March 30, 2012

Is the IPL still the ticket?

Season five will tell how disillusioned the Indian fan is with the national team's recent performances

A new financial year and a new test for Indian cricket. The first week of April will give us an idea of what the fan, and those who monetise his passion, think about the future of Indian cricket.

A bit like a mid-term poll, the BCCI has asked for a new television partner midway into the arrangement with Nimbus, which is an acknowledgement, maybe, that Indian cricket was overpriced, given that the last deal was valued at the same price as the one before it. Remember, this is not as much about the price as about the returns at that price, something investors in stocks know very well. A State Bank of India share might be a very good asset to possess at Rs 1500, but not quite as good at Rs 3000 maybe.

People good at assessing risk and evaluating assets will take a call on the valuation of Indian cricket early next week. They will budget for the fact that Australia, England and South Africa are all due to visit India in this contract period; that India play better at home than away, which is a factor; that political uncertainty and the fear of an economic slowdown might hit advertising budgets, even the fear that the big cricket stars are slowly moving on. Why, the future of Tendulkar might be a factor, for there is no denying that he pulls in more viewers than anyone else.

Bidders will have to weigh that against the cost of not having Indian cricket on their channels, for that has a rub-off effect on other programming; it provides bargaining power with cable operators, who, in spite of Direct-to-Home, are significant players in the television industry. Some big names, existing channels, and some who desire to establish themselves, are apparently in the fray, and so the 2nd of April should be an important date.

It is not only the on-field itinerary that counts, though. I hope that there is as much emphasis on the content on television and radio as there is on the price. In good markets, product quality and price have a very close relationship.

The first week of April also sees the start of IPL 5. It is a very important year for the IPL. The viewership and attendance figures will give us an idea of whether it is still the hot property it was in its first three years. The reason for the little suspicion is that IPL 4, by its own standards alone, was a slight disappointment. But it was also a peculiar year because India had just won the World Cup, a deeply emotional event, and the IPL began even before the shadows had lengthened. Not only was there a lot of cricket on television, people had already spent fair sums of money on going to cricket grounds. But there was another factor too.

In the months leading up to IPL 4, the presence of two new teams had necessitated another auction, and that led, however gross the parallel might seem, to mass migration. The relationship between fans and players, at the heart of all sport, was severely affected, and everyone, including commentators, was confused initially about who was playing for whom. Things will be better this year on that front, and given how little India have played in India this year, there might be a greater temptation to head towards the cricket ground. Already the Chennai Super Kings are reporting that all Rs 700 and Rs 1200 tickets have been sold for all home games; apparently internet sales have also been pretty good and these are good signs, even if some commentators have recently been spotted shaking a leg in a promo!

IPL 5 will also test the strength of the disillusionment of the Indian fan over recent performances by the national team. History suggests that such disillusionment tends to be short-lived, that the search for a good meal is rarely hampered by the experience of a bad one. There is also the usual debate in some quarters of playing for money over playing for the country. Most people saying that seem to have few problems with accepting it in football and basketball. Just as there are accountants and politicians and artists of all kinds, so too do we have cricketers of many dispositions. And don't forget, not all of them have the option of representing India. The IPL gives them a stage too. But in the end, like with a free and fair election, the public will vote, and this is a big election for Indian cricket.

Don't discount another factor, though. The front pages of India's newspapers, repositories of bad news, have to outdo themselves these days. Poverty needs to be alleviated as much in public life as in our villages. When the news is grim, entertainment has a chance.

Harsha Bhogle commentates on the IPL and other cricket, is a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nandan on April 10, 2012, 11:38 GMT

    Players should maintain balance or consistency in all formats. There is no doubt the playing more number of T20 matches is harming the Test skills of players.

  • John on April 2, 2012, 11:34 GMT

    "A bit like a mid-term poll, the BCCI has asked for a new television partner midway into the arrangement with Nimbus, which is an acknowledgement, maybe, that Indian cricket was overpriced, given that the last deal was valued at the same price as the one before it."

    Looks like you have got it wrong Harsha, Indian cricket it seems is under priced, ESS has won the bidding at a whooping high price.

  • mukesh on April 2, 2012, 7:10 GMT

    IPL and all the T20 leagues have so many short term advantages , it brings in the cash for boards , entertainment for masses more exposure to domestic players and it will even help the likes of kallis , husseys , tendulkar who are established stars to improve their game further , but the real damage is caused to the next generation of players , kids who are 14 to 18 year old , it affects their technique and motivation to play test cricket , i mean who would really want to play tests when you could earn twice(money and popularity) as much with much lesser efforts... young guys should be prevented from playing t20 atleast until they are 21 year old

  • Ashok on April 1, 2012, 15:04 GMT

    Yes IPL is still Cricket with a different Brand & Rules than those governing Test Cricket + Circus like environment - bit like baseball where every ball is a strike!.It is an open challenge to score as many runs as possible thru improvised strokes, using gaps + location of the fielders. On the other hand it is a test of bowlers' skills in restricting scoring thru' field placement & bowling at the right spots. A good seamer will probably bowl about 2 feet outside the off at a unhittable length to a packed off side field with 3 fielders on the fence. Alternately a tight bowling on the stumps with field placement to save singles & boundaries. For the batsmen his improvisation will include tabooed strokes in test cricket such as paddle sweep, Cross bat slogs & Sixers over the third man + all other infield positions + conventional strokes. A brand of cricket equating it to the American baseball replacing ice cream, hot dogs/hamburgers & chips with Indian equivalents but with dancing girls!

  • Muhammad on April 1, 2012, 3:31 GMT

    Same talks last year too, but as the tournament progressed, crowds began to flow in. so there won't be surprises if the first few games do not entertain large crowds and maybe when gayles,rainas and tendulkars begin to lit up the IPL, BCCI would be short of tickets

  • Bunty on March 31, 2012, 16:28 GMT

    I think IPL has been terrific to cricket as infact franchise based 20/20 been world over. I saw some of the 20/20 in Australia and it was quite a thrill to watch full stadiums and fringe players getting to show their stuff alongwith the best. I sincerely hope IPL and the other 20/20 tourneys get their share under the sun. It has done wonders to fielding standards and made players un-inhibited nothing bad with that. Now India's international cricket performance is a whole different kettle of tea. You can see players like Raina and Rohit Sharma struggle with their heavy bats in bouncy conditions.Coach has to be given un-restrained power to make these players do the hard yards to adapt to alien conditions.Some players are being shown un-due favoritism - the fact they play for the same IPL team which in turn is owned by a BCCI biggie gives a bad taste to the whole thing.Why wasn't the leggie played in ODIs in Oz just becoz that would have made an offie uncomfortable? Need answers for tha

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2012, 15:44 GMT

    Everyone talks about chasing down big totals.. What about defending them? Maybe it also has to be a cause of the fact that bowlling standards are far worse than ever

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2012, 15:25 GMT

    @Harsha - Harsha you got to realize that Chennai stadium cannot sell all the tickets. In fact half the stadium does not have building approval to seat the fans. So whatever figure you quoted is wrong and you will realize that when you see empty stands during chepauk matches.

  • Milind on March 31, 2012, 15:12 GMT

    IPL is just entertainment with a commercial value. People who are passionate about the game will want to see the Indian team do well in national colors. Will the players adopt the same attitude?

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2012, 15:06 GMT

    The IPL and 2020 is a bad way to promote cricket or expand the interest in the sport. They will have bad effects on test cricket. All this fame and fortune are discouraging kids to aim for test cricket. Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game, you can not be one of the greats of the game if you can not hack it at test cricket level. IPL is a lot of rubbish. Half of it is down to luck and stupid shots. Bowlers on the other hand have developed variation to a degree and yorker bowling skills. The small amount of overs perhaps encourages quick bowling as well but thats about all the positives. Batsmen decline in technique in my view.

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