By Ajeyo Basu
New Delhi–Debuting with a bang, the much-hyped Indian Premier League (IPL) has lost much of its sheen since. The match-fixing controversy coupled with an overdose of cricket has affected the IPL’s popularity to a significant extent.
The match-fixing controversy in the sixth edition in 2013, which implicated even the then Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chief N. Srinivasan, led to two-year suspensions of multiple IPL champions Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, the winners of the inaugural edition.
Although the BCCI has tried to stem the rot by bringing two new teams — Rising Pune Supergiants and Gujarat Lions — to replace the suspended franchises, the perception that match-fixing and corruption are rampant in the IPL has led to a marked reduction in public interest.
The match-fixing and corruption controversy forced Srinivasan to step down as BCCI president and prompted the Supreme Court to appoint a three-man committee headed by Justice R.M. Lodha (retired) to clean up the country’s cricket administration.
The Lodha committee has made several suggestions which, if implemented, may bring widespread changes in the way the game is administered in India. The BCCI and various state associations have however opposed many of the recommendations tooth and nail.
Added to this is the fact that too much cricket is being played these days. Once upon a time, Test series between international teams were few and far between. National teams met each other every few years and the matches were avidly followed by the fans.
But today’s scenario is totally different. Starting from late last year, the Indian team hosted South Africa in a Test and limited-overs series before touring Australia. They then won the Asia Cup in Bangladesh before hosting the World Twenty20.
The sheer overdose of cricket, with the IPL starting just six days after the World Twenty20 final on April 3 has led to what can be termed as ‘cricket fatigue’.
The decline of viewership and stadium attendance is not a new phenomenon in the IPL. The first couple of seasons were hugely popular, but then public interest started to gradually taper off.
The net result reflected in the annual report of the 2014 season. According to the report, the gross receipts in the 2014 IPL dropped to Rs.1,000 crore ($150 million) in comparison to Rs.1,194 crore the previous year. The profit dropped from Rs.334.86 crore in 2013 to Rs.126.17 crore in 2014.
The IPL saw a marginal increase in television viewership in 2015, but so far this year, both stadium attendance and tele-viewership have dipped.
Apart from all this, the 2016 IPL has been hit with a bunch of problems. The drought in Maharashtra presented a big problem with the Bombay High Court ordering the relocation of all matches to be held in the state after April 30.
The hue and cry in Maharashtra prompted a similar controversy in Rajasthan, with freelance journalist Mahesh Pareek filing a petition in the Rajasthan High Court questioning the hosting of IPL matches in Jaipur as the desert state suffered from a perennial shortage of water.
The Rajasthan High Court has served notice to the state government and the BCCI, asking them to respond by next week.
The mounting problems and controversies around the IPL has prompted the BCCI to think about holding the next edition of the cash-rich tournament outside India.
“BCCI has become a punching bag and the rise in public interest litigation in courts against IPL has led to huge losses. The board has suffered and teams have suffered due to cancellation of air tickets and hotel bookings. TV crews are being shifted around to new venues. Something or the other keeps coming up. It is becoming a logistical nightmare. We have to find a solution… the IPL’s governing council will meet soon to decide on the ideal venue for season 10,” BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur told reporters here earlier this week.
Despite these setbacks, the IPL’s popularity has not really diminished among the sponsors. There were at least 12 big corporate houses and consortium of industrialists bidding for the two new franchises of Pune and Gujarat.
Although beverage giant Pepsi terminated its contract as the title sponsor following the match-fixing and corruption scandal, Chinese smartphone manufacturer Vivo promptly stepped in to fill the gap.
Pepsi had bought the title sponsorship for five years for $71.77 million (Rs.396.8 crore), beginning in 2013. Vivo, on the other hand, bought the title rights for two years for an undisclosed amount.
The undiminished interest from sponsors is perhaps an indication that the IPL, despite all its problems and controversies, still commands some amount of public interest. But whether that continues to be the case in future will depend on whether the BCCI manages to clean up its house and rid the IPL of the taint of match-fixing. (IANS)