Dwindling attendance: Does the BCCI really care?
In a democratic setup, in the green well, the simplest job to don is the job of a common man. Clutching the newspapers between the thumb and his forefinger, under his ambit would be the entire legislative system. He would propose, dismiss, criticize, rancor, laud and what not. Over a cup of coffee, he would propose a tweak to the budget or pick the XI for the upcoming Test series. One of the few liberties of the common man that is yet to be seized is his right to criticize, if not in social media, which would invite unceremonious arrests, then at least within the confidentiality of his four walls. Hence, I would like to capitalize on this yet-to-be-seized liberty and show some scorn to the big brothers of cricket, the BCCI.
However hard the cameramen tried to veneer the dwindling attendance and not focus on the empty dry stands, a viewer couldn’t be oblivious to the scanty numbers present. Though it was a weekday and Australia were at the crease, the number was too paltry to reason out.
The previous decades put forth an entirely different scenario. I vividly remember the long queue outside Chepauk for the Test match against Australia in 2001. Rewinding a bit more, my dad is garrulous about his travails in buying tickets for a Test match. People thronged the gates early in the morning, as early as 4 a.m. to bulldoze their way through the crowd. Though it was an arduous task, the thought of the enticing action waiting to unfold at the other side of the gates pushed people to undertake the treacherous task. After having bought the tickets, people would paint their faces with the tri-color, purchase flags, the Indian jersey, a quick breakfast and at the stroke of 9 a.m., the stands would be full. Plastic bottles would be drummed causing a rapturous sound, the vociferous crowd cheering at the sight of the umpires first, the bowling team next and the batting team finally. As the first ball was about to be bowled and the bowler was in his strides, the decibel levels would soar, and the ecstatic crowd would be going through euphoria. The Mexican wave doing its rounds and even the most decorum-oriented guys up from their seats, dancing to the bass created by the plastic bottles. Wait, I’m talking about the game played by guys clad in whites, with the red ball, over 5 days. We call it a Test match. Yes, there was a time when there was such enthusiasm for Test matches, just a few years ago.
Juxtaposing this with the current scenario of dwindling attendance at the stadia is disconcerting for aficionados like me. I’ve been taught to watch cricket for its beauty, not for its flamboyance. I have been taught to watch cricket where the bowler sprints in, spitting fire, and bowls a nasty bouncer at 150 odd kmph at the batsman without helmet, and yet, Gavaskar gets behind it, picks it up from near his nose, undeterred by the pace, and puts it away over mid-wicket. I have been taught to watch cricket where the world’s most bamboozling leg spinner rolls is arms to befuddle the worlds greatest batsman and yet, the little genius unveils an array of strokes and gives the bowler nightmares. The umpire who stood witness to the contest, the greatest umpire ever testimonies the contest and hails it the best cricketing contest ever. Such was the caliber of the game. The colored clothes couldn’t captivate me like the white clothes do.
Blame it on the diminishing attention span of the people, the busy lives, the rising inflation or the exorbitant ticket prices, it finally boils down to the ignorance and insolence of the big bosses. There have been a long list of measures rolled out to enhance the viewing experience of the TV audience. The telecast rights have hence soared, one complementing the other. The telecast rights, the highest revenue generator for the game, for long has been the bone of contention for the BCCI. The worst part is, they’ve been contended with it. On the other hand, the viewing experience at the stadia or the grounds have been thoroughly sidelined. The facilities at some of the tier II city stadiums is dismiss-able even by rags.
All that has been overlooked and the priority has been the TV audience. The guy who locks himself within the comforts of his air conditioned room, reclining in his cozy bed in front of a LCD TV, has been fed with more pop corn and soothed with drinks. Yet, the guy who gets up to the biting cold of 4 a.m. and stands the regime of the queue to get the tickets, sits through the entire day under the scorching heat with undiminished enthusiasm has been left to starve. He has been languishing, lurching at the bottom. He has been stabbed by the game he has remained faithful to over the years. He runs, even though he has been overlooked. He runs as far as he can, and one fine day, gives up, decides to sit and home and catch glimpses of the game through TV.
The economics lessons suggest the current trend. The revenue provider is served and embraced and the others are kicked, kicked out of the scene. Supply and demand follows. There is demand in the telecast industry and hence it is supplied. In hindsight, you need to realize, the same bosses were the reason for the sharp downturn in demand at the gates.
The reasons may be aplenty. The BCCI shouldn’t be the scapegoat, I concede. But it can’t be denied that the BCCI hasn’t taken the necessary steps to serve the crowd at the stadiums, let alone to attract more crowds. The marketing brains have by and large been biased. Marketing ideas are doled out to captivate the TV viewer, but the same marketing brain isn’t applied to bolster the guy at the grounds. Be it reducing the ticket prices or refurbishing the stadiums, the biggest concern is the BCCI’s ignorance to this. There are problems that plague the sport and the there are boards incompetent to tackle the issue.
Here, we have a board that has decided to care less about the issue and concentrate on the big money bags that have been dangling above their heads. They’ve jumped high to bag the bounty, even if it has meant stamping on the loyal and faithful people.
Good job, BCCI.