separate problem. As for the revenues, I don't have exact numbers on hand, but I find it hard to believe that the BCCI couldn't do some sort of subsidy from their other earnings.

    SM: The possibilities are endless, even though some of them aren't to my taste! :)

    Lloyd: Excellent point. I don't bother for football, but do go for baseball. Somehow that works better live for me.

  • testli5504537 on October 25, 2008, 7:37 GMT

    The free entry idea has been suggested in the past, and is a very promising one. But most of the seats on Indian grounds are cheap anyway, costing between 50 to 250 rupees. It is not just the price that keeps the fans away, but the prospect of long queues for security checks, being hassled by officious local bobbies for carrying a camera or binoculars or a bottle of water, not to mention the shoddy toilets and uncovered concrete benches super heated by the Indian sun. The BCCI has never bothered to serve the public and Mr. Bindra recently admitted so. Hopefully the attitude will change, but I'm not betting on it.

    Unless the whole package changes to provide the fans a comfortable day out, simply making it an affordable day out may turn out to be a band-aid solution.

    I'd go one step further and allow stand sponsorships, such that a private firm sponsors food, soft drinks, umbrellas etc to all the spectators in return for advertising.

  • testli5504537 on October 25, 2008, 7:29 GMT

    I am from Mumbai and for past 10 years try and catch up at least one day at Test Match when played in Mumbai.

    A main thing that strikes is the quality of comfort especially at Wankhede. It was only in 2006 that spectators were allowed to carry Phones, Binoculars and even Cameras - This was probably because of large English crowd who were there to witness the match. In years gone by 2001,2003 (Against Australia and South Africa) nothing was allowed - even cellphones.

    Lot more people would come to watch Test Cricket if it was more like a picnic atmosphere as provided during the IPL when there was no restriction in carrying of eatables, cellphones and cameras. People lapped it up.

    The other factor is that most Indian stadiums are not covered - Mohali, Ahmedabad and Delhi come to mind. In the hot weather, it would be too much to expect people to come and watch Test Cricket.

  • testli5504537 on October 25, 2008, 7:22 GMT

    There is only one method, to get the crowds to pack in to view test cricket at the stadiums. The teams playing test cricket, must make it worth the while for the viewer. I don't mind draws, but lot's of people do.

  • testli5504537 on October 25, 2008, 6:39 GMT

    Honestly, I'm not completely sold on this idea primarily because I don't believe the ticket cost is as much of a deterrent as the other factors. For a packed stadium with 40,000 seats the gate receipts per test match day could generate around $200k. The title rights for each test (entire test not a test match day) in this series were sold for approx $100k. I agree that a revenue model could be arranged to accommodate free attendance, the question of course is how essential this is and whether it is necessary at all. It is my opinion that enhancing the experience at the stadium will address this issue. Attending a match has to provide more than watching the game on television, and this can be done without tinkering with the actual game. First improve the conditions at stadiums, then introduce activities at the ground which give the spectators a higher degree of involvement (make it cricket-centric not cheerleaders and loud music). Make the whole thing more appealing and memorable.

  • testli5504537 on October 25, 2008, 6:24 GMT

    Also have prizes for best banner, catching a sixer and wearing the most colorful dress. Let there be a carnival like atmosphere. At the end of the day, a few kids should be allowed to get memorabilia signed by some players.

  • testli5504537 on October 25, 2008, 4:45 GMT

    Good article. Free or low cost admission,or free for kids under a certain age is the way to go. Even in the US I am reluctant to go to a stadium when I can watch a game on TV. The mention of English Premier Football bolsters's position that cricket must be at the 2012 Olympics, or continue to lose ground worldwide, even in India

  • No featured comments at the moment.