The ratings are out and officially it looks like Indiaâ€™s love affair with instant cricket is hitting rocky patches. Official figures indicate a more than 1TVR fall for first six matches of IPL over last IPL, and last IPL was not a very successful one.
There is something interesting at play here though, the 14 matches of IPL till now have been played to packed houses. A quick check from web sites that do ticketing indicate that future matches too may have packed houses, especially the ones involving Mumbai and Chennai teams. Yet the TV audience seems to be dwindling. For four years Bollywood postponed releases during IPL fearing a loss of audience, which does not seem to be the case this year. Houseful 2 was a big release and seems to have withstood the IPL pressure.
IPL 5 this year was flagged off in light of a really terrible year Indian cricket has had. So bad has this year been, that viewership for Indian matches has never been on the same level as what cricket historically has had. Also the advertisers have backed out of IPL this year, hedging their bets and seeing which way the league goes. Though the telecom companies have kept up with the tradition of launching new campaigns during IPL; Vodafone, Airtel, Idea and Aircel all have new campaigns on air.
Social media often can be a good way of accessing what is happening to any big event. Last year for IPL4, I dug into just Twitter data to understand issues with IPL. This is a quick analysis of what has happened for first dozen matches and how the viewers are reacting to IPL5. For instance, when RCB was playing against CSK, and CSK managed an amazing heist, the Twitter chatter was about everything but cricket.
What is it that is the issue with IPL ?
First the packaging of the event is coming off the seam. The opening ceremony was tacky, boring and lacked fizz. For most people it looked like a poor film award show that had been put up. It lacked the context of cricket, and became too much poorly conceived dance show. Even the supposed showstopper in Katy Perry turned out to a show buster. Twitter was abuzz with comments, with Omar Abdullahâ€™s tweet taking on Rajeev Shuklaâ€™s opening speech in no uncertain words. The opening salvo clearly didnâ€™t fire. Issues with packaging have also pervaded the playing arena. The cheerleaders who added extra spice to on field action have been dressed poorly and dance absurdly. Both have evoked more derision than liking. Possibly the TV coverage and the channel advertising of IPL has better packaging and greater dose of glamour then the event itself.
Second, the teams are not able to build a solid fan base. â€œWhole of Calcutta has stopped supporting KKR, they now support Pune Warriors as Dada plays for Puneâ€ said a comment on social media. This highlights the fact that teams are still struggling to build a following, and players are still dominant in drawing the fans. The entire IPL model is built on city vs. city rivalry. The initial editions of IPL did try to build on the rivalry aspect, but now with shifting of players, it seems to be fading away. Twitter following for all teams seem to be stuck at same numbers as they were during IPL 4. For instance MI has just 2577 followers, up by a few hundred from last year. Pune and Delhi were at forefront of building a community and they have remained the leaders, but the growth has been slow. Are the teams missing an opportunity of connecting with fans and building a ‘fandom’?
Third, IPL may be losing its expanded audience base. IPL was the silver bullet for cricket; it helped in expanding the ambit of viewers. IPL the event and Set Max the official broadcaster were able to rope in a fresh bunch of audience who otherwise did not watch or follow cricket. The quick pace and shorter format made it akin to watching a movie. It seems some of the new audience has drifted away from cricket after having sampled the action. As it may happen with any sales promotion, host of new audience walks away once the promotional scheme is over. May be this is the true level of viewership of IPL, may be this is where it will start to stabilize. It may be early days though.
Fourth, quality of cricket is an issue. For IPL as a brand to survive, ultimately it has to be the quality of cricket that it dishes out, and this year there has just been one match that can be called as a thrilling IPL style match. There has not been a major impact innings from an Indian player as yet (except one) and that too is adding to the jadedness of IPL and cricket both. The Aussies or South Africans or West Indians may do very well at IPL, but itâ€™s the Indian players who pull in the eye balls.
Eventually the fate of IPL 5 will be in the hands of major Indian players. Till then it will remain as one more programme that comes at 9 PM every day.