Why is the Indian Premier League floundering?

Kieron Pollard of Mumbai Indians plays a shot during the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket match against Rajasthan Royals in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, April 11, 2012. Viewer ratings have fallen

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Are cricket fans turning their backs on the ongoing fifth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the world's showcase fast cricket contest?

If TV ratings figures are to be believed, fans have had enough of cricket despite the nine-team, 76-match, seven-week Twenty20 tourney.

Viewer ratings were down 18.7% in the first six games - a time when interest in the tournament traditionally peaks - compared with the same period last year.

That's not all. Season V began on a wrong note with a tawdry Bollywood song-and-dance opening show which even appears to have put off fans. Two top sponsors have withdrawn. Brand and communication consultants are warning that the IPL brand is in "choppy waters", and the league needs a "stronger game plan to rejuvenate the brand". One brand consultancy firm has downgraded the league's value to $3.67bn, down 11% from 2010.

Remember, the response to IPL Season IV last year was lukewarm. TV ratings dropped by 29% and even the final met a tepid response. Cricket fans were savouring India's spectacular win in the World Cup which preceded the tournament, and had little appetite for more cricket.

Why is the thrill gone this year - at least in the early stages of the tournament? After all, this is the tournament which combines the sublime (sledgehammer batting, close finishes) and the ridiculous (Bollywood entertainment, cheerleaders, "strategic time outs" in the middle of the games to facilitate advertising breaks). Indians love tamasha (entertainment), and the IPL is still the best tamasha on offer.

For one, after the song and dances are over, it's finally all about cricket. India is still licking its wounds after a nightmarish international season in which it lost eight overseas Test matches on the trot - its worst run since the 1960s. Though Sachin Tendulkar's 100th international hundred in Dhaka last month was a welcome diversion, India failed to pick up the Asia Cup. Don't disrespect the fan, Rahul Dravid eloquently said at last year's Bradman Oration, and to expect fans to flock to cheer non-performing cricketers at the highest level is a bit fey.

Also, Indian stars are the league's biggest draw, and most of them have been performing indifferently or are absent in the ongoing edition. Tendulkar is hurt after the first game, and Sehwag and Dhoni, two big hitters, haven't fired yet. VVS Laxman isn't playing this season. Yuvraj Singh is recovering from cancer and is out of the game for a while. Saurav Ganguly's batting is past its sell-by date. Rahul Dravid is playing a post-retirement nostalgia gig. Yusuf Pathan, a Twenty20 star, has fizzled out. When the stars are largely down and out, fans stay away.

Fans also seem to be confused about whom to support. The IPL is a city-based league aiming to build up fan bases in half-a-dozen big Indian cities. But when Calcutta's icon Saurav Ganguly, Delhi's favourite Gautam Gambhir and Bangalore's biggest star Rahul Dravid end up leading the teams of Pune, Calcutta and Rajasthan, fan loyalties to home teams can begin to fray easily.

Interest will possibly pick up during the knockouts and the final at the fag end of the league. It may even pick up with more high-scoring games, edge-of-the-seat finishes, and big-bang batting by the stars.

But authorities simply cannot afford to let the IPL crash.

Listen to Sharda Ugra, India's top cricket writer, and you know why. "The IPL has now become a key component of world cricket's economy," she writes. "If it falters and fails because it is not alert to the audience climate around it, the domino effect around the cricket world will be damaging. Cricket's superstar status in many parts of its empire will be downgraded from club class to cattle class - all holy cows included."

Soutik Biswas Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Too many formats, too many overhyped but ultimately meaningless games featuring the same international players. Bad result ? No problem, we have another 10 games in the series and another series in some other country next week... Pro cricket has devalued itself and risks destroying itself out of greed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    A little shallow analysis. First, it's exam time in India, so many if not most parents have curtailed TV viewing at home. I think post April 15, there should be a positive trend in viewership. Second: Total number of TV households have increased in India as has cable TV penetration so even if there is a % drop in viewership, it may not translate into such a large drop in absolute terms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The Indian Premier League's website ipl.indiatimes.com, run by the Times Internet Limited (TIL) in partnership with YouTube, registered a phenomenal growth of 56 per cent in the first week -- including the opening ceremony -- this season.

    The IPL website has already recorded 13.7 million views, as against 8.8 million views last year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Not sure this is an IPL thing. The attendances at the Indian test matches v England last year were dreadful and the ODIs which are usually packed were played in half full stadiums.
    It's not even just in India: everywhere cricket attendances seem to be falling with more and more test and ODI matches played in empty stadiums.
    The strange thing is the actual matches are as good as I can remember!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    In the very long term - say 50 to 100 yrs, cricket in India will no longer be the #1 sport (certainly test cricket), and football (or soccer as the US insists on calling it), will be the main kids sport. Its happening now, and Asian kids in the UK are more likely to follow a football team than a cricket one. Global TV will push this trend eastwards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    What utter rubbish - both this article and the first response. T20 was never a threat to Test cricket, they are almost two entirely different games. ODIs were under threat from T20 but still all forms coexist.
    The IPL is probably suffering from a lack of advertising this year (in the UK anyway), I found ITV4s coverage by accident. As for India, the stadia look pretty full to me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Soutik probably missed the main point about why fans are turned off given he described "sledgehammer batting" as "sublime". T20 is dull because sledgehammer batting is a result of better bats just as much as player skill, and one of the skills in cricket is deciding when to preserve your wicket and when to go for it. T20 is all about going for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The novelty wears off when you are constantly watching bash boom cricket teams with which you have little or no affiliation? It becomes an overload of 4's and 6's and if I don't care who wins then it becomes boring quickly. 20/20 is basic yes/no cricket - yes its your day no its not As for the poor reception especially in the UK - our culture is to support teams not individuals who play for a team

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Cant understand much negativity about IPL in English media (BBC, ESPNcricinfo). T20 was marketed first in England with moderate success, later packaged pretty well by disgraced Modi/BCCI for indian fans. IPL produces great cricket (yesterday's RCB vs CSK was a heart-stopper). Less said about Mr.Biswas's chronic pessimism, better it is. What is the problem, anyone? KP was right, jealousy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I think Soutik has touched on a number of the key reasons
    Too many games
    Uninspiring performances by Indian nationals
    Confused loyalties

    I wonder will it go the same way as 3D cinema...a novelty and fun at first but dismissed when it fails to showcase the best the art has to offer

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I have watched a few IPL matches this season and absolutely loved it! Note sure why so much negative media coverage - are we English a bit jealous as Kevin Peterson pointed out the other day?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Mr. Biswas is one of the most pessimistic reporter I have ever known. This is just a knee jerk reaction and short sighted report. Why don't you wait until the end of the tournament and judge based on that. If you see stadiums they are attended more often above 25000 mark. Which shows that there is lot of interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Twenty20 is not for everyone...
    A game yesterday between CSK and RCB - over 410 runs and thriteen wickets in a 3 hour period - breathtaking

    I still think that there can be a place for T20 and test cricket to both flourish by not playing so much of each around the world, causing too many clashes/conflicts with schedules, player burnouts and commercialisation

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I'm very surprised at myself but I do agree with Ramilas1 at #2. This is being played in the largest cricket market in the world and a lot will be turned off by the failure of Indian cricket to perform recently, but Ramilas1 has said it exactly as it is: reality is harsh. The IPL is facing this hard truth and the instant culture of T20 is not as exciting as Test Matches.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I absolutely love the IPL, its brilliant fun. Yesterday we had four wickets and a six off one over by Doug Bollinger, whilst Morkel made 28 runs off the penultimate over of CSK's innings to set up a final shot 4 for victory, amazing stuff!
    I do worry about the impact on test cricket however, was a real shame to not get a 3 match Sri Lanka series because of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Cricket's overlords, particularly in India, need to be careful about overkill because consumers are slowly becoming pickier than initially thought capable of. There is a parallel with Bollywood: sub-standard fare, once swallowed up blindly by the masses, is not as easily tolerated now. IPL, with its influx of "second-rate" players, as Kevin Pietersen remarked the other day, faces the same risk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Oh, for goodness sakes, the media hyped the 'Crash,Boom,Bang!' of T20 as the death knell to every other form of cricket and even an endangerment to life as we know it!

    Only the media themselves, and the seriously deluded, believed that.

    So now that normality has reared it's unwanted head you're putting the first nails in a coffin yet to be built .... GET A LIFE and write something worthwhile!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Good. The IPL is the biggest threat to Test cricket in my life time (I wasn't alive when Paker got people to sign up to World Series Cricket).

    If Test cricket dies, the world's appetite for the other forms would not last long.


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