Mumbai/New Delhi: On 4 May, Mumbai Indians will play Pune Warriors India at the DY Patil stadium in Navi Mumbai. The match is sold out, apparently reflecting a revival of popularity after stadium seats went unfilled in the initial matches of season 4 of the Indian Premier League (IPL). At least that’s what teams and ticket sellers are saying, while insiders and analysts point to the large gaps that are still visible in the stands during match broadcasts.
Just half the 55,000 seats in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi were occupied in the 9 April match between the Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Royal Challengers Bangalore. Attendance has improved since then, but only after prices were slashed.
A lack of ground support was most glaring at matches of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, that most cricket-mad of cities. Even allowing for the fact that Sourav Ganguly was not playing, the lack of interest must have been sharply felt by team co-owner Shah Rukh Khan, a sure-fire crowd puller himself who performed at the IPL opening at Chennai.
Growing audience: A file photo of Kochi Tuskers Kerala supporters during the match against Chennai Super Kings at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. Ticket prices for the Kochi matches range from Rs400-10,000. Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times
KKR slashed ticket prices by as much as 50% and the team actually won a few matches, encouraging more local support. However, the Shah Rukh Khan box itself, marketed as premier seating in the house, isn’t always filling up, even though prices were cut from Rs3,600 to Rs2,400.
IPL matches that start at 4pm usually have poorer attendance compared with the ones that start later at 8pm. The size of the stadium also plays a key role in how the picture looks on television, said Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer of Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai-based agency.
“Eden Gardens seats nearly one lakh people, and it goes half empty for most of the IPL matches,” he said. “A Dharamshala stadium, on the other hand, seats 15,000 people and the stadium’s always full.”
The empty seats also reflect the number of free tickets given to sponsors and other partners, many of whom don’t show up on match day, he said.
Blah said most franchises need to correct pricing. “Various franchises have priced their tickets differently. Most of the people are likely to buy tickets priced at Rs100 or Rs200. So there’s no point having the bulk of your tickets priced at Rs600 or higher and seeing half-occupied stadiums,” he said.
The number of people who want to brave traffic snarls, queues and security checks also depends on how well the team is performing,
“Occupancy also depends on the potential of the team,” Blah said. “Matches featuring Mumbai Indians (which has stars such as Sachin Tendulkar and Lasith Malinga) are most of the times completely sold out.”
Neetu Bhatia, chief executive (CEO) of online ticketing website KyaZoonga.com, which handles the online and offline (retail) ticket sales for the two new IPL franchises—Pune Warriors and Kochi Tuskers—said the tide is changing. IPL is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, which had dipped at the start owing to the fatigue that had set in following India’s victory in the cricket World Cup that immediately preceded the Twenty20 tournament, she said.
“The last three matches that we’ve sold (tickets for) have seen 80-90% occupancy,” Bhatia said. Most of the tickets are available at the lower price points and affordability is not an issue, she said.
Ticket prices for the Pune matches range from Rs250 to Rs25,000, and Rs400 to Rs10,000 for Kochi matches.
Being new teams, it will take a while for them to pack the house, Bhatia said. But she expects ticket sales for both teams, especially Kochi, to pick up.
“Kochi is on a winning spree,” she said. “I expect the momentum to pick up for this franchise and for supporters to come in large numbers.”
Ticket sales are worth at least Rs300 crore a year and have been growing at double digits until last season, according to a media specialist who declined to be identified because of his firm’s policy.
BookMyShow.com handles online and offline ticket sales for Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab. It has the online mandate for Delhi Daredevils as well.
“We are setting up box offices and booths, auditing, designing (tickets) for many of these teams,” said Ashish Hemrajani, founder and CEO of BookMyShow.com. “We manage 200,000 tickets for the Mumbai Indians, 80,000 for the Kings XI, maybe more, and 50,000 tickets for Delhi.”
The tickets range between Rs625 and Rs32,500, he said. Mobile and online sales are getting a good response, and up to 40% of the inventory is being sold through these channels in places such as Mumbai and Delhi.
“Last year, we sold a total of 30,000 tickets for the Mumbai Indians on the online platform. This year, within the first six days of the IPL-4, we overshot the number,” Hemrajani said. “My sense is that while the (television) viewership may not be comparable with the World Cup, spectatorship (at the grounds) has clearly increased.”
The number of matches this year has risen to 74 from last year’s 60 with the addition of the two new teams.
For franchises such as Kings XI Punjab, ticket sales contribute a substantial chunk of revenue. The share could rise to 22% from 18% last year, said Arvinder Singh, chief operating officer of Kings XI, which is doing better than last year.
“Occupancy is much better than the previous year,” he said. “The matches that we’ve been a part of have seen 80-90% occupancy, which is pretty good.”
Ticket sales contributed to barely 5% of total revenue, when the IPL began, Singh said.
Delhi Daredevils said 80% of tickets were snapped up for its first match. “While ticket revenue contributed roughly 18% (in the first season), this year we are expecting it to be 27%,” said P. Phaneendra, general manager (marketing) for Delhi Daredevils.
He expects an improvement from last year, when 90% of tickets for matches involving the team were sold, as these are on offer at a wide spread of windows. The team though has been doing poorly thus far this year.
“Easy Bill, our retail channel partner, is keeping our tickets at 60-70 outlets,” Phaneendra said. “Then there’s ING Vysya Bank, our retail banking partner, which is keeping tickets at five of its bank branches.”
Ticket sales account for 10% of revenue, according to a Rajasthan Royals official, who didn’t want to be named. “So far, we have seen at least 70-80% occupancy in matches played by RR (Rajasthan Royals) and expect it to go up to 90% for the forthcoming matches.” he said.
Easy Bill Ltd, promoted by the Hero Group, which specializes as a bill payment shop, has partnered with Delhi Daredevils and has seen good traction this year.
“Compared to last year, our sales have doubled,” said Vimal Dhar, head (business alliance) at Easy Bill. This is remarkable given that ticket prices (especially for weekend matches) are 50-70% costlier this year, according to him.
“Even the corporate boxes (Rs12,000 per seat per match) are nearly sold out,” he said. “We are selling anywhere between 7,000-8,000 tickets per match for DD (Delhi Daredevils), and that’s nearly 30% of the total ticket sales capacity of the franchise.”
Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla stadium has a capacity of 41,000—on weekdays it sees 60-70% occupancy, rising to 80% on weekends.