Noise levels trump numbers as stars wind up roadshow
On Saturday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, the big event atmosphere was palpable. In the area known as LA Live near the JW Marriott hotel where the Little Master and 28 other legends were staying, fans filled the streets with the jerseys of their favourite players.
But instead of those jerseys being powder blue with "Sachin" on the back, they were red with "Griffin" and "Paul" stamped in block letters. The LA Clippers were hosting the Detroit Pistons and supporters were out in force. A few hours later, those red Clippers jerseys were replaced by the silver and black of the LA Kings ice hockey team, who were taking on the Edmonton Oilers on a crammed day of action at the nearby Staples Center.
Sandwiched in between all of that, the Cricket All-Stars' barnstorming tour was about to wrap up at Dodger Stadium. The traffic was heavy and it took an hour to move the three miles from the JW Marriott to Chavez Ravine. Two hours from game-time there was a logjam at the parking lot entry gates and the thought passed that this festival might gain similar attention to what was happening downtown.
Upon entering Dodger Stadium, the crowd could be seen trickling in and by the time the first ball was bowled there were about 10,000 people present in the 56,000 capacity venue. The old saying about Dodgers games though, in somewhat of an American version of Indian Standard Time, is that the crowd arrives in the third inning and leaves after seven.
True to form, the crowd had reached 20,000 by the time Sachin Tendulkar reached his half-century in the ninth over of the Sachin's Blasters innings. Dodgers Stadium security staff were amazed at the scenes, commenting how the crowd was much louder than it is for Dodgers games.
As has been the case in other cities, many fans were taking in their first cricket match in person and some were coming to their first live sporting event of any kind. Among those were an eclectic group of six friends sitting in section 44 of the mezzanine down the right field line.
"Being Indian-American, I've never seen a cricket game and I've always heard about Sachin so I'm like, 'I'm not missing this opportunity to be a part of this entertainment,' " said Vishal Ajmera, 33, who was born in the Floral Park section of Long Island, New York and grew up a New York Mets fan but moved last year to Yorba Linda, 45 miles southeast of Dodger Stadium.
"I've never followed cricket, but seen glimpses of it here and there, bits and pieces but never a full game, never like this. This is pretty damn awesome. It's entertaining and it makes me wonder how they feel when they're down there and they feel like when all these fans are surrounding them. It's pretty cool. It's a thrill. When the whole crowd cheers, the energy is pretty good."
Anytime a six went into the crowd, the stadium started thumping, more from the screaming and stomping of the fans than the music being played to supplement their cheers. Though the crowd topped out at 20,900, a decent number for any cricket match being played in America, one couldn't help but notice the 35,000 empty seats that overwhelmed the scene.
According to multiple sources at the stadium, organisers were actually only able to sell about 11,000 tickets for the event in Los Angeles while the rest of those in attendance received free tickets, most of which were secured by local club cricket teams after an allotment was distributed by the ICC. Each kid who attended a youth cricket clinic at the stadium on Friday also received four free tickets.
Ajmera and his friends paid $100 each for their tickets on the third level, and though they said it was worth it, felt that the steep prices impacted attendance, especially when tickets for Dodgers games can be had for as little as $9 in the upper deck and $25 at field level. Those same seats for the All-Stars were going for $50 in the upper deck and $175 behind the dugouts.
"If this was going to be successful, where we're sitting should be $50," said Bob Solanki, Ajmera's brother-in-law who was part of the group of six, which also included a friend born in the Philippines and another from Kenya who grew up watching cricket there plus Ajmera's brother Mehul and another friend from India.
"The processing fee killed us too. We saw stuff about the game on social media, but in Artesia where the most Indian population is, there was no advertising or anything."
When told that tickets in section 44 actually could have been bought for $50 due to the fact that organisers slashed ticket prices in half 48 hours before the game, Solanki's jaw dropped. "I feel like I got screwed," he said.
Putting that aside though, Solanki said he would still do it again. "You never get to see Sachin outside of India. It's like seeing Michael Jordan play in Australia."
After the game, Shane Warne said the All-Stars want to come back to the USA to do it all again, claiming that more than 100,000 people came out to see the matches. When confronted with the actual attendance figure at Dodger Stadium, Warne said ticket prices would be something they may reevaluate for the future.
"I think we'll all sit down and work out what was really great about it and what we can do better," Warne said. "I think the crowds we had have been fantastic. I think everyone's been entertained but those things you mentioned, that's something we'll look at for sure."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna