Shruti Chakraborty has a great piece in the WSJ about a new trend in Indian cricket: corporate boxes at cricket stadiums. Here’s how they work:
Eden Gardens — the home ground of the Indian Premier League team Kolkata Knight Riders – recently, more than doubled its corporate boxes to 32 from 12, previously.
The Cricket Association of Bengal, which owns the stadium, auctioned 10-year leases on the boxes for national and international cricket tournaments. The cost can go up to seven million rupees ($158,445) per box for the entire period.
Some stadiums like Mumbai’s Wankhede, which hosted the cricket World Cup final, charge a lot more. Each of the 57 boxes at that stadium were auctioned for up to 55 million rupees ($1.25 million) for a 10-year contract, the price of 24 of these boxes included that of the annual league games.
Just pause there: 57 x $1.25 million. OK. Done the math? So, companies buy a 10-year lease, and then use the boxes to wine and dine clients (or offer exclusive passes to IPL-after parties that may feature players snuggling with cheerleaders). During the IPL, franchises pay a fee to local cricket associations and then lease out the boxes on their own (and make a substantial sum; the Delhi Daredevils apparently take home 15% of their revenue this way).
How should we feel about this development? The case for stadium egalitarianism is complicated at best — there have always been the good seats, and the bad (cheap) seats. I understand the reasoning, and I’m willing to tolerate it in moderation. But it’s illuminating that many corporate and franchise sources did not want to talk openly about the subject with Chakraborty. Their intuitive embarrassment connects to a larger sense in India (much-debated) that the recent growth is largely benefiting the wealthy, while those below — though improving — aren’t doing as well as fast. (Economists, correct me I’m wrong.)
Let me say one last thing on this topic. Before the IPL, cricket broadcasters showed fleeting shots of stadium spectators for two reasons: 1) they amplified the prevailing emotion connected to the game’s events (e.g., a boundary produces mass elation; a wicket = depression). 2) The images created a feeling of togetherness for the TV audience across the country (i.e., even though I sit alone in my room watching the game, I feel connected to a larger, common feeling).
Now, however, things have changed. Now, we see more cheerleaders and various groups of celebrities (Bollywood stars, politicos, franchise owners). The mirror has changed. Instead of experiencing solidarity (I-you-us-we watch cricket together), we now see reinforced images of a vertical relationship (I-look-down-to-you). It’s a subtle but effective way to reduce and exclude the cricket spectator — at best, we are all harmless practitioners of voyeurism. At worst, we are at the bottom of the heap, looking upwards for pleasure, cheap thrills and hegemony.