New Delhi: Empty ticket counters, vacant stadiums and rock-bottom television ratings say it all. Cricket fans in India— where the game is supposed to be a religion—have been left cold by the inaugural Champions League, hyped as a billion-dollar sporting spectacle.
“Cape Cobras, who?” was 26-year-old Madhav Krishna’s response to a query about the South African club, one of the 12 teams participating in the two-week tournament that ends on Friday. Krishna, an avid cricket fan otherwise, has given the tournament a complete miss.
“I don’t feel I’m missing anything. Besides, there have been other social obligations such as weddings and Diwali in the last one month,” added Krishna, a clinical counsellor.
Empty stadiums: A 10 October Champions League Twenty20 cricket match between the Otago club players and the Cape Cobras team at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad failed to draw crowds. PTI
An overwhelming majority of India’s cricket fans seem to have done the same and ignored the World Twenty20 (T20) club championship, staying away from the stadiums and switching off the telecast of the tournament in the shortest format of the game, to the disappointment of advertisers.
Television rating points (TRPs) for the first 13 days of the Champions League matches beginning 8 October were an average of 0.67% on ESPN’s Star Sports and Star Cricket channels, according to Audience Measurement and Analytics Ltd, a television audience measurement agency. The data has been collated in cable and satellite homes for viewers in the 15-plus age group.
Compare this with the first 13 days of the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) and IPL 2, which attracted five times the TRPs—at 3.6% and 3.3%,respectively.
ESPN paid $975 million (Rs4,553 crore now) for 10-year rights to telecast the event, only to find the inaugural edition had left Indian cricket fans unenthused.
Although two senior executives in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which runs the sport in the country, said average stadium occupancy had not yet been calculated, an executive from the Delhi Daredevils team, one of the three participating domestic clubs from India, conceded that audience response hadn’t met expectations.
“The average stadium occupancy has been around 50% during India matches and about 10% on other days,” said the executive, who didn’t want to be identified.
Hyderabad’s Deccan Chargers and the Royal Challengers Bangalore are the other Indian teams in the tournament.
“Ticket sales have been very low for the Champions League, with nearly 60-70% of the tickets for most matches remaining unsold,” said an official ticketing agent for the tournament, who also didn’t want to be named.
The response of cricket fans from New Delhi has been the coldest.
Just four hours before the semi-final match on Wednesday between two Australian teams—New South Wales Blues and Victorian Bushrangers—the usual buzz was missing outside New Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla stadium, where the ticket counter was deserted.
When a Mint reporter approached the counter, three touts took him aside saying they would sell box tickets worth Rs6,000 at one-third the price.
Aman Jain, 18, who purchased two tickets worth Rs600 each for watching the match with a friend, was keen to sell them for Rs250 each.
“There is hardly any crowd here,” he said. “There’s no excitement in a match without the crowds,” Jain said, adding that he would rather watch the coming India versus Australia match to be played at the same venue later this month.
Even the ticketing outlets have brought the Champions League little business. A cashier at a Connaught Place branch of UCO Bank, a ticketing partner of the Champions League, looked disbelieving when asked about tickets to the semi-final.
“You’re the first person to ask for these tickets—we haven't sold even one so far,” he said.
The cashier, who did not want to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the poor response had forced the tournament organizers to take all the tickets back a few days ago.
The story was no different at Café Coffee Day, another ticketing partner that returned its lot of tickets. “We returned 60% of the tickets...to the organizers a day before the match,” said a marketing executive at the coffee chain, who didn’t want to be named.
Broadcaster ESPN Software (India) Pvt. Ltd did not respond to phone calls and emails sent for this story, but disappointed advertisers blame bad timing and poor marketing for the failure of the event.
“The Champions League has been very disappointing. We knew it was a new format and that it would take some time to pick up, but we didn’t expect it to go down so badly,” said Vijay Narayanan, vice-president (marketing) at Havells India Ltd, the on-air and on-ground advertiser for the tournament.
“People are not very familiar with the teams participating in the tournament, so the marketing had to be much stronger to create hype. It has made us realize that not every T20 will walk,” he added.
An executive from a consumer electronics company associated with the event, who didn’t want to be named, said the tournament had been badly timed because it coincided with Diwali festivities when most people are busy with social obligations. “Their plan does not include watching a cricket match on TV or on the grounds,” said the executive.
While the broadcaster hasn’t brought up the issue of compensating advertisers yet, it is pacifying them by suggesting a change of schedule next year so that the tournament doesn’t overlap with the festive season, the same executive said.
BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah, who himself skipped the tournament because of his hectic social schedule around Diwali, said that may not be possible.
“It would be ideal to move the tournament (dates), but it won’t be possible because the cricket calendar is all booked up,” Shah said.
Experts say it will take much more than just a shift of dates to attract cricket fans to the Champions League.
A former executive at sports management firm IMG, who was closely involved with IPL and didn’t want to be named, said ESPN needs to market the event as well as the players better to boost interest in the tournament.
“An average Indian cricket fan is very evolved and has knowledge on every member of the Indian team,” said Darshan M., chief operating officer of Deccan Chronicle Holdings Ltd, owner of the Deccan Chargers.
“But all of a sudden, the fans are coming across names of international players who they are not familiar with. So they are just losing interest in the game—it’s as simple as that.”