Sanjay Manjrekar
Former India batsman; now a cricket commentator and presenter on TV

India needs to get bums on seats

The poor turnouts, now even for ODIs, are worrying, and those with a stake in the game cannot sit back thinking TV rights will take care of everything

Sanjay Manjrekar

November 2, 2011

Comments: 79 | Text size: A | A

Indian workers arrange a large-scale replica of the Indian one-day jersey, Hyderabad, October 13, 2011
How much emptiness can you cover up? © AFP
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It is now well established that we have seen the first signs of viewer fatigue towards cricket in India, and towards one-day cricket at that (crowds for Test matches have been low for a long time now).

To be fair to the BCCI, I think the low turnouts for the India-England one-day games took all of us by surprise. This is the first time in the history of modern Indian cricket that low attendances have become an issue - something I thought would never happen in my lifetime. It will be interesting to see what view the board takes of this and how it reacts.

The first Formula 1 race in India was last week, and it served as a reminder that the country is changing, and changing rapidly. It is something everyone invested in Indian cricket should take note of.

We all know excessive cricket is the singular reason for the indifference we see today from fans, but with the FTP already in motion and all boards committed to it, it would be unrealistic to expect administrators to suddenly cut down on the volume of cricket so as to get fans to look forward to an international game, as opposed to making international cricket available to them all the time. In an ideal world there should have been no India-West Indies series, or for that matter the five-match one-day series against England.

Imagine the fan interest if India were seen in action after a gap of two months, in Australia. That would also have meant more time for India to prepare for that tour, and presumably better cricket. The obvious cutting down on quantity for increased quality may come about a few years from now but not in the near future.

What, then, is the next best thing that can be done to bring crowds to grounds? The immediate, and toughest, challenge is the upcoming India-West Indies series. At least there won't be the excuse of surprise here. We know the fans will not be queuing up for this one. The obvious simple solution is to slash ticket prices, or even make entry to the Tests free, to make sure the stands are not embarrassingly empty.

The administrators have a stroke of luck here. Sachin Tendulkar has declared himself available for the Tests against West Indies. What better incentive for the fans to come to the ground than to watch their hero get his 100th international hundred? That would be the centrepiece of my marketing agenda for the first Test: "Watch the legend in flesh and blood as he creates history." Sure, every fan knows about this imminent landmark, but Indian cricket administrators cannot take it for granted anymore that people will turn up by the busload to watch it. They still need to be enticed. A gift - a small memento of the occasion - to every fan who came to the ground, saying "I was there when it happened", would not be a bad idea.

Low turnouts also do great damage to cricket as a TV product. TV viewers get put off when they see empty stands in the background; they take it as an indication that what they are watching is not that fancy. I wonder if TV companies communicate their anxiety about empty stands to the cricket boards, for that sort of image does terrible damage to their efforts of hyping a cricket event.

 
 
Lalit Modi was an exception among Indian administrators in that he took personal pride in staging BCCI events. He considered a low turnout for an IPL game a slap on the face
 

I am not a big Lalit Modi fan, but this is where you have to take your hat off to the man. In the second year of the IPL, when it had to be moved to South Africa, I don't know what Modi did, but it was unbelievable to see big crowds at South African grounds, watching what was essentially an Indian tournament. Modi was an exception among Indian administrators in that he took personal pride in staging BCCI events. He considered a low turnout for an IPL game a slap on the face. No wonder you had people thronging to watch the IPL.

I have seen Sri Lanka Cricket being indifferent to a handful of people watching a Sri Lanka v South Africa game at the SSC. And there are a few other boards that sit back and relax after receiving their TV rights money. We see daily on television how channels desperately promote their shows, trying to drum up viewership. The time has come for local cricket associations to do the same to bring fans back in large numbers to the grounds.

In England and Australia, watching cricket is, for the fans, a tradition in many ways, and that is an important reason why those countries have managed decent crowds over the years. Other cricket boards could look at their formula and maybe tweak things around a bit. I know this is easier said than done.

I remember commentating at a triangular tournament played in Morocco few years back. (Yes, Morocco.) The organisers there did a very interesting thing. They knew they were not going to get too many locals coming to the stadium to watch the matches, as the event was only stage-managed for TV. To make it attractive for TV, they needed crowds to fill up the ground, and to achieve that, they had raffles after the game, where TVs and other gadgets were given away as prizes to fans whose match tickets bore lucky numbers. There were at least 10,000 Moroccans who had no idea what they were watching on the field but stayed on well after the presentation ceremony. Why? For the raffle.

I am not suggesting that needs to be done in India yet, but because those managing the Morocco event had a personal stake in its success, there was a concerted effort to attract spectators to the grounds.

The bottom line is, if board officials around the world are affected personally, like, say, a shopkeeper is when people don't give him their custom, there are things they can do to get the crowds in. The grounds may not be choc a bloc for Test matches (the timings there are a major hurdle) but at least we can make sure that a Test match does not become a place young couples head to for a little quiet and privacy.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by Nampally on (November 5, 2011, 0:59 GMT)

I think the reason for lack of crowds is mostly the fault of the individual Board organizing the game & BCCI - because these two are the sales & marketing groups.When a business is run, you do publicity to sell your goods - There are commercials, attractions & incentives toi entice the Fans to come over and watch the game. What has happened is the organizers are taking it for granted that the Fans would turn up somehow by magic. They have neglected the facilities, conviniences & incentives while boosting up the Ticket prices wildly to make more money.In America -baseball, the facilities are top class (clean toilets, all sorts of food, ice cream, drinks, etc).On top of this,there are freebees such as free Pizza on achieving certain milestones, free tea shirts, caps, frisbees, etc. for first few thousands, etc Do the organizers in India ever go the extra mile to sell tickets? None of the above exist.On top of this too many IPL games + international fixtures.How do you expect crowds?

Posted by InnocentGuy on (November 4, 2011, 19:55 GMT)

Play too much cricket, and in the process kill all other sports. Ultimately all sports in India will die. :) No Olympic medals, no world-cups, no sporting glory ever.

Posted by   on (November 4, 2011, 15:57 GMT)

people turn out only 2 see cricket...they dont even care about hockey, boxing, football or other sports...too much of cricket is not good...evry month there is some series...if this continues cricket will lose its importance...that makes me feel scared...

Posted by UNIVERSAL_CRICKETER on (November 4, 2011, 15:44 GMT)

BCCI WANTS ALL THE GOLDEN EGGS AT ONCE.....NATURALLY THAT WILL KILL THE GOOSE.....WHO WANTS TO LEAVE HIS WORK & WATCH SO MUCH MEANINGLESS CRICKET MATCHES 24x7x365........WHY WILL ONE LEAVE THE COMFORT OF HIS AC ROOM STOCKED WITH HOME COOKED REFRESHMENTS...CLEAN BATHROOMS...UNLIMITED REPLAYS FROM 18 CAMERAS...NO PARKING HASSLES...NO HARASSMENTS IN THE NAME OF MULTIPLE SECURITY CHECKS.... NO RESTRICTIONS ON KEEPING YOUR OWN COLD DRINKS, SNACKS, LUNCH BOX, APPETIZERS, WATER BOTTLES WITH YOU...INSTEAD OF BUYING UNHYGIENIC FOOD & PLASTICS WATER PACKETS AT EXORBITANT PRICES FROM INSANELY OVER-CROWDED WOODEN STALLS...NO FILTHY TOILETS JAM PACKED LIKE THE GENERAL COACHES OF INDIAN RAILWAYS......AT STADIUMS,THERE ARE NO ARRANGEMENTS FOR KEEPING EVEN HELMETS LET ALONE CAMERAS, BAGS ETC. ..EITHER THROW THEM OR THE TICKETS.......EARLIER THE CROWDS WERE MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE & DISCIPLINED...IT USED TO BE A PICNIC LIKE ATMOSPHERE AT THE STADIUM.. NOW ITS A OVER-PRICED MULTIPLEX...ESP. EDEN GARDEN

Posted by ParamIyer on (November 4, 2011, 2:14 GMT)

Hi Sanjay,

Well said and well worded. I was very surprised to see such a low turnout especially for the ODI's. It was partly due to too much cricket and partly due to the high ticket prices. The minimum price in Mumbai was a 1000 Rs. for East Stand which is not the best stand to watch a game and went up to Rs. 4000 odd for the North and other stands. The boards should price intelligently. People would also love to watch test matches but the horrible scheduling prevents them. Matches start on Sunday and end on Thursday or start on Tuesday and end on Saturday. In these times, very few can skip office and afford a day off for cricket. Like in england and australia, they should have matches starting thursday or friday.

Posted by   on (November 4, 2011, 0:26 GMT)

Good to see comments being posted on costly tickets, no food allowed inside the stadium, no binoculars, no water bottles, and in Jamtha near Nagpur there are no hotels outside where you can eat- only eat whats there at the ground at UNBELIEVABLY HIGH prices. Sit in the blazing sun for 5 days without food after blowing away your month's salary buying the highly costly tickets going 16 km away from the city everyday, (and 25 km away from home at least) to watch a test, where the Opposition will pile on runs after runs 558/6 and defeat your side by an Innings. Wow...

Posted by   on (November 3, 2011, 18:35 GMT)

Agreed with the point that stadiums need to be people-friendly . I've watched a lot of matches (domestic & International) at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Hyderabad, and to be honest, the experience hasn't been the best. Young audience will not find it difficult to adjust but what about people a little older than me ? Foe example, my dad has vowed to not watch a match at that stadium since they do not allow any food or liquid from outside to be taken inside. Even though its understandable, overpricing of food and basic necessity like water is a big turn off. Nobody would want to visit a place which robs you off more than you can imagine. It's like they do us a favour by hosting a match !!

Posted by   on (November 3, 2011, 15:07 GMT)

The costs for Test matches are too high. They even charge full for a five year kid. I am keen on making my son (who loves Cricket) follow Test matches and what better than taking him to the grounds. But the costs are prohibitive. Of course, the facilities offered for the cost are abysmal.

Hope this Ind-England series comes as an eye opener for the authorities and they do something about it.

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist on (November 3, 2011, 14:55 GMT)

Sanjay, isn't it obvious that I won't give a dime to a person who doesn't want to earn it from me? Case closed. No Dravid, no VVS can pull me to watch them in flesh when me and my family are dished out the worst of the conditions in the stadium. After all, my family and my money are much dearer to me than any Dravid or any VVS. Sachin's 100th 100??? Oh please, I couldn't care any less and there are millions like me who think like me and wouldn't step into these 'dilapidated' grounds.

Posted by   on (November 3, 2011, 14:18 GMT)

We also need to get the crowds to the Ranji games as well.

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