India v England, 5th ODI, Kolkata October 26, 2011

Emptiness in Eden

Despite the high profile of the series, the quality of the opposition and India's success in undoing some of the humiliation of the summer, the paying public stayed away from the series against England

India's 5-0 series sweep over England was played out in an unusual setting: at each of the five venues, row upon row of empty seats, vacant corporate boxes and vast tracts of sparsely occupied stands. This, in India's first series at home after winning the World Cup.

Despite the high profile of the series, the quality of the opposition and India's success in undoing some of the misery of the summer, India's paying public stayed away for the first time in an ODI series featuring their cricket team. The general consensus was that it was due to overkill - too much cricket involving India of late - and, in some cases, overpriced tickets.

Consider these figures:

  • The 63,000-seater Eden Gardens, where the whitewash was completed on Tuesday, was more than half-empty, for the first time in local memory at an India game. The crowd was to be estimated in the region of 28,000 with tickets sales figures the night before the match being put down at 5868 by the Cricket Association of Bengal. An alternate estimate said the crowd figures had risen to 35,000 towards the end of the Indian innings. The absence of turnstiles at most Indian grounds makes it difficult to arrive at accurate numbers of the turnout for matches.

  • The opening game in Hyderabad had an approximate crowd of 28,150 out of the official capacity of 39,600, according to the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA).

  • At the second ODI in Delhi, police estimated a crowd of 35,000 out of a capacity of 42,000; other estimates put the attendance at closer to 30,000.

  • Crowd figures from the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA), hosts of the third ODI in Mohali, said about 25,000 of the 27,500 seats were occupied during the match there.

  • Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, came from the Wankhede Stadium during the fourth ODI, watched by 18,000 in a stadium that seats 33,000; the MCA said they'd sold 13,000 tickets.

According to PCA secretary and former BCCI treasurer M P Pandove, the poor ticket sales are not a reason for worry. "Tickets these days are not even 20% of our overall revenue," he told ESPNcricinfo. The worries, he said, lay elsewhere, "because only if people are interested will the other revenues come."

His implication was that Indian cricket ran on TV revenues, not gate receipts, but there could be concerns even on that front. While television ratings for the entire series are not yet in, the TAM ratings for the first three ODIs averaged 2.91 - significantly lower than the average IPL TAM ratings in 2011 (3.94) and also the Champions LeagueT20 final (3.51).

BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale told AFP that the spectator numbers at some of the matches had "surprised" him. "We got good crowds for the first two games in Hyderabad and New Delhi, so it can't be that people are tired of watching," he said. "Of course the low turnout at some matches has surprised me. We usually get full houses for one-day games. The Diwali (festival) period could be one of the main reasons."

Hyderabad Cricket Association joint secretary S Venkateshwaran says every association should study ticket pricing carefully in order to keep the crowd numbers high. The HCA, he said, would have altered its pricing had its ODI been held halfway through the series. "If we had got the 3rd or the 4th ODI in the series, we could have looked at the crowd statistics from the other venues and adjusted accordingly."

To key MCA officials, however, ticket pricing was not the reason the crowd response had been poor. The MCA said that it had sold Rs 3 crores worth of tickets and therefore their administration could not be held responsible for the empty seats. MCA president Vilasrao Deshmukh, a former chief minister of Maharashtra, told Mumbai tabloid Mid-Day that the ticket prices "were not very high. People in Mumbai have the capacity to pay that much." According to Deshmukh, the absence of "superstars like Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag is also a factor why people haven't flocked to the stadium. Another reason could be the Diwali festival."

An MCA committee member told ESPNcricinfo that in Mumbai the tickets had been far too expensive - the cheapest tickets were priced at Rs 1000, for the East Stand, and the most expensive were priced around Rs 10,000. In Hyderabad, the tickets in the East and West Stand, which are usually priced at Rs 200, were divided up into slabs: Rs 1000 for the lower-tier tickets and Rs 300 for the higher-tier tickets. Venkateshwaran said: "In hindsight, we miscalculated. Usually, we price those tickets at Rs 200 as common people come for the matches."

"The BCCI should have a rethink about the tight and jampacked schedule. We understand that there is a big demand for the Indians and they are behind about 60-70% of the cricket economy, but there's got to be a balance"
DDCA vice-president Chetan Chauhan

Public transport to the Rajiv Gandhi stadium in Uppal had been affected by the Telangana agitation, but he believed "overkill" had also led to the poor response. "We must also look at how to get more people in," Venkateshwaran said. "People may not want to come if a ground is hosting two or three matches in a year. There could be an overkill of cricket; we had hosted several Champions League matches before the ODI."

Overkill is a reason offered by several others, with DDCA vice-president Chetan Chauhan saying that the thin crowds in Mumbai had indicated to him that there was a problem the BCCI needed addressing. "The BCCI should have a rethink about the tight and jampacked schedule," he said. "We understand that there is a big demand for the Indians and they are behind about 60-70% of the cricket economy, but there's got to be a balance. Not only does an empty stadium look bad on TV, who would like to play an international match in front no crowd?"

Pandove said the stands in Mohali filled up in the second half of the match but that the higher-priced air-conditioned lounge had gone empty and the reasons could be "because of how many matches are being played around the world ... this has never happened in an India international at any of these grounds." The PCA's student tickets, priced at Rs 100, sold quickly, but its AC lounge tickets, around Rs 12,000 including hospitality, could not be sold.

After the poor tour of England, the five ODIs against England had been billed and built up as a "revenge" or "payback" series.

Other than the Indian cricket team making an emphatic statement against England on the field, there was another element of payback in the series. That of the Indian spectators against what is being made available to them at most cricket grounds around the country.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. Additional reporting by Tariq Engineer and Abhishek Purohit

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jayaesh on October 29, 2011, 16:57 GMT

    @Angelo's world: Weather you like it or not club cricket is here to stay, just like you have EPL,LA LIGA N BUNDESLIGA in football or Nba, Nfl or MLB.......Why we in India are so sensitive about nation v/s nation, in USA all they have is probably city/franchises to play each all the time Olympics n world cup being only exception .... In India there is so much undue pressure when you play for India,there are so many media channels dissecting every player performances......while on other hand these players really enjoy playing IPL cos pressure on them is that much less and. I think IPL franchises should also add 50-50 over cricket in future.......i find it amusing that despite so much club /IPL bashing they deliver better crowds n TRP rating than our Indian team

  • Angelo on October 29, 2011, 10:24 GMT

    It's funny when officials that too much cricket is the reason for sparse crowds but then go ahead and deny that too much cricket is not responsible for fatigue of our players resulting in broken bones and fitness issues when it comes to crucials matches and series....

    They can afford them playing for their clubs but are injured when it comes to playing for the nation.....

    The fans are not blind and I can assure you that the tv rating for viewers watching the match would have also shown a considerable drop...

    wake up BCCI......

  • Rakesh on October 28, 2011, 16:45 GMT

    Sreesants sledging is far better than kohli's emotion now a days. Even a Ind vs Pak match in coming years can not fill the hole in the stadium now onwards. All my friend's[room mates] mind set is now that they need 6 in each over not even a 4. They switch channels in the middle of 2 ball. They cannot even wait for 1 mins & you are taking about 1000 bucks to see changu mangu. No way. This is the real thing happening. I dont know what you call it a overkill or something but the crez is reduced far too extend. I started regretting why i had wasted a lot time in watching cricket, in stead of playing cricket or studying.

  • Dummy4 on October 28, 2011, 12:19 GMT

    The common people fill up the stadium, I dont understand what Mr. Deshmukh means by "people in mumbai can afford that much" Reality check required.

  • Parthasarathy on October 28, 2011, 8:17 GMT

    This is the result of Flat-Pitch-Winner motivation.

  • Dummy4 on October 28, 2011, 7:37 GMT

    Dont watch cricket in the stadium . Whats the point if you can see the same thing in TV??

  • Ashok on October 27, 2011, 17:13 GMT

    India seem to have Non-Stop Cricket. England series has hardly ended before WI series starts. This follows Indian tour of WI immediately followed by touring England & preceded by over 2 months of IPL. This is lot of cricket on an on going basis. It resulted in injuries via" Player Fatigue" to several stars starting from Sehwag,Tendulkar, Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer, Munaf, Ishant, Harbhajan to Kumar.In addition this will also result in "Spectator Fatigue" - blunting their keenness to watch Cricket. This is further exacerbated by easy availability of games on TV/PC + Hugely increased Gate Fees + Safety concerns + People being busy. As some people have suggested rightly, reduce the number of games & reduce the exhorbitant greed in Ticket Fee.Money seems to be at the root cause - with BCCI making a profit of $39 Million for the year & not spending enough on betterment of Cricket as a game. BCCI & all state boards should take this as a warning &rectify these deficiencies.

  • Shyam on October 27, 2011, 15:02 GMT

    Its not Over Kill or Icons missing in this series. Its all about Pricing. BCCI should understand that their stands are filled only by Common Man not by the Richies. Because of IT, common mans spending ability has gone little bit. But its a calculated expenditure. IT persons can afford utmost Rs 500 for cricket, otherwise he would just think of having a beer and friends at home, watching clearly with replays and commentary in LCD/LED tv. Similarly middle class people can think of going to stadium, if the pricing is around Rs 100, Rs 200. They will think of spending Rs 500, only if it is an important match, a series decider or final or world cup. Not even for IPL, CL. They would love to watch and support Men in Blue - Team India. They dont mind who is playing Sachin / Sehwag. The above is said is not just my comment. Its wat we hear every where around us.

  • Srinivas on October 27, 2011, 15:00 GMT

    When the tickets are pricey, the crowd will of course look at the profile of both the teams. We are The Champs and the other is just a decent side with no crowd pulling power, barring KP and Swann. Turns out they didn't even play like a decent side. They played like a hapless bunch of amateurs. The fact that Sachin, Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Broad and Anderson weren't playing didn't help either. I say, good that the administrators couldn't fool the crowd. But the ones who spent their hard earned money were the losers as a result of the unfortunate, sad performances by the visitors. Just imagine if England and India thumped each other's bowlers in the first two ODIs with the matches going to the last over and the series standing at 1-1! That would have helped the ticket sales to a great extent. I would say, the people were smart and didn't waste their money on this horribly mismatched series.

  • Anand on October 27, 2011, 14:51 GMT

    There is an overdose of Cricket for sure. Also it could be that this series has been right around Diwali which certainly takes away money from peoples monthly budget. Have games before festivals had similar low turn-out earlier?

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