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HindustanTimes Sat,19 Apr 2014

Cricket

Living in a world of their own
Sanjjeev K Samyal, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, May 16, 2013
First Published: 00:50 IST(16/5/2013)
Last Updated: 00:53 IST(16/5/2013)
Cartoon: BCCI, sports league

Ricky Ponting to open with Sachin Tendulkar for a Mumbai-based team: shouldn't that create a buzz in Australia? It didn't. That's an example of the foreign media's lukewarm response to the Indian T20 league.

The first time Ponting's presence in the league was reported in Australia — on the Sydney Morning Herald's website -- was when he took a screamer off Harbhajan Singh's bowling. That too played up just as a spectacular fielding effort by an Australian great. There are seven-eight news items on the T20 league, one of which is 'photo ban hits T20 league's coverage'.

It's the same in England. All you find on The Guardian or The Telegraph websites are updates on live blogs and a few stories criticising the league.

Thanks to its rigid policies, the reach of the Indian board's event is mainly through the official TV broadcasters and a few internet sites.

LIMITING EXPOSURE
It’s been eight months since a live photograph of Indian cricket was published abroad. In countries like South Africa and the West Indies, where newspapers carry regular updates of the league, they use photographs from the archive.

The Jamaica Gleaner website report of Sunday's Knight Riders match has Sunil Narine's picture in West Indies colours!

The international agencies and newspaper associations have boycotted BCCI-managed events because of its policy of not granting accreditation to photo agencies that sell pictures for commercial use. It's been a stand-off since.

The BCCI may have a valid point, but does it make business sense? The BCCI is in a way limiting its own product’s promotion.

The T20 League is a property like the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Bundesliga and the NBA. The EPL is already a massive property but the effort put into expanding it beyond the regular markets is a lesson for all.

While stakeholders in these clubs and leagues are constantly using innovative strategies like taking their clubs on tours and setting up academies, India's T20 property seems to have stagnated.

The league chairman has termed it the “most popular game” in the world after football, saying it is being telecast live in 198 countries. But no one's buying it. In the UK, the league is broadcast on ITV 4, a free-view channel.

Interest in England is restricted mainly to the Indian, Pakistan and Sri Lankan expatriates. The sponsors are an indicator: Southall Travels, one of the biggest travel operators used mainly by Indians and Pakistanis, is the main sponsor on ITV4.

 “I'm sorry to say there's a wall of indifference in the UK. Eoin Morgan's form may get a mention from time to time, but only in conjunction with his chances of getting back into the Test team. The games themselves aren't reported. Had Kevin Pietersen played, there might have been some interest,” says Wisden's editor-in-chief, Lawrence Booth.

INNOVATIVE MARKETING
India is among the weakest markets for basketball, but NBA is striving for footprints here. Asked how NBA won over new markets like China, its long-serving commissioner David Stern, credited for globalising the American league, says: “We take advantage of the trends we see, and one of them is globalisation. We were responding to an opportunity.

“We don't consider other sports a competition. As long as we do a good job of explaining our sport and getting it to kids, we're good. The biggest problem is learning how to manage in a different way because we are an American league but want to be a global sport. It's very complex but also great fun.”

For a game with close to a 150-year history, it's shocking that only 10 countries boast of a proper cricket structure.

If any game is in urgent need of improving its global appeal, it's cricket. In its T20 league, the BCCI has an ideal vehicle but no vision.


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