Cricket: The Big money game

Published: February 18, 2015 - 17:35 Updated: June 30, 2015 - 15:48

Nothing; repeat nothing comes close to this high viewership on a digital platform and that includes Wimbledon tennis tournament, US Superbowl and even football
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi

Last Sunday, I was one of those 300 odd million who watched the India-Pakistan ICC World Cup match held in Australia on satellite TV. Besides, there were another 25 million viewers of this not so exciting match who saw it on the digital platform. This is a record of sorts and one of the highest in any sporting event anywhere in the world. Nothing repeat nothing comes close to this high viewership on a digital platform and that includes Wimbledon tennis tournament, US Superbowl and even football. It is due to this colossal viewership that every sport in the world, including basketball and baseball, want Indian viewers even if they do not play. Intriguingly, Indians love cricket and statistics show 80 percent of Indians below 25 years of age are engaged with cricket. Other sports do not find mention. 

Millions also heard the proceedings of the cricket match on the good old radio now also available on inexpensive mobile phones. And here we are not talking about newspaper on one hand and twitter on the other.  In other words, anyone who wants to follow the game cannot complain that he or she did not have the means to do it. With so many different manifestations of the communication technologies available in the market little wonder that the popularity of cricket is going to a different level altogether. This has given freedom to the cricket TV broadcasters to hike their advertisement rates at one level and on the other also provide other platforms easy access to smaller companies, too, to do brand building riding on the cricket caravan. While some 30 new companies spent Rs 600 crore to put their ads during the World Cup cricket matches without realizing whether their brands will benefit from juxtaposing with cricket, there are others that have been routinely advertising.

All these colossal expenditure are contingent on one factor- whether India will go into the final stages. If it crashes out like it did in 2007 then scores of sponsors and advertisers will not just look poorer, but they would also look short on judgement. Questions would be raised whether they had the cricketing sense to invest so heavily in the World Cup when the Indian team had been performing so poorly in Australia. Before they won the Pakistan match, India was testing new lows in cricket. They lost in test matches and the 50 overs format. Going by their performance there is little likelihood of them crossing over into the semifinal stages, but surely the sponsors that have put in big bucks have been assured that India will survive more than 50 percent of the 49 days the tournament lasts. This is primarily due to the fact that India plays really once a week in its group. So it played the first match on February 15 and it will complete its matches by March 14. Quite cleverly, the organizers will consume a month with India in the fray even if it does badly. This would mean that the colossal investment companies have done to increase visibility of their products or companies like Star Sports have done to create different platforms to keeping track of the match would have got their bang for the buck without fearing a repetition of 2007.

If India continues its good form that it displayed against Pakistan and wins a few matches in its pool then it would be in the quarter finals and that would mean the tournament will go right upto March 24. By then the hysteria around the Indian team will climax sidelining politics and everything that may happen in this cricket crazy country. The TV channels and the advertisers will be drooling with such prospects. They are confident that India will reach the quarters. After that they would not really bother as the semi finals and final take no time at all to complete. The real tournament is really a 10 day affair. As The Economist says most of the tournament is full of useless matches where established test teams are pitted against what the cricket commentators love to call “minnows” like Ireland, UAE, Afghanistan, Scotland. Going by past record, these relatively weaker teams should only provide batting practice to the established teams like England, South Africa, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and West Indies.

These assumptions have proved to be so wrong in the past. In this tournament, too, they are upsetting form books and proving that established cricketing nations just cannot take them for granted. West Indies will bear testimony of how wrong cricket pundits can be. They lost to Ireland. The Irish skipper claimed that they were not surprised by their performance and they were priming to get into the quarter finals. The powerful South Africans came close to losing against the neighboring Zimbabwe before they huffed and puffed to victory. AB De Villiers, the South African captain, quickly said that the Zimbabwe’s cricket team needed careful watching. Both these so called minnows are in India’s pool and they would try to upset the world champion as they know that when they play India- not only would the world be watching, but also those money bags who own the India Premier league (IPL). Many of their scouts like Rahul Dravid and others will keep an eye on talent from these countries that can come in cheap and help them fill up their quota of foreign players. Although, the IPL auction is over, many of these players would try to chance their arm to play in this lucrative league- if it does not get impacted by the World Cup which is threatening to soak up all the advertising money.

India need to be wary of these cricketers and their teams that have nothing to lose. Their powerfully built batsmen could just close their eyes and wallop India’s friendly bowling comprising of Muhammad Shami, Bhubneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja. If an Ireland or a Zimbabwe win against India then it could send the nation into despair and the sponsors to a depression.  The likes of Captain MS Dhoni who led the Indian team in last world cup, and his flamboyant deputy, Virat Kohli, would not allow that. There is so much riding on their performance- they are in so many TV ads- that they would not like to be watching them after the team has been booted out of the tournament. It has happened in the past and it looks very silly where the cricketers are mouthing lines that they will bring the cup back when they have already been ejected. So it is safe assume that the world cup organizers and other countries plus sponsors will pray that India reaches at least the semifinals. Surely, this is not asking for too much!