Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Indian cricket market

The other day when cricketers turned commodities at the auctioning of The Indian Premier League (IPL), the whole country was curious to witness the rates at which their favourite stars were being sold to the franchisees, just the way a common man buys his ration from the local grocery shop. If the steep rise in onion price was considered as a mass failure of the system, the news of instant millionaire being created at the IPL auction was much of a reason to feel elevated about as if a partly amount from the whole sum would be deposited into the common man’s personal account. The society hovers between the two ends of this spectrum and clearly cherishes being in the double standard zone. Arguments can be for and against the credibility of the spectrum as the micro-economics for the two news that have grabbed highest TRPs in the last fortnight are entirely different but to reach a clear conclusion is as difficult as dreaming to live in a society of justice. It can be left to another day to compare and analyze the two ends but what needs immediate addressing is the impact of over commercialization of cricket on the future generations.

Ever since Kapil Dev lifted the Prudential World Cup in 1983, cricket has remained the number one passion for this over populated country where meeting ends is considered to be the biggest challenge of humanity. Cricket has provided much needed solace and the route to escapism. The ruling governments have been clever enough to understand the relationship and its impact on the society and have always played it safe. The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) has used its position to advantage and raked in the moolahs by selling the hope of the billion Indians to the ever ambitious advertiser. All was well until India accidentally won the inaugural T20 world championship. Since then the game has changed at triple pace rate and today the ravenousness of capital has overpowered the system to an extent that has left every honest follower of the game questioning the intent of the game administrators. The windfall of cash has been so tempting that the board has been strangled by its own myopic view. The vision for producing world class cricketers and being a top ranked team seems to have been diluted. Had everything been alright then the board should have scheduled a few practice games in South Africa before the beginning of the first test which India lost in a humiliating manner as recently as 20th December 2010. Similarly a much more result oriented domestic cricket season can yield better fortunes for the country’s cricketing future. Instead of answering these issues, the board is indulged in matters irrelevant in the larger scheme of things.

If Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1970s repackaged the game to keep the fans excited in an otherwise mundane environment, BCCI through its sheer greediness has managed to slowly but steadily suck the pulse away from the common man in a peculiar manner. The hunger to fill in the coffins continues to be on the steep rise and it is being felt in the surrounding. In remote cities across India where live cricket on television was the lifeblood of social pastime now remains a distant desire as the common man is unable to afford pay channels. India’s historic stalemate in South Africa did not reach the rural and that automatically fails to inspire the young kid to take up his bat and go to the local farmland to have a hit. Here lies an answer to a question of why the local grounds in the tier two cities of India look empty these days in comparison to the previous generation. Wherever there is access to live cricket on television, it is stuffed in with commercials that an aspiring youngster might contemplate of modeling as a better career option than being a cricketer.

At the face of things it is easy to blame the broadcaster for selling its free commercial time beyond the accepted standards but being fair to them one has to understand the business cycle of professional team sport. It is a seller’s market and operates in a complex micro-economy where the teams avail the services of the players and coaches and fans buy game tickets, TV subscription and merchandise, media houses buy the broadcasting rights, corporate buy executive suites and related services. This leads to the ever persistent price-rise syndrome, which increases the gap between the poor and rich players in the market leading to breakaway factions; the now defunct ICL is a case in example. The broadcasters and the advertisers have a business to run and revenues to clock which can only be attained by going on the overdrive; such has been the rise in the demand for broadcast rights and monopolistic control of BCCI in a country where commercialization of sports was an unsolved equation till as late as early 1990s.

The board is for sure having the last laugh but had it been truly aware of the indirect damage it is causing to the overall cricket system of the country then there would be a few chuckles less. The board has been conveniently diverting the allegations over the years by testifying its financial contribution to the various state cricket associations across the country for grassroots development. Does the state cricket associations spend the allocated budget justifiably calls for another debate. However the issue here is about the common man who has no ambition to play for the country but to be associated with the peripherals associated with the game. Being the parent body it becomes paramount responsibility for BCCI to secure the common man’s interest at a time when other sports are on the rise in the country.

Lack of proper leadership management and big egos of the office bearers has led to the precarious position that Indian cricket administration is in today. The system needs to be modified by incorporating the best practices from the finest models made available by Cricket Australia, Cricket South Africa and England Cricket Board. Fresh brains need to be inculcated into the system who can implement the needed changes without being influenced by forces of resistance.

Indian cricket cannot afford to go the West Indian way because the influence of the game is pivotal in the sustenance of a healthy economy of the country and anyone who has little commonsense of the country’s dynamics understands that. It is not long before Sachin Tendulkar retires and that will mark the transition of fan following from one generation to another. Today Arsenal and Manchester United are a part of the Indian living room set up which was not the case a generation earlier. The switch over phase will throw many uncomfortable questions and if not answered aptly the system might come crashing down. Now is the time for BCCI to come out of the delusion of being in a demand driven market and prepare for the future by taking the common man into confidence or else it might just crumble at its own fate.

Sidhanta Patnaik
9th January 2011
BJB Nagar, Bhubaneswar

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