Ram Dev, who sells cricket bats, hockey sticks and footballs, sat in his shop that’s empty of customers this week, the unseasonal rains reflecting his grey mood.
His accountant and a television set kept him company—and both offered bleak news: Sales at his Supreme Sports Industries are down and India faces steep odds against Sri Lanka on Friday.
“The World Cup is a zero for me,” Dev, 74, says.
This is a place that literally lives for cricket. The city in northwest Punjab is India’s largest sports-manufacturing hub, churning out an estimated Rs300 crore of bats and balls, sticks and pucks. While the rest of the country will watch and pray and hope—and perhaps cheer—on Friday night, Jalandhar’s prosperity is so linked to the sport that cricket stars’ pictures adorn store signs and some residents make bats from the roadside.
Last week, after India lost to Bangladesh, fans and bat makers staged a protest march and burned posters of players—a cliché reaction across cricket-mad South Asia, but here, the losses really sting.
While most orders for equipment are placed months before the Cup begins, retailers and manufacturers say the craze and hype around cricket—and the relatively pleasant weather—usually lead to higher sales, some direct and others through nearby traders.
Young boys dream of being the next Rahul Dravid or Sachin Tendulkar, and beg their parents for the right equipment to begin their quest. Companies organize weekend leagues, and order bats with corporate logos to boost team spirit and workplace morale.
“Maybe sales will pick up if we beat them,” said Narinder Neti, a small sports-goods retailer who supplements his income by running a phone booth.
In Jalandhar for the last few days, there has only been one “them”—the Sri Lankans. India needs to win on Friday night to proceed, unless Bangladesh loses to Bermuda, a very unlikely scenario.
Neti’s phone booth is the only steady business he’s seen lately, and the retailer said he’s stopped extending credit on purchases of sports gear to his regular customers. Orders from Kolkata, a hotbed of cricket passion, have all but ceased, Neti said.
“They can’t pay me because they can’t sell themselves,” he said.
The industry’s livelihood, however, extends far beyond India and its performance on the pitch. India exports about Rs100 crore worth of cricket equipment, with the domestic market accounting for about Rs50 crore.
Trade groups could not give World Cup-specific sales figures, but said this year hasn’t yet come near profits made during the 2003 meet in South Africa when India qualified for the finals.
India’s three main sports hubs of Jalandhar, Meerut and Kashmir boast a crowded mix of large manufacturers, outsourcing factories that supply giants like Nike and Adidas, distributors, and retailers.
Still, this year’s Cup felt different before it even began, observers said. Because the West Indies is less known for its shopping culture, sports goods companies didn’t order as many goods for brand promotion during the World Cup. In 2003, a flood of orders led to a 25-30% jump in pre-tournament sales, said Jalandhar-based Sports Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association chairman Raghunath S. Jain.
Usually, 90% of the overseas orders are placed before the tournament—and half are promotional and related to the Cup. This year, it was a paltry amount, Jain said, not specifiying the amount.
Traders say they felt the craze had not caught on because families are more busy with students’ examinations and the matches run late into the night.
Even in Jammu and Kashmir, Sachin Mahajan of cricket equipment manufacturer Amrit Sports India says he hasn’t seen such a slump since the match-fixing scandals of 2000 made headlines.
Back then, too, he recalled few fans wanted to swing their cricket bats.
Before the World Cup, Mahajan said he received orders for bats and other cricket equipment that led to a 30-40% increase in business. But after India’s defeat to Bangladesh, orders have totally dried up, he said.
Ramesh Chandra Kohli of Beat All Sports, popularly known as BAS, said his company would survive the slump because of his well-known brand; he supplies bats to leading cricketers such as Tendulkar and Dravid.
Kohli said the industry’s stagnation reflects Team India’s. But, he added, orders had also frozen from big markets such as Australia, which made huge imports in 2006 but could not offload their stocks.
“But you would expect a boom during the World Cup and that is simply missing this time around,” Kohli said.
One person at Kohli’s factory is unfazed by slow sales and continues to rally behind his team. His grandson: Sarthak, age 10.
Sarthak picks up an oversized bat in the factory, and insists he wants it. He pouts when told it’s part of a small sample lot made for a valuable client and that he can’t have it.
Even if India loses on Friday, he insists, he won’t stop playing cricket on the badminton court at school.