A new financial year and a new test for Indian cricket. The first week of April will give us an idea of what the fan,and those that monetise his passion,think about the future of Indian cricket. A bit like a mid-term poll,the BCCI has asked for a new television partner midway into the arrangement with Nimbus. The last deal was valued at the same price as the earlier one an acknowledgement maybe,that Indian cricket was over-priced.
Remember this is not as much about the price as about the returns at that price,something investors in stocks know very well. A State Bank of India share might be a very good asset to possess at Rs 1,500,not quite as good at Rs 3,000 maybe.
People very good at assessing risk and evaluating assets will take a call on the valuation of Indian cricket early next week. They will budget for the fact that Australia,England and South Africa are all due to visit India in this contract period,that India play better at home than away,which is a factor,that political uncertainty and the fear of an economic slowdown might hit advertising budgets,even the fear that the big stars are slowly moving on. Why,the future of Tendulkar might be a factor for there is no denying that he pulls in more viewers than anyone else.
Bidders will have to counter that with the cost of not having Indian cricket on their channel for it has a rub-off effect on other programming,it allows for bargaining power with cable operators who,in spite of DTH,are significant players in the television industry. Some big names,existing channels and those desirous of establishing themselves,are,apparently in the fray and so,the 2nd of April should be an important date. It is not only the on-field itinerary that counts! I hope though that there is as much emphasis on content on television and radio as there is on the price. In good markets,product quality and price have a very close relationship.
The first week of April also sees the start of IPL 5. It is a very important year for the IPL for viewership and attendance figures will give us an idea of whether it is still the hot property it was in years 1 to 3. The reason for the little suspicion is that IPL 4,by its own standards alone,was a slight disappointment.
But it was also a peculiar year because India had just won the World Cup,a deeply emotional event and the IPL began even before the shadows had lengthened. Not only was there a lot of cricket on television but people had already spent fair sums of money on going to a cricket ground. But there was another factor too.
In the months leading up to IPL 4,the presence of two new teams had necessitated another auction and that led,however gross the parallel might seem,to mass migration! The relationship between fans and players,at the heart of all sport,was severely affected and everyone,including commentators,were confused initially about who was playing for whom. Things will be better this year on that front and given how little India has played in India this year,there might a greater temptation to head towards the cricket ground. Already the Chennai Super Kings are reporting that all Rs 700 and Rs 1200 tickets have been sold out for all home games; apparently internet sales have also been pretty good and these are good signs even if some commentators have recently been spotted shaking a leg in a promo!
IPL 5 will also test the strength of the disillusionment of the Indian fan over recent performances by the national team. History suggests that such disillusionment tends to be short-lived,that the search for a good meal is rarely hampered by the experience of a bad one. There is also the usual debate in some quarters of playing for money over playing for the country.
Most people saying that seem to have few problems with accepting it in football and basketball! Just as there are accountants and politicians and artists of all kinds so too do we have cricketers of many dispositions. And don’t forget,not everyone has the option of representing India. The IPL gives them a stage too. But in the end,like with a free and fair election,the public will vote and this is a big election for Indian cricket.
Don’t discount another factor though. Our front pages,repositories of bad news,are having to out-do themselves. Poverty needs to be alleviated as much in public life as in our villages. When the news is grim,entertainment has a chance.