Saturday, February 26, 2011

Paying cricket fan deserves better treatment

Right from queuing up overnight for a ticket a few days before a contest to walking a fair distance to get to the parking area after the completion of the game, amidst pollution that can be the root for any airborne disease, it is quite a torturous process for anyone who has ever been to a stadium in India to experience its biggest entertainment spectacle – a cricket match featuring the national team. In spite of this painful journey the average Indian middle class has never failed to pay and honour its commitment of filling up the arena every time the clowns are brought to the town in their colorful attire for the circus. The marketers have lapped up this unassuming role of the fans and in an attempt to leverage their benefits have turned predators and injected greed into the business cycle. What is unfortunate however is that though the controlling boards (international, national, state) measure the pulse of this triangular relationship and have always grinned at the richness that the Indian fans generate for them yet they have purposefully failed to understand the importance of human quotient or have knowingly stayed away from a question that has been asked time and time again ever since Board for Control of Cricket (BCCI) became one of the richest sporting body of the world. Despite making cricket cash rich why is the Indian fan always taken for granted? The answer is not far away.

First of all to open the counters for selling a meager 7,000 tickets for the high profile India vs. England encounter at M. Chinnaswamy stadium on 27th February 2011 or for that case 3,000 tickets for the world cup finals in Mumbai is a systematic failure of the organizers to assess the demand for the world cup’s return to its financial haven after 15 years. One has to take into account the last minute shift of the Bangalore match from Kolkata but then the world noticed how the online ticketing agency’s website was made a mockery of when ten million people tried to get a hand on one of the thousand tickets available online for the final match. These incidents bring embarrassment to the world cup which is heavily dependent on the Indian mass to be a commercial success. It goes without mentioning that like any other business project there are sponsor deliverables and on top of that in the Indian context there are bureaucratic issues of massaging the egos of association members and local government authorities through free match passes but for that do the fans have to compromise? Like any other professional venture why cannot the fans be treated as kings in the cricket economics of the subcontinent, is it that difficult?

The episodes that have transpired over the last week clearly indicates that the organizers at three levels (ICC, BCCI, state associations) have not worked in tandem for a foolproof plan with respect to the ticket distribution arrangement and it was a matter of time before the media brought it out to the open. The audacity of Mumbai’s mayor to demand for a certain number of free passes for the finals and the reasoning behind it or the detention of two Karnataka State Cricket Association officials for their alleged role in selling match tickets at an inflated price in the black market gives a fair idea of how tickets are freely available in the air but still far from reach to the common man.

When news such as these make headlines it brings bad name to the state association for which it becomes their prerogative to set the house in order. It is time for boards to look beyond voting banks, visualize the big picture and operate like a corporate house does. As an on ground partner for ICC events their priority should be on fan satisfaction and issuing free passes to members should be restricted to minimum number and done on a pro-rata basis. At the same time it should be ICC’s responsibility to set the guidelines and take charge of the situation instead of being allowed to be kicked like a sponge ball between state and national political wires. Similarly ICC should also rethink on its terms and conditions and negotiate on free pass deliverables to its sponsors. Tapering with the quota system is bound to rage the privileged class but the big question of who is the heart beat of the game; the members or the mass needs to be asked. From an honest answer, the change will stem down the system and the ripple effect will finally make the cricket business bigger than the personalities running it and with it the magnitude of respect will grow.

The corporate representatives in suits inside glass boxes have always come to the ground to cut a deal or oblige a partner and that does not do the game any good from a socio-cultural aspect. Therefore ICC’s single motto should be to ensure that more and more paying public walk through the turnstile. For the junta (mass) who are the real lovers of the game the result of the match has always been incidental, instead the joy of seeing a player from a distance, clicking a photo with the ground as the backdrop or being captured on the giant screen is what creates an experience of lifetime for them and it should not be that difficult for a sports body to understand the long term profits of such a mind set. The fans not only add benevolent colour to the buzz and excitement around the stadium but a full house is the single most effective tool to help a broadcaster earn credible TRP rating across the globe and if not for anything else but for this role of theirs, fans deserve more respect and better treatment.

At another level the brutal behavior on the fans by the local police every time they line up over a night with a hope of ‘winning a ticket’ against the race is something that needs to stop. The recent media images of police lathicharging the fans outside M. Chinnaswamy stadium; Bangalore is a shame to a land where cricket is the biggest connecting factor. For any Indian who has been a part of that rooster camp at some point of their life and has felt the stick on the backside of the body will relate to the pinch of ego, after all only a criminal deserves such action. It does not happen in South Africa or England or Australia then why do the Indian fans go through the ordeal when they are the one’s contributing maximum to the kitty?

It boils down to the administrators to show the right intent, put their heads together, study the best practices of iconic sporting properties and work out a logistical plan that is peaceful and free from the element of nightmare. Once the quantity of tickets to be sold is reached after accommodating the free passes, the number and the process of ticket sales should be made public. Each buyer should be entitled for a solitary ticket hence negating any threat of black market. The gates to the ticket camp can open one night before the counters start operating and each fan on walking into the camp will be given a colour differentiated token depending on his/her choice of seat denomination. Just like in Wimbledon, fans can come to the camp with their canopies and other basic amenities and have a good time around it. Once the number of tokens issued matches with the tickets available, the entry to the camp should be closed. The fans have to queue as per the token number. As soon as the sun rises, the queues can start moving in the direction of the ticket counter, aided by volunteers and that would avoid any chaos and help in making the fan’s journey an enjoyable one. Just imagine the goodwill and coverage the association who implements such a plan will earn by the time the last ticket is sold at the counter.

The cricket loving people of India have always been treated like cattle for no fault of theirs but like the true nature of this democracy they have let it go and moved on however the new generation which has access to the world at their finger tips has a different mentality. They demand respect, comfort, luxury and value for what they pay. If the approach of the authorities towards the queuing public does not change in the near future then the younger generation will eventually be driven away from the stands and the repercussions of such a move will ultimately deplete the cricketing vibrancy of the country right from the gullies (lanes) to the living rooms to the international level and tomorrow our beloved sport will be dead and buried. Typing such a line makes the monitor look like a scary battle field and to avoid it in real, the administrators have to wake up now to the new demands.

Sidhanta Patnaik
26th February 2011, 12.19am
Marthahalli, Bangalore

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