It was Ireland taking on the West Indies at the R Premadasa in Colombo. The “Everybody dance now,” track blared from the DJ’s console but the irony of the situation was that there was no ‘everybody’ in the stadium.
There were ‘somebody’, approximately a few hundred of them, for a game that had a team who seems to be ‘everybody’s’ favourite. But not everybody.
The two Sri Lanka games at Hambantota have seen packed houses, the India match against England had not had too many empty seats while the West Indies-Australia game also saw many going through the turnstiles.
That aside, the other matches have been conspicuous by the absence of audience.
For a cricket fan, a virtual knock-out game between a powerful and crowd-pleasing West Indies and qualifiers Ireland known to punch beyond their weight, it could haven’t been a better treat. And yet one is greeted by music being played to empty seats.
The worry stems from the fact that in the preceding Sri Lanka Premier League 2012, the crowds were equally appalling. The rationale offered at that point was that with the World T20 to follow, most fans were queuing up to save for it.
At this stage in the tournament, with the league stage over, it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. The optimist in me says that the Super Eights could offer a different story. The realist in me wants to believe in that optimist.
Being in Sri Lanka for the last one week or so, the hullabaloo associated with an event of the magnitude of a World Cup can be said to be missing too. People in the city, for instance, the stewards in the hotels or auto-drivers know that it is a big event but the interest-level metre hasn’t registered too much.
Unlike in the 2007 World Cup, the ticket prices cannot be blamed. Some of them are lowly priced as half a dollar while most decent seats available at an average price of $5. Could this then be the case of under-pricing that has pushed the fans away?
As ironical as it may sound, the charm associated with owning a World Cup ticket disappears with the grounds being thrown open for the fans. Say, the price of a much coveted phone was to drop 10 times its original value. After the initial rush to own that product, would the market demand to own that very phone still follow the same supply and demand curve that Economics teaches us at the most basic level – that is, a drastic increase in demand with this drastic fall in its price?
The other explanation for this indifference to the games is apathy towards the game. Again, this is very difficult to explain – after all, unlike the UK and Australia, and much like India, Sri Lanka isn’t a country that follows too many sports. Rugby to an extent, but even that is a distant second to cricket.
Weather could have had a part to play. Fans have been smart enough to look up at the weather before queuing to buy tickets on match-days. To spend a couple of hours to get to the stadium and then to watch the rain patter away isn’t the best of ways to enjoy an evening now, is it?
The ICC has been condemned for its scheduling of the tournament during the rains but there isn’t much that they can do once it was decided that the tournament was going to be played in Sri Lanka. Ask any local and they will tell you that these are unseasonal rains, sandwiched between the end of the previous season in May and the beginning of the next one later in October.
One way or the other, empty stadiums drain the juice out of a potentially exciting sporting event – one that World T20 definitely is. It may not have reached proportions of being a menace but it is no longer a minor irritant. And because it is so difficult to pin-point the reason behind this issue, it could well be time for the ICC to hire a consultant to delve deeper and then begin the process of rooting out the problem.
Or they can hope that the Super Eights attract more attention from the Sri Lankan public and from those touring from abroad.
Suneer Chowdhary is a Mumbai-based sports writer and can be contacted at email@example.com