Cricket News

Time cricket fans realised their value

The European Super League went from a sensational announcement to a spectacular collapse within three days as football authorities protected their turf and government threatened legislation to quash the rogue tournament. What mattered most was that fans put their foot down, deciding they won’t allow clubs to run away with their sport. Stung by the strong pushback, club owners realised they’d scored an own goal. All six English clubs abandoned ESL citing the ‘strength of emotion’ against the proposal, issuing apologies to their fans. They promised to consult fans in future and Spurs went a step forward, announcing fan representation on the club board.

All this demonstrates the power of fans in football in Europe. It raises a question: what about fans in cricket, in India? Short answer: fans don’t count. Fans are crucial to cricket’s ecosystem, they drive its economy. It is on the strength of their support that BCCI earns almost 100 crore from every game played by India. Yet, fans are taken for granted, exploited and ignored.

There is a mismatch between theory and reality. Theory tells us a ‘fan first’ policy is in place whereas reality shows fans are last, zero priority. Their simple needs like ticket sales on time and basic facilities at match venue—parking, food, toilets, drinking water—receive scant attention. For the average spectator, not the entitled occupants of top-end hospitality enclosures, a stadium visit is an unpleasant experience.

The Supreme Court (SC) tried to correct this. The judges observed that cricket belonged to fans and explained they had to step in to clean up because it was in ‘national interest’. The BCCI constitution shaped by SC gave vast rights to fans, who could approach courts for redressal of grievances. These provisions and noble intentions though remain buried in documents. Fans still languish at the bottom of cricket’s value chain. Behind this apathy is the notion that fans are mere customers to be monetised, useful only for ensuring commercial deals are struck based on their continued loyalty.

IPL intensifies this thinking because its cricket-commerce construct requires a positive balance sheet. IPL is a business of brands and fans are supposed to supply the commercial oxygen the system needs to survive. Teams engage with fans at a superficial level (for chats, opinion polls, contests, sponsor meet and greet) but the hidden purpose is a commercial handshake. The bottom line is to persuade fans to buy tickets, team jerseys and merchandise.

Those wanting an equal partnership will have to wait. BCCI could make a start by taking small, confidence-boosting steps—sharing more information about player injuries, team selection, key appointments and its overall plans and priorities. It’s just about making fans feel wanted.

Going by past experience, this could be asking for too much. In IPL, team owners have no say, are not on its Governing Council and are not part of the decision-making process. An informal consultation process exists but it isn’t unusual for teams to find out what is happening from media reports.

While cricket administrators remain unshaken and unstirred, fans are rapidly evolving. The fans of yesterday who dutifully accepted whatever was served to them are being replaced by those who track cricket, analyse stats and play the game online. These active participants could soon start asking awkward questions, demanding answers.

Will Indian cricket fans have the clout of English football fans and influence key decisions? Unlikely, but progress is inevitable.

(The writer is a veteran sports administrator


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