Too much cricket? Not for fans of IPL 'cricketainment'

No Chennai Super Kings? No Rajasthan Royals? It doesn’t really matter. And what about the fact that the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League starts just six days after the completion of the ICC World Twenty20? Well, so be it. When it comes to cricket viewership in India, there’s nothing called fatigue.

The organisers don't expect a dip in popularity because of the absence of two well-loved teams - Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals.   -  Manob Chowdhury

Less than two weeks after he effectively checked off one more box in his résumé, Sachin Tendulkar wowed the Wankhede with a 66-ball century for Mumbai Indians in the 2011 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Surprisingly enough, it was Kochi Tuskers Kerala that won the match — rather comfortably, so to speak — to give Keralites the world over another reason to celebrate the festival of ‘Vishu’.

At the post-match press conference, Tuskers skipper Mahela Jayawardene came across as a happy man, but not happy enough. “I am glad we pulled it off today, but I would have really loved to win ‘that’ game,” he said, referring to the World Cup final played at the same venue on April 2.

KNOW YOUR TEAM : >Mumbai Indians, >Delhi Daredevils, >Rising Pune Supergiants, >Sunrisers Hyderabad
> Kolkata Knight Riders , >Kings XI Punjab, >Royal Challengers Bangalore, >Gujarat Lions

The four-month cricket 'festival'

Call it a quirk of fate or whatever you may, but spare a thought for the stylish Sri Lankan legend. After all, his classy unbeaten century, against India, had gone in vain. No wonder then, that 13 days on, nobody felt bad or sad for Tendulkar even though another special knock of his had come in a losing cause. This oddity was just part of that crazy cricket ‘festival’, one that lasted nearly four months. Well, 2012 (World T20 + IPL), 2013 (IPL + Champions Trophy), 2014 (World T20 + IPL) and 2015 (50-over World Cup + IPL) were no different. And now, 2016 promises to be the same.

Undying craze

Brand and business strategy expert Harish Bijoor offers a valid explanation. “Cricket is a crazy game. And the admirers of cricket are a crazy set of people. The craze for cricket is quite undying. So, it doesn’t really matter if the IPL commences just a week after the completion of the ICC World Twenty20. I don’t think it will affect viewership at all. As a property, the IPL is looked forward to year after year irrespective of the controversies. To me, the IPL is not cricket at all. It’s ‘cricketainment’ and, therefore, more the controversy the better,” says the Bengaluru-based Bijoor, who runs a successful company called Harish Bijoor Consults.

Bijoor has a point. In the lead-up to the 2011 edition of the IPL, there was a worry that the six-week-long World Cup would satiate the average fan’s appetite for more of the same. However, the opening game of that IPL saw the highest television ratings across six key markets!

Fatigue? What’s that, you may ask!

According to data made available by TAM Sports, a total of 19.7 million people tuned in to watch Chennai Super Kings eke out a two-run win over Kolkata Knight Riders in the opener on April 8, 2011. That effectively translated into a Television Viewer Rating (TVR) of 7.77, up from 6.95 in 2010. As many as 55.8 million people watched that game. And, for the record, 122 million people watched India beat Sri Lanka in the World Cup final, which took place just six days prior to the start of the IPL that year.

Bijoor reckons that the absence of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) will make no difference whatsoever to the IPL this season. The city-based franchise tournament starts on April 9, only six days — is that a good omen? — after the completion of the world event.

“I don’t think the two teams will be missed. After all, the team is only a structure. The heart, soul, liver and gizzard of a game are players. So, as long as the players are simply ‘redistributed’, people are not worried. I think the mania is going to commence once again. The TRPs are going to largely be the same. And, I think, everybody is going to wait for the ‘fix’ of the IPL all over again,” he says.

Bijoor has a point because CSK and RR have virtually made way for Rising Pune Supergiants and Gujarat Lions. The personnel have made the jump from here to there. Apart from the fact that Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra will be missing in action, the rest of it is pretty much the same.

Prasana Krishnan, executive vice-president and business head, Sony Pictures Networks, the company that beams the IPL into our homes, concurs with Bijoor in the sense that there’s nothing called fatigue when it comes to cricket viewership in India.

“The IPL took place after a world event in 2011 and 2015. The IPL has its own positioning. It is a more inclusive tournament because it brings in a lot of female viewership. It’s intriguing. A World Cup is basically about six or seven India matches. The other games are actually watched by only those avid cricket fans. The IPL, on the other hand, is not like that. Every game is watched widely. It’s about relief, pressure and entertainment. It’s your daily night appointment (for two months),” Krishnan says.

Ask him about the ‘controversy quotient’ of the IPL, and Krishnan confronts you with a simple yet bold fact. “Last year’s IPL was the highest-rated in five years,” he shoots back. What about the absence of CSK and RR?

“Well, we have two new teams, don’t we? They are coming from big markets, and are looking good and balanced. We are not worried, really. The Gujarat Lions are based in Rajkot, and they will bring in the state of Gujarat in a bigger way. The Pune franchise will help us attract interior Maharashtra,” he adds.

All of this makes great business sense, but is this the ideal situation? We are talking about the sport of cricket here. Bijoor doesn’t think so. “Well, from a very purist point of view, it’s not ideal. But ‘puritanism’ (in cricket) is dead. The only reality seems to be that this is just like Bollywood. In Bollywood, the star seems to gain if he or she is embroiled in a controversy. If there’s romance and there is a break-up and there’s nastiness, then the star actually benefits. Take the case of Hrithik Roshan and Kangana Ranaut. That’s exactly what’s happening. Without an active film, these stars are forgotten stars. Controversy is good for Bollywood and entertainment. And, the IPL is certainly not cricket, it’s ‘cricketainment’. So, it thrives on controversies. All the players are intact.

“Two new teams have come in. One team has a small-time feel. Rajkot will add something. Pune will add something. It won’t affect viewership. They have put those two teams — CSK and RR — in cold storage. When you take them out, they will start from where they left.”

Let the tamasha begin then!

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