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Soccer beats cricket on the Indian TV pitch.
by Gulu Ezekiel
Jun 24, 2006
The anti-cricket brigade in India is currently celebrating the much-trumpeted findings of a sports TV channel that their ratings for the World Cup soccer in Germany has far outstripped that of their rival channel which is telecasting India’'s rather dismal tour of the West Indies.

There are some fairly obvious reasons for this trend that to me however looks like a one-off phenomenon.

First and foremost, the timings of the two events are in stark contrast. The World Cup in the group stages had matches being telecast at 6.30 p.m. (prime time) and then at 12.30 a.m. which meant that many could stay awake at least till half-time of the second match.

Watching cricket from the West Indies has always posed a problem for Indian fans. The matches start at 7.30 p.m. and often go past 3.30 a.m.

This situation may be even direr during the World Cup cricket to be staged in the Caribbean for the first time from next March. With all matches slated to be day/night affairs, the starts will be midnight or later. It will take a very hardy fan indeed to be able to stay up through the night and into the time of day when he normally gets ready to leave for office.

One can therefore expect that viewership figures not just in India but the whole of Asia, —the region that drives cricket revenue as all know by now, —to be pretty low during the World Cup.

The other big factor weighing in favour of the World Cup soccer this time around is the low standard of cricket being played by both the West Indies and India in the current tour.

This was true during the ODI series as well in which India were trounced 4-1, again turning away viewers from the ongoing Test series. Sachin Tendulkar'’s absence, —apart from his ubiquitous presence during the infuriating ad breaks, —also has to be factored in.

The football on the other hand has been pretty entertaining with lots of goals and excitement and with the media, —TV and print, —going the whole hog in the run-up, the Indian public has been swept away in a wave of soccer mania.

Perhaps if the Indian bowlers had got that elusive last wicket in the first Test and if the fourth day’'s play had not been washed out in the second, plenty more interest would have been generated. WICB, which had a cumulative loss of $14 million at the end of 2005, needs both the weather and the game to sparkle in order to sustain the interest of the Indian audience.

Ironically, the channel which has bagged the football rights this time was the pioneering 24-hours sports channel in India and for years enjoyed a monopoly when it came to Indian cricket till it’s place was usurped by a bunch of upstart channels.

While all these channels have always made a beeline for the rights to telecast the Indian cricket team’s matches, there are lessons to be learnt from the current scenario.

In that sense what is happening right now on Indian television is not a bad thing at all. It might teach a lesson or two as well to those who run Indian cricket that too much of a good thing can sometimes backfire.

More Views by Gulu Ezekiel
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