IPL talkies….

12 03 2009

This is the first in a series of posts I hope to do on the IPL.

It’s time to dispel the notion that cricket fans are too inured to seeing matches between national teams to appreciate a franchise based arrangement. To do this I will resort to making the somewhat nebulous dichotomy between the serious and casual fan (some of this is obvious but bear with me for a bit). The serious fan primarily watches sport for the athletic excellence, skill, performance under pressure and close competition; nationalist pride would be much lower down in the pecking order although he almost always would support his country. This explains why more people in India watch an India-Australia ODI than say an India-Lebanon soccer game and also why, as a 11 year old, I started watching soccer played in a far away land by men I had no reason to identify with. The casual fan is by definition fickle; his sport watching is dictated by popular opinion or typically whatever someone forces on him. I contend that no sport can survive without a considerable base of serious fans: you need to attract people with the skill and athletic brilliance on display for it is these fans who will stick with the sport even when their favoured team performs poorly. But having said that, it is the casual fans who bring in the money through gate receipts and TV ratings for a sport to achieve the sort of financial success the IPL is aiming for. But this separation does not exist in a static equilibrium: the really successful sporting enterprises will achieve a healthy rate of converting casual fans into serious fans.

And that in essence is my pocket sized model. Hopefully, it proves that if the cricket on display is absorbing enough, we will watch irrespective of how the teams are organized. But of course, contests between national teams will never lose their relevance – nobody wants to get rid of the World Cup in soccer or the European Championships. The question is if cricket has room enough for both the club and nation based models to coexist. I think the answer is an unequivocal yes. Just look around the cricket world. Every form of cricket is being played at a faster pace than ever before and yet half the teams are unwatchable. Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, New Zealand, and West Indies are facing a severe talent crunch. Pakistan and South Africa possess enough talent to put together decent teams but do not have players of outstanding skill or ability who can capture an audience. It is only Australia, India, Sri Lanka and England that tick both the talent and watchability checkboxes and any series that does not involve these teams needs a dose of artificial stimulation. So the IPL will only serve to get rid of the clutter that the FTP has spawned – only contests that can bring in the crowds and justify being on TV will remain (as proved by the first season!!). More importantly, it has delivered the ultimate threat to cricket administrators the world over: get your act together or perish!!!!!!

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