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Expensive tickets might turn off locals

cricket Updated: Jun 22, 2007 18:22 IST
Rohit Mahajan
Rohit Mahajan
Hindustan Times
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Vilas Narayanan, an Indian engineer, works for British Telecom in Belfast. India's tech majors are present in the city — TCS, Wipro, Infosys are here and they regularly engage each other in mighty cricketing battles.

Sawant is very keen about cricket, but he's afraid he won't be at the Stormont to cheer the Indian team on — he says the tickets, at £35 each, are too steep. "I'd love to have gone, but it seems unlikely," says Narayanan.

"The tickets cost too much — even a (Irish) Premier League ticket for football matches costs just a fraction of that." Other Indian fans nod in agreement. For the record, £9 would get you into an Irish Premier League match.

Belfast is a city coming back from the edge. Years of division and violence had blighted business and though things are looking up, £35 remains a pretty large sum of money.

Richard J Johnson of the Irish Cricket Union (ICU) agrees. "Yes, the prices are rather high," he says. "The big reason is that the ground has temporary seating. The costs have been very high — it has taken 10 days to build the stadium. We had to hire everything at a considerable price."

But what happens to the Indian Cricket Board's dream of expanding the boundaries of cricket, touted as the reason behind the overseas experiment? Could not the funding from the BCCI be used to keep the ticket prices at a rational level?

"Yes and no," says Johnson. "We budgeted that for us to have a healthy surplus overall, we would have to have near capacity attendance, which we fear may not actually be the case." The "healthy surplus" Johnson talks about is to be used to foster the game in the country, and there would be no compromise on it. Thus the high cost of tickets.

"One major reason we don't expect a full house is that three weeks ago, the TV channel that was to telecast the matches (Zee Sports) pulled out," Johnson says. "We had to suspend ticket sales for 72 hours, there was a bit of loss of confidence among prospective sponsors and fans."

But Johnson, whose wife is in-charge of ticket sales for cricket here, says he expects the matches to be well attended. "We hope Irish fans will also come to watch the matches, but I believe that Indians would make up the biggest numbers," he says. "We have been getting inquiries from Indian fans in Northern Ireland, South Ireland, England…"

The Indian fans themselves remain unsure and there were just a handful at the team's first nets session. The usual frenzy around the Indian team is conspicuous by its absence. Saturday will reveal what Narayanan and his friends have decided.