The situation – Last day of the Ranji Trophy 2003 semi-final, Delhi against Tamil Nadu; Delhi are 159 for 5 chasing 332 to win. The likelihood – Looks tough for Delhi. The “But…” factor – Virender Sehwag. Overnight 98 not out off 108 balls. 19 hits to the fence and one mighty one over. The scene, as should be – A buzz around. Sehwag, playing an important Ranji game after 3 seasons, nearing his century. Will he carry Delhi across into the final? Will he do it in one session, or finish them off in the second? The scene, as it was – there were 14 spectators. Buzzzzzzzzzz… The game – Sehwag got bowled for 99 and Delhi was bowled out for 200. And this is an important cricket match. The situation for volleyball, shooting, squash and other sport are just as disappointing if not more. Why don’t people come to support sport, not international events but our domestic competitions, across various disciplines?
One would imagine that in India, given the indulgent procreating practices of its populi, would have no dearth of filling stadia with screaming fans but the problem is just that – why aren’t we able to convert people into fans? Most of the time people come to a cricket or hockey game because they get a free ticket, for the sake of seeing something novel and different, for entertainment. But how many are actually fans and follow the sport, teams, players? Creating a fan base is the most important aspect for successfully marketing a platform in sport. Closer home, the world tour that the baton is taking for the Commonwealth Games is just that – to get people excited about the movement, most specifically in the host nation and city. Cricket’s IPL franchises also face a similar task and are getting about their business.
It sounds a little insensitive to suggest that when most of India is grappling with limited electricity, drinking water and immunization, that they should be the targets of sport and entertainment stakeholders looking to attract them but it is actually not. Struggling with their everyday chores, this will only act as a way of getting their mind off things. Make sport a viable vocation and then they will be more than all ears. At the risk of sounding like beating a dead horse, targeting schools and colleges are vital in building a following. There will be hot spots in the nation for different sports – the Punjab for wrestling, Bengal for football, the north-east for archery etc but the sports have to grow, geographically and in scale. The graver problem is that we are not really sports nation. I am not even trying to suggest that most people don’t know the nuances of say, cricket but sport, and link that to fitness and exercise, is not part of the daily routine of most. But targeting kids when they are young and instilling the regimen of exercise should be a good starting point.
Fighting and squabbling amongst committees and associations that run different sport in this country is another reason why people keep a distance. Be it the BCCI, the Commonwealth Games Committee, the governing body for hockey (no point calling it Hockey India because if someone reads this article after two months, Hockey India may have been sentenced to the gallows) or the AIFF, the news is full of petty fighting and self-justification tactics. Would you want to follow such sports?
There is, of course, the facilities themselves. I don’t mean training facilities but viewing facilities – the stadia. Very often, bonafide ticket holders have to fight with security and police personnel to enter the premises. Sometime they are not allowed in at all. Why? Not sure, really. Even if the Lord looked upon you favourably to get in, you will probably be subjected the stalest bread (I have. It felt like eating earth.) and forced to drink water out of a plastic packet (I have. 20% down gullet, 80% down the front of t-shirt).
But, perhaps a factor that is ignored a lot here and that we need to look at more closely is effective image creation of a sport/ event/ players. Team sports are the ones that need more focus and demand for thought and planning in how to grow them. Individual sports are much easier to manage and as we see in countries like ours, there are many more successful individual sports people than those that require associations to run “professionally”. The bottomline is that we have to get a ticket-buying fan base who not only consume the sport in an arena but also on TV and online, who buy merchandise and are converted into loyalists. While India has to go miles before franchises and teams are commercially sound, it is very important for the correct communication to go out because as the financial stakes increasing, so will the expectations of the paying public. And if their expectations are not met, there will be fewer and fewer coming out in support of their teams, which does not bode well for the industry.
Written by: Kartikeya Rao
Image: Philip Brown / Reuters
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