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 Two top sponsors have withdrawn.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, Delhi correspondent Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this
    -2

    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
    -2

    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
    -2

    Comment number 31.

    IPL is pure business and I don't see any game in it!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 19.

    I'm going to say it, the matches are too long (Gasp) and the season is too short (to call it a league). It clearly has an identity crisis. Limit games to 2 hours (like a grand prix or soccer) to make it easier to watch and if it is a league have a season for 3/4 of the year - else call it different.

    If there is going to be expensive stars get more Auz, WI and Eng players in

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 26.

    As someone else said with no real affiliation for any team it gets a bit samey after a while. Especially with two teams wearing very similar kits the other day. If going to wear the same kit might as well go with traditional white

    Some of the matches you can see how it's going to go after just few overs of 2nd teams innings. That said already been two close matches that I've really enjoyed.

 

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