The Indian Premier League rolled into Bangalore on Sunday, with a crucial night game between the home side and Sunrisers Hyderabad at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, which is known for its packed house during IPL games. Tickets generally sell out a few days in advance, so when a small group of fans turned up at the official ticket window outside the ground on the morning of the match, it was perhaps in blind hope. They would have been pleasantly surprised by the short line at the ticket counter outside Gate 8.
The officials in charge of selling tickets informed fans that the cheapest seats available for sale were worth Rs. 1650, and that all the cheaper options had been sold out. Most of the fans were clearly reluctant to spend so much for an evening's worth of entertainment - after all, movie tickets on average cost around Rs. 300 in Bangalore.
It later emerged that the officials at the counter weren't being entirely truthful. There was at least one unsold booklet of tickets costing Rs. 825, which the official (Lokesh, according to the badge he wore) was trying to conceal from the general public, and surreptitiously sell to some 'friend' who had jumped the line. When Lokesh was pointedly questioned about this preferential treatment, he sheepishly offered the excuse: "These tickets are almost sold out." He also tried to make the problem go away by offering to sell the cheaper tickets to the people at the head of the line, but that move backfired. Soon, the people who had been unwilling to shell out Rs. 1650 for a ticket, were back in the line with renewed interest in the cheaper alternative. Lokesh was forced to sell them against his wishes, but did not seem too concerned at the threat that his behavior would be reported to the KSCA officials. Despite his best efforts, this correspondent was not allowed to enter the KSCA offices to lodge a complaint.
Over the years, the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore has gained a reputation for its vociferous and loyal home crowd. Few IPL venues have managed to match the atmosphere inside the Chinnaswamy Stadium in past seasons, thanks to the combination of a star-studded team, and a high-scoring pitch in a relatively small, centrally-located ground. So when you entered the stadium on Sunday evening, you expected more of the same.
As it transpired, the crowds inside the stadium fell well short of the numbers expected in Bangalore. While some stands were packed to the gills - including the C Upper stand with its Rs. 825 ticket - the overall turn-out could not have exceeded 70%. Entire rows of seats in the stands with straight views - the North Stand and the pavilion terraces - remained unoccupied through the game, while the lower tier of the massive D Stand that offers a square view, was also sparsely populated. The poor sale of expensive tickets explained the behaviour of the officials at the ticket counter earlier in the day, but didn't justify it.
The average attendance is perhaps one of the many symptoms of the lukewarm interest around the IPL this year. Ground collections are a significant revenue stream for IPL franchises, unlike cricket boards who don't mind poor turn-outs as long as they have television eyeballs. Smart pricing seemed to click during the first leg of the IPL in the UAE, where some of the 20 games were sold out, and the general turn-out was impressive. Perhaps the organisers could learn a lesson from the UAE experience, and price their tickets more pragmatically.
And while they are at it, they may want to stop using unscrupulous means to up-sell their tickets. Even the most loyal fans wouldn't appreciate being taken for a ride.