Too much cricket is leading to fatigue, and falling viewership.
Deepavali used to be the highpoint of my childhood. Your importance was directly proportionate to the rubble of crackers in front of your house, and I used to spend several days and nights in anticipation of the cracker bursting, something that today's kids and even adults seem to have given up due to a variety of reasons. I remember, though, that often, thanks to the preceding heavy rain in the city, the crackers that we expected to make the most of fizzled out, much to our chagrin and embarrassment.
I am reminded of this as I see all the build-up to the IPL, whether it is the reams of coverage in daily newspapers, interviews with the Gilchrists and the Lehmanns of the world or news that Sachin Tendulkar has joined the Mumbai Indians training camp. Ads and radio spots are flooding the channels reminding people (as though they needed reminders) about the big event around the corner. What will be the fate of IPL 5, whose first match would have just been aired the night before you read this piece? I wish I knew but I can hazard a few guesses.
Cricket, too much cricket
There has been a surfeit of cricket over the last few months and the flip side to the whole overkill is that at least the Indian team will not be on review, though all its players will be donning different colours and sporting multiple sponsors' logos. You can all see the players warming up for the shorter duration format if the idiotic and completely unnecessary T20 match in South Africa is any indication.
Indian cricketers love this format and will revel in it, especially with a surfeit of club bowlers in each team. Let's just leave the players and talk about viewers. After all, the main moolah of IPL will come from television ratings. The viewership is falling, but expect a lot of kids to watch because even parents can't crib about children watching cricket in their holidays. Will die-hard and regular viewers like me continue watching? Probably, and selectively.
I have a few favourite players and might watch their games or their innings. The schedule is too long and probably will be too boring, with interest perhaps picking up after the semi-finals at least. The guys who want to come on TV and or the big screen will probably make it to the ground as will those who want to catch a close look at Shah Rukh Khan. I expect centres such as Bengaluru and Chennai at least to have good crowds if not be sell-outs. The weather will be crazy.
If we were adventurous playing cricket in summer while at school imagine what these players will be going through in the humidity of Chennai or Mumbai or the heat of Delhi! And spare a thought for our poor spectators, for precious little has been done to stadia to increase spectator comfort.
What about fan connect?
When the IPL was launched, one of the objectives was to build club loyalty and make fans rally around teams. To a certain extent Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians seem to be getting their act together even if a bit slowly. Many of the other teams have been in disarray and have been dogged with problems, legal and otherwise. Their priority has been survival, not so much team loyalty or fan connect. The larger corporates that are running teams seem to be doing a better job than the smaller firms with celebrities fronting the team's public face. Somehow teams must remember that both thinking long-term as well as running it successfully in the short run have to be the guiding focus. Unearthing some exciting local talent could be the silver lining if one is to forgive all the hype and hoopla around the event.
So where do we go from here?
Companies should try to be around IPL and take advantage of the interest in it, without trying to go the whole hog spending millions.
I expect that new viewers will come in even as old ones fall out. The question is, will the dropouts be more than new entrants?
The viewership will not be universally high or low, but vary across matches.
People such as Tendulkar and Dravid will get audiences even if Kieron Pollard may hit more sixes.
IPL may provide a great opportunity for promos and some brands have already started to do it.
Online will become increasingly important in engaging with fans.
What will be the next big innovation the organisers can come up with? Cheerleaders have been done and dusted and DLF IPL maximums have started to grate. So organisers will have to think innovation.
The game's interest can never sustain on hype or public relations but on the quality of cricket and the closeness of finishes.
This leads me to the final sobering thought. T20 games by their very nature lend themselves to fixing. The slightest whisper or rumour could send interest downhill.
I do want the format to succeed because it is India's own and has been the envy of other nations which have failed to reach this scale and organising ability. Yet the timing seems to be wrong, and somewhere I wish there would be a proper calendar guaranteeing the availability of key players for the entire schedule.
I am just keeping my fingers crossed that the cracker goes off, after all the build-up, and does not suffer the fate of some of my childhood cracker moments.
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