Category Archives: Coverage

Did STAR’s Cricket Bid Make Sense?

To follow up on my previous post, here’s an excerpt from FirstPost Business praising STAR’s move:

The bedrock of STAR’s bet (and indeed, MSM’s) is the change in the revenue pie for television in India thanks to the TRAI recommendations on digitisation…In such an environment, where the channel has the ability to charge every viewer who wants to access the channel, there is an immediate drop in the pressure to sell advertising. Cricket will, for the foreseeable future, be ‘premium’ content that subscribers will pay for. To illustrate the change, let’s take this: “The number of direct-to-home (DTH) subscribers witnessed a growth of 62 percent in 2010-11,” says research firm ICRA. Currently, for example, on TATA Sky, STAR Sports and ESPN charge Rs 29 per subscriber per month, STAR Cricket Rs. 25. The growth that ICRA reported, 62 percent, are all new revenue targets for  STAR India – and the more digital India gets, the more revenue STAR could target. If subscribers do not pay, they do not watch – as simple as that. In the analog system, a subscriber might have paid – and STAR might have received nothing from him, with the cable operator pocketing the subscription. In the digital regime, this is impossible.

I hadn’t even thought about cable subscription fees (rather naively, in retrospect). If equality is your overriding concern, you should be worried by this model, since it essentially carves up India’s cricket fan base into those who can afford to pay for cable, and those who can’t. [The English Cricket Board has been dealing with this debate for years; see this article for an insightful summary of both sides.] Then again, I wonder what percentage of India’s cricket fans follow the game through the television — for all our talk about this medium changing the game, perhaps more still follow through radio/print/mobile sources, rather than shell out the monthly fee?

 

Is There An Indian Cricket Bubble?

Sorry for the lack of posting; was away on vacation with the family. During the trip, I had an interesting conversation with my father about the IPL and the value of cricket. Our question was: How do you begin to attach a dollar figure to an obsession like cricket? It’s one thing to say, as many (annoyingly) do, that cricket is a religion in India. But is it also a lucrative one? If it is an obsession, are people making rational, properly modeled decisions, or ones based purely on sentiment and personal attachment?

At its heart, this question stems from a dispute between disciplines: economists like to think that buyers and sellers meet in a marketplace and are motivated purely by precise definitions of their own utility and prices (which are themselves decided by supply and demand). Sociologists and social psychologists, on the other hand, argue that societal norms have a lot to do with prices — why do teachers earn so little compared to finance executives? Why don’t we pay home care workers a living wage in America (hint: they tend to be poor, black and immigrants)? To apply this to cricket, my father thinks, for example, that Vijay Mallya invested in a franchise simply because of its star power, not because it will make any money, and that others invested as favors to Bollywood stars like Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty. In other words, social networks, not rational pricing, proved decisive.

Of course, economists do recognize that bubbles exist, but they are notoriously unable to predict them with any accuracy. When is an investment in a particular sector a sound strategy reflecting accurate valuation, and when is it part of a tidal wave of “irrational exuberance”? Take this piece of dialogue with an executive from STAR, which just purchased the rights to broadcast Indian cricket for $750 million:

You are paying 40-odd crore per match. The bid almost defies the market situation currently. What did you have in mind when you worked out the figure?

Given the viewership that cricket has in this country we feel that the value that we have attributed to it [each match] justifies itself. Our confidence comes from the popularity of cricket. And we think as the reach of media grows in this country, the penetration and popularity will automatically grow.

This reasoning doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, right? Yes, cricket is popular, but why do you think its popularity is worth $750 million over six years? Economics blogger Matt Yglesias asked a similar question about SuperBowl ads, which cost $4 million for 30 seconds of airtime. Here’s why he didn’t think it was worth companies’ money:

But are the ads really worth it? I’ll admit to being skeptical. The sale of Super Bowl ad time is essentially a kind of auction, a scenario plagued by what economists call the “winner’s curse.” We start with the basic assumption that people know more or less what they’re doing with their money, but aren’t quite infallible. If that’s right, then auctions should be won by whoever most overestimates the value of whatever’s up for bid. This is one reason why the annals of free-agent signings in most sports appear to be filled with blunders. In reality, most GMs are probably doing a good job of not offering players more money than they’re worth. The problem is that each player ends up signing with the team that most overestimates his value. The Super Bowl could be a similar story. Whichever firms’ executives happen to guess worst about the value of a Super Bowl ad are the ones most likely to buy them.

What do you think — did STAR overpay, or is it a worthwhile investment?

The Truman Show Comes To Cricket

There was a moment during India’s run chase against Pakistan that stood out for me (for the wrong reasons): the producers decided they needed to add a little perspective to the Kohli and Co’s frantic scoring, so they showed a slow-motion shot of Kohli and Rohit Sharma bumping fists and laughing. Sunil Gavaskar says something like, “I think we are seeing a glimpse of India’s batting future here.” Then, the camera showed a fluttering Indian flag somewhere in the stadium. As production goes, not bad — but it reminded me of that moment in The Truman Show where a producer manipulates the script and camera shots to show Jim Carrey’s character in a flattering light for his “hero shot.”

It’s hard for me just yet to see Sharma or Kohli fill in the shoes of Dravid or Tendulkar (or Kallis or Ponting). Part of the problem is that it’s difficult to imagine 20-something brats as statesmen, a label that you only receive (it seems) when you hit the early to mid-thirties. Then again, Kevin Pietersen has been playing for nearly a decade now, and I still can’t shake off his ridiculous early mohawk-like haircut from the Oval, 2005. This isn’t to knock any of these athletes — they’re all phenomenally talented. But worthy of a Gavaskar-produced tribute and an ode to India’s future? To me, Dravid and Co. were the first-generation stalwarts who established a dynasty and saw it flourish; these guys seem like the second-generation floozies who may just throw away the inheritance for a Ferrari.

India And Australia Don’t Really Hate Each Other

When the IPL first began, I wrote about the mercenary themes that dominated many of the ads (e.g., the Kolkata Knight Riders marching around in funny military-cum-cricket gear trash talking everybody else). I’m back in Bombay for holidays and I’ve noticed a similar thread for India-Australia series (dubbed “agneepath” by Star Cricket).

There are the ads featuring Australian players warning Indians to watch out for the thunder down under (“When it’s winter over there, it’s summer down here.”). There’s the comically aggressive and ludicrous ad showing Hrithick Roshan (Bollywood star) snarling at a white man for about 30 seconds before running into him in a ball of fire (someone, please make a GIF out of that!). When James Pattinson accidentally brushed Virender Sehwag on Day 2, a harmless moment that mattered little to everyone involved received a front page box in at least one Indian English daily.

But why all the macho talk? The spectacle of cable television has sadly arrived in India, a relatively young democracy that shouldn’t have to add Fox News-style partisanship to its long list of political challenges (having watched 2 days of full Lokpal Bill coverage, my despair only deepens). I worry that broadcasters think the flashy stuff — bowlers’ celebrations; sledging; batsmen running around when they reach centuries — matters just as much as the grist of cricket (balls going past bats). Which is why I prefer print, people! Buy a newspaper today!

What Happens When A Cricket Fan Grows Up?

Was just reading Dileep Preemachandran’s Wisden India speech when I stopped at this passage:

My second question is this: What makes a sport? The players are at the centre of the sporting universe, because they’re the ones that make our dreams reality. The other indispensable element is the fan. Everyone else, whether it’s the administrators or the media, gets something out of sport. Those that invest financially usually get their rewards. But what of emotional investment?

I came across a couple of boys in Nagpur just before the India-South Africa World Cup game. They’d travelled 10 hours by train in an unreserved compartment to get there. They had no hotel room. They had freshened up and had a quick bite at the railway station and once the match was over, they had to head back to Mumbai the same way.

Passion is the most abused word in sport. But travel around India when cricket is played, and you can still feel it…people who get nothing tangible from the game, but give so much of themselves to it.

My parents tell me that when I was a child, they could predict my mood based on the Indian team’s scorecard. I don’t feel like that anymore (well, not usually), so Dileep’s passage got me thinking: a) What happens to a cricket fan as he ages? How does his childlike passion for the game change? b) Can a cricket writer be a critic and a spectator at the same time? c) Does watching more cricket deaden the rush of victory (or pain of defeat)? Is it like a drug that fights tolerance, or a good music album that yields more pleasure with every extra listen?

I ask all this because of all the comments made during India’s World Cup run this year, Sanjay Manjrekar’s comments in Bangladesh still stick out for me. During the opening ceremony (in Dhaka), he said the atmosphere reminded him of India in the 1990s (I’m sure the Bryan Adams soundtrack helped). The Bangladeshis seemed so much more innocent, he reported, compared to Indian fans. Is this because cricket coverage has grown so much more sophisticated (what with Hawkeye and replays and what not?) that the Indian cricket child has grown into a cricket management consultant? Or has blogging turned us all into detached cricket analysts, always eager to step back from the emotions caused by the game and ask, “Why do I feel this way? What explains my reaction here?” Or is it all this money, these contracts, the board politics — the stuff of adults? Maybe the simple fact of success — the Test wins, the World Cup, the T20 World Cup — maybe just victory ushers in maturity and its own brand of angst?

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the game. I obviously do. And I still feel like a child-fan during the best moments (like, say, VVS + Ishant against Aus.). But more often than not, I think more about the commentary and the strategy. I’ve rarely felt like hopping in a stand, the way many spectators in India do, when a boundary has been struck, or holding my head stunned when a wicket falls. “Oh, that magic feeling…Oh, where’d it go?

Aaron Sorkin Still Loves Cricket

Another installment in my continuing series on cricket citations from Aaron Sorkin’s oeuvre (see here and here). If you watch the finale of season 1 (“What Kind of Day Has It Been“), you’ll hear President Bartlett try to decide between a women’s softball game and a cricket match between Bermuda and Scotland. (Question: Does the POTUS have access to a special sports channel that puts the most obscure events on-air? First, which American TV channel shows cricket, and second, why would this channel air a match between Bermuda and freaking Scotland?) Bartlett then says he’d rather watch the softball game because “bright” as he may be (he has a Nobel prize in economics), every time someone tries to explain cricket to him, he wants to smash a teapot.

From the (admittedly small) sample we’ve accumulated on cricket sightings from Sorkin, we can identify some overall themes: a) Cricket is really “complicated,” and it’s funny how complicated it is; b) Precisely because it is so complicated, it appeals on a cerebral level (all Sorkin characters are smart and obsessive, so they should like cricket if it’s complicated); c) There’s that whole Anglophilia thing going for it (which appeals to the privileged class most Sorkin characters belong to); and d) Even though perhaps a billion people know and like cricket, it is still obscure in Sorkin’s world (i.e., America). The game thus becomes another piece of trivia that characters use incessantly as they try to understand (and master) a world that is always too big and unknowable for them. (Two unrelated examples from this episode: an extended discussion about how a space shuttle’s doors open and close, and a musing about why the eagle on the national seal faces one way and not the other.)

Prematurely Judging The Guardian’s World Cricket Forum

Earlier this month, The Guardian (home to some of my favorite cricket writers) launched the World Cricket Forum, a weekly blog that aims to catalog and discuss cricket around the world. It seems the writers at the newspaper suddenly realized that people outside England (and Australia) apparently play and even like to talk about cricket. Anyway, here’s the structure:

 This is intended to be a blog that is global in nature and weekly in output. It will consist of a short themed piece above the line, perhaps outlining the coming week, and then daily updated news stories intended as a catalyst for discussion. Then, having lit the blue touchpaper, we shall retire (above the line although not below, of course) and watch the discussion flow. Imagine, as someone said recently on here, a civilised dinner party conversation rather than the bear pit of a political rally. It is a forum for cricket friends around the world, a meeting place if you will.

Which basically translates to, “We will post a bunch of links to stories we thought were interesting, and then you talk about it.” I understand that the Internet is best when it is interactive, but I really don’t have much faith in letting comment threads rule the roost. There are blogs that feature great conversations from great online communities, but most have trolls, assholes, and very opinionated fans sorely lacking in perspective. Reading through the comments at the Guardian, I see many worthwhile comments, but not enough to match a surf of crap.

This raises a bigger question: are cricket fans jerks? There are the Test elitists and snobs (e.g.: me); the stats people whom no one can understand (let alone argue with); the nationalists who think the Do or Die campaign is still on; the Australians…. Perhaps cricket’s complexity lends itself to a sort of practiced erudition, a trend encouraged by both blogs (Hear Me and My Opinions!) and television replays and commentary (Everbody can be an expert after hearing one talk on televisions). I’d much rather we all talked like Devanshu Mehta, who sifted through volumes of data on J. Trott’s career and ended on this humble note:

That is what makes him so interesting– the most popular metrics used to judge a cricketer fail when judging Jonathan Trott. Batting average, strike rate, gross runs, 100s, 50s, are an inadequate set. Those of us who pay attention to numbers have known about the inadequacy of traditional statistics, but Jonathan Trott personifies this struggle. Any time anyone says, what’s wrong with traditional stats? We can say, “Jonathan Trott,” and smile knowingly.

New Cricket Blogs

It seems like the model du jour is to host multiple bloggers on one cricket website. Here’s (former Mumbai middle school classmate) Nikhil Puri and (favorite blogger) Devanshu Mehta’s latest respective efforts at Third Man Cricket and The Sight Screen. I wish them both lots of luck in their new endeavors. More bloggers talking to each other is always to the good.

Hugh Laurie Really Likes Cricket

I just did some more digging for my previous post on the mysterious cricket ball in (American medical drama) House. Apparently, I’m not a devoted enough fan because there have been multiple cricket-sightings on the show. E.g. 1: A question from the book House, M.D.: The Official Guide to the Hit Medical Drama:

“QUESTION: Where did you get House’s cricket ball?”

[Art Department dude] MIKE CASEY: “I think I got it from India. I wanted to get a legitimate one. If it’s not any good, Hugh is going to bust me for it. He has a Magic 8 ball, tennis balls, a lawn bowling mall…”

E.g. 2: Hugh Laurie Gives ‘House’ Crew Members Lessons in Cricket Bowling, Hello! Magazine

After a break in filming occasioned by the writer’s strike, Hugh Laurie is back in character as House‘s maverick medic. And while his ability to portray an American character has earned him plaudits, the British star was proving he’s in no way forgotten his English roots this week as he explained to crew members the difference between the bowling technique used in cricket and that of baseball.

E.g. 3: The character House also has a cricket ball in his apartment. Which is a real commitment.

E.g. 4: This video:

Hugh Laurie (and House) Likes Cricket

Just a quick note on an unexpected cricket sighting: if you watch the latest House episode (“Charity Case”), you’ll catch a glimpse of House throwing around a cricket ball in his hand during a conversation with his underlings. (It’s a brand new cherry, too.)

I wonder if Hugh Laurie (the British comedian/singer/awesome guy who plays House) thought it’d be a great inside joke, or if he thinks his character House is actually an Anglophile, or if he’s behind a massive conspiracy to subliminally get Americans to enjoy the gentleman’s game.