The short burst of frenzied interest in hockey lasted a little beyond the appropriately scheduled first match—India versus Pakistan, which India won. As the team lost its next series of matches, to Australia, Spain and England, and only managed to draw against South Africa, thereby failing to qualify for the semi-finals, interest ebbed in the Hero Honda Hockey FIH World Cup.
The gap between expectation and reality in hockey comes because of its troubled emotional connect with Indians. Past glory, combined with a dramatic decline, has led to a love-hate relationship that now fluctuates with the team’s fortunes. As the editor of Sports Illustrated India and seasoned hockey correspondent, Sundeep Misra, says, “For those who subconsciously are out of hockey, hockey stays out unless there is a remarkable result.”
Game over: A dejected Indian team after losing to England; and (right) India’s Sarwanjit Singh.
The reason why the International Hockey Federation (FIH) decided to hold the tournament here, as part of its India Project, was in the hope that the team’s success would help revive the sport in a country which is considered capable of generating money in sponsorships, unlike the “in-recession” West. Despite India’s performance, not all seems lost on this front. Experts and sponsors knew what they were getting into, and don’t seem too disappointed with the returns so far.
Leandro Negre, FIH president, had said before the World Cup that even the revenue model for the event had been changed since the BDO World Cup of 2006. “Four years ago, the FIH gave almost all the rights to the local organizer, the German Hockey Federation. Now, we are working on a joint venture base with the partners in India. This will generate more revenues for all parties involved, but it is still premature to speak about figures. We are expecting a good profit, which will show us the importance of the Indian market.”
The initial signs were certainly promising: Doordarshan (DD) had 11 million viewers hooked between 8pm and 10pm on 28 February, the duration of the India-Pakistan match, while Ten Sports drew at least three million viewers, according to television viewership measurement agency Audience Measurement and Analytics Pvt. Ltd (aMap).
If, as Misra says, “the team’s performance affects its money-drawing power”, then India may have missed an opportunity to revive interest in the sport. But if some former players and observers are to be believed, the expectations of the FIH and fans were unreal to begin with.
“India is ranked 12th (in the world),” says former captain Pargat Singh, now the general secretary of Hockey Punjab. “Finishing even seventh or eighth helps their ranking. At the end of the day, India are playing the World Cup as hosts and not based on merit.”
Within the marketing and sales fraternity, this argument holds that the minute India is eliminated, public interest wanes—as has happened this time too. Clients were interested in passes for India matches; now, even a VVIP pass for the semis or final has few takers. The average rating of the 27 matches played till 9 March has been 0.14%, down from a high 1.3% for the India-Pakistan match on Ten Sports.
The consolation, if any, is that the trend holds true for cricket too. The average TV rating for the 2009 edition of the T20 World Cup was 1.2% on Star Cricket for the first eight matches, dropping to 0.6% for the remaining seven matches, once India had exited the tournament.
Not unnaturally then, experts and sponsors have a different take on the hockey World Cup. “Obviously, the result has been disappointing, but not unexpected,” says Jamie Stewart, managing director, Commune Sports and Entertainment, which has organized the event with Hockey India.
Sponsors such as Hero Honda Motors Ltd and ING Vysya Life Insurance say returns have exceeded expectations. Anil Dua, Hero Honda’s senior vice-president, marketing and sales, puts things in perspective. “When we took the decision to support the World Cup, it was clear the TRPs would not come close to cricket. But, nevertheless, the TRPs of our campaign have been high.”
Sponsors say they were not banking on an Indian victory, based on the team’s current standing, but wanted to strengthen their association with the national sport. Had India moved forward, it would have been a bonus.
It’s a chicken and egg situation, says Dua. The more sponsors put in, the better the team performs. This time, the generally low expectations of Indian fans helped cushion the impact the loss may have had. “These are fans who gather to watch an Indian or just India, not necessarily a hockey match, which was incidental here,” says Charu Sharma, a sports commentator.
“The non-India matches didn’t see the stadiums filled, but that holds true for the ICC Champions Trophy in 2006 as well,” says Stewart. “From a marketing perspective, it has been rejuvenating and a revitalization of the national sport.”
Put simply, the jury is still out on how successful this World Cup has been, not only from a marketing and advertising perspective, but in terms of the game’s survival in India.
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