Headlines like ‘Test cricket is slowly dying’ and ‘Test cricket, we have a problem’ from ex-cricketers and experts have been steady over the years. Then, there’s a plea from an ex-cricketer to make Test matches four days long. But, at the same time, during a few of the recent Test matches, on air and social media commentators have questioned those statements.
But while there’s a mixed sentiment, are brands interested in the longest format of the game?
T Gangadhar, managing director, MEC India, suggests that there’s nothing to worry, as games are getting more results. So relative to the past, there’s been an increase in interest, he reasons.
He explains, “Let me give an advertiser’s perspective. There is more interest in advertising. There are more result oriented games – so relative to the past, the interest has increased. If you look at Test matches in the last two-three years even at home, most of them have had results, compared to years ago, where if you played four tests, all would have been draws. This is probably a consequence of T20s, and the fact that the game is evolving. Without the benefit of numbers it’s hard to quantify this – but when I speak to clients, they are willing to consider the game now that we’ve had results.”
Cricket expert and commentator Ayaz Memon agrees with Gangadhar’s points-of-view. He says, “It’s not dead. Yes, it’s having its problems attracting the audiences to the grounds, but people are following it online and on television. About what should be done to attract the crowds to the stadium, that’s a totally different thing, and something we need to figure.”
Prasana Krishnan, business head, Sony Kix and Six, is also of the opinion that results in games are helping. But, he says it’s difficult to gauge this through numbers because of the new TV rating system. The channel had televised the recent India-Sri Lanka Test series. He says, “We are seeing the involvement of viewers on social media increasing. They’re giving their opinions too. When it comes to TV ratings, because of the TV rating changing, there’s no real base for us to draw comparisons. So, while the interest about the game on social media has increased, we are yet to see if that’s the case on TV.”
While the trio harps on the positive side of the game, there are also sceptics.
Sridhar Ramanujam, founder chief executive officer, Integrated Brand-Comm, says that the BCCI (in particular) needs to stop ‘taking the game for granted’. Using the example of Cricket Australia’s innovation of launching the first ever pink ball, day-night Test match, he says we need to innovate to keep the game alive.
He explains, “In a country where TV audiences are of utmost importance, the matches need to be better scheduled. Matches start here on Mondays and Tuesdays, but that’s not the case everywhere. Test matches begin in some countries on Thursdays and Fridays, making it a good viewing case on those days. But here, the Board isn’t even bothered about it because they feel they get sponsors irrespective. But, brands will see this and soon lose interest.”
He adds, “Then, since they’re played on weekdays, and get over before people get home to watch it, there’s more difficulty to attract the viewers. Cricket Australia, has seen this problem. They know that only the Ashes and when India is touring (because of the population), do they get full stadiums. Stadiums are not packed when South Africa and New Zealand visit too, so they are talking about day-night games to solve it. So, you have to keep innovating. Our guys have probably given up on Test cricket, or they’re depending on other boards’ experiments.”
Ramesh Srivats, founder, TenTenTen Digital, echoes Ramanujam’s sentiments. He surmises, “I do watch Test cricket and love it, but we are moving to byte-sized viewership. Nobody watches anything for six-seven hours a day, for five days continuously. So, any perception of the game reviving itself is more based on hope, than anything else. We delude ourselves. One match we find a packed stadium – over the average it is dead!”
“I don’t remember the numbers, but when T20 became quite popular, brands thought viewership and crowd won’t be the same for Test cricket. But it’s held its own since then and advertising interest is still pretty high. Personally, I’d worry about ODI cricket. Test cricket and T20 will survive as they’re extremes for purists.”
“I don’t have the numbers to compare because of the change of rating systems (from TAM to BARC and then BARC Rural too), but I don’t think there was a slump in viewership. Also, TV viewership for a series or year is driven by the number of games being played and depends on the level of opponent.”
“We have seen results increasing over the last 15 years. In fact more results in these 15 years than the last 100 prior to that. So, yes they do play a role, but interest cannot be based on that alone.”
“People don’t have the time today; they have to find a way, to not only get people to the stadiums (which aren’t conducive to fans because of the facilities) but get them on TV. People are missing games because they’re held during work hours. If the night match works, and people can catch some part of the action when they get back at 6 pm, it might be a different scene. Else you’ll see more drastic dropouts in the future. To my mind it’s an indication of a future problem we’re going to have.”
“I personally watch Test cricket, but people aren’t. In today’s day and age, nobody sits and watches for five days. No other sport lasts for so long. We are seeing new countries, new crowds getting attracted to T20s. I think only T20 will survive in the long run.”
(This article first appeared in the 27 November issue of Campaign India)