While broadcasters are concerned with TV ratings, for other stakeholders seeing is believing and the empty seats in the first week of the Indian Premier League (IPL) at most centres is proof that people are yet to warm up to the glitzy show.
It was a concern ahead of the tournament. When you have the World T20, everything else is eclipsed. It could be a reason why the BCCI and International Cricket Council (ICC) limited the focus to cricket at the World T20, setting aside glamour for the IPL. Yet it has not been able to save the IPL from the WT20’s impact.
Despite keeping it simple, the quality of cricket at the World Cup blew away the fans.
The best percentage attendance in IPL’s first week was at the home game of debutants Gujarat Lions, but the Rajkot ground is low on capacity. Kings XI’s opener in Mohali, the popular Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden, the star-studded Royal Challengers Bangalore in Bengaluru and Mumbai Indians at Wankhede had less than usual attendance.
It is no coincidence that these centres hosted big-ticket WT20 games --- India-Pakistan at Kolkata, India-Australia at Mohali, India-Bangladesh at Bengaluru and India-West Indies at Mumbai.
Mumbai Cricket Association treasurer, Nitin Dalal, who was in-charge of ticketing at Wankhede during the WT20, said: “The response is less so far, even though crowds for Mumbai matches are generally more than other venues. One reason is overdose, we had four WT20 matches and the warm-up matches before that.”
In contrast to the poor response to the domestic league, even warm-up games at the WT20 evoked tremendous response. For the India-South Africa practice game, the turnout was beyond MCA’s expectations and it had to get more tickets printed at the last minute.
“The costliest ticket for the India-South Africa warm-up tie was Rs 500. Still we got a gate collection of Rs 45 lakh. It was a full house,” said Dalal.
The BCCI was hoping that like in 2011, when the IPL was played after the World Cup, the league would benefit from the cricket fever. However, market experts say it is not the same. India had won the 2011 World Cup and there was euphoria. Here, India lost in the semifinal after stuttering all through.
Dalal is optimistic. “Fans always welcome the IPL. It’s good for a family outing. For Virat Kohli’s RCB and Shah Rukh Khan’s KKR games, Wankhede will be packed.”
Actually, Wankhede was packed on Saturday for Mumbai’s match against Gujarat Lions. Weekend could be a reason. It could also be for the fact that matches are being shifted out of Maharashtra following court orders.
No spark on field
One of the best things to happen to the IPL was Brendon McCullum’s 150-plus in the opening game in the inaugural edition. It gave fans a taste of the excitement T20 could provide. This time, except for a couple of games, the rest have been low scoring.
At the WT20, India’s batting was subdued but Kohli made it up with some spectacular knocks.
MP Pandove, IPL governing council member and chief of the Punjab Cricket Association, which hosts KXIP games, is optimistic. “At most centres, there were World Cup matches before the IPL. People will take time to recharge. After all, it is entertainment. As the tournament progresses, interest will pick up.”
Glimmer of hope
The IPL will take confidence from Australia’s Big Bash which recorded its best season. The Melbourne derby broke the record for the biggest turnout at a domestic game — 80,000-plus thronged the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Current Australia players hardly play in Big Bash and there is a restriction of two foreign players per team. Of course, there is also the example of England, where crowd figures dropped after starting with a bang.
The concern will be more at RCB. If a line-up of Chris Gayle, Kohli and AB de Villiers can’t woo fans, then who can?
“It’s not just about the World Cup, everything else also has slowed down --- the economy, business, disposable income is down and people have little spending capacity,” said Karnataka State Cricket Association vice-president Sanjay Desai.
“The affluent are skipping it. Mediocre stuff will be skipped. For games involving Dhoni and all, they will come. Now they know it is a yearly affair.
“That is what I can correlate being from the entertainment industry, apart from cricket,” said Desai, who also runs Cinema Theatres. “The lower denomination stands, from R800-1500 are full. For the high-priced seats, the sale has been slightly slow. They will have to reassess pricing.”
It’s a point Chandigarh-based former India player and former India selector Bhupinder Singh agrees with. “People have limited budget, they can’t afford to buy tickets every fifth or sixth day,” he said. “Maybe the IPL has been overshadowed. Everyone enjoyed the World Cup and people need a break.”
Also, the quality can’t be matched. “A World Cup is a World Cup, it was high quality. IPL is a club tournament.”