Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Time to bat for other sports

I spent five years learning Economics and one of the few things I learnt was “In India agriculture is a gamble with the monsoon.” I could almost picture the lines of worry on the Indian farmer’s face as he squinted at the sky, more with hope than with any other emotion. I believe the Indian advertiser who bets big bucks on cricket telecasts like the World Cup is in a similar position.
That too is a gamble as everything depends on the Indian cricket team’s performance which has been inconsistent at times. When India does well the advertiser is smiling as that means fantastic TRPs and great ROI, and when it fails, it is doom and gloom.
The mother of all cups

Cricket means big bucks in India and the World Cup is the mother of all cups. Let’s not forget that India is the current holder of the Cricket World Cup. Nor should we forget the tremendous hype that Star Sports is capable of generating with its immense media clout and the slew of channels at its control. And yet, as the Indian cricket team sleepwalked through the Australia tour without winning a single game, the large advertiser empathised totally with the farmer and knew exactly how he felt in the face of a dicey monsoon for he had already bought time at exorbitant prices on World Cup Cricket.
The spadework, however, had been well done. India games were on Sundays and during the day, which would ensure ease of watching. The first game was against Pakistan and in case you didn’t watch the commercial, it features the hopeful Pakistani cricket fan, waiting anxiously, ready to burst crackers but just unable to do so as India won – again. As we all know now, India won by a mile and the ratings went through the roof. The next game was even bigger, the following Sunday, as it featured South Africa, one of the favourites. The build-up was phenomenal, featuring South Africans who, in another ad, condescendingly reminded us about the three previous encounters. Nearly 86,000 people wended their way to the MCG (80,000 of them Indians) and watched in disbelief and later ecstasy as India smashed South Africa! And so India’s merry ways continued with another win over UAE and a place at the top of the pool with interest, viewership and discussions around our famous World Cup campaign at an all-time high!
Now India has won all its six league games convincingly, leading us to believe that retaining the World Cup is eminently possible. So all is well, as we speak, with the Indian cricket team and the advertiser who has completely forgotten all his fears and is patting himself on the back for getting it right again. And yet, being the pragmatist I am, my mind always goes back to 2007 when we did not even make it past the first round.
But is all really well?

But is all really well with advertiser and advertising?
This brings me back to my famous refrain. Despite being cricket-mad it pains me to see the Indian advertiser’s absolute dependence on cricket. If it is not World Cup Cricket it seems some meaningless entertainment like the IPL. Let’s not forget too the inherent controversies that seem to dog the game. Match-fixing seems to rear its ugly head far too often for the liking of genuine cricket fans like me and in our darkest moments we wonder if we are wasting our time – and life – following this game with its attendant evils. The shenanigans of the BCCI, which seems worried about everything other than the game, is a constant source of disquiet and it needs the highest judicial authority in the country to guide this body.
How worrisome is that? If this is the state of mind that cricket lovers like you and me are experiencing, you can be sure that advertisers are even more acutely aware of the lack of choice when it comes to an interest that delivers a huge national audience across languages. There have been some attempts by trying to support and create interest in other sports such as hockey, football and even kabaddi. It is early days yet and while the signs are promising, there are miles to go.
Someone must bite the bullet

Having said that, I still think it is important for one advertiser or a few to realise that cricket cannot and should not hold them to ransom. They must continue to invest not only in other sports but also look at other interests. This leads me to what I believe is an important point. Indian youth is changing, by the moment. In fact, people in the metros don’t watch as much cricket as people in the smaller towns. Could not some specific programming be created that catches the fancy of Indian youth instead of waiting for some sports events to happen? Reality shows are probably boring today but someone did aKaun Banega Crorepati even if it was not the most original idea ever filmed. So what’s the next big idea?
I am sure it is not the IPL!

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