If one were to construe that the Indian Premier League (IPL) is still evolving, still in its infancy, the inference won't be wide off the mark. Five years is a small period for any business, which the IPL indeed is, to run consistently. And when the gamut is as large as world cricket, sustainability in terms of popularity and following becomes a challenge. One tends to sway away from cricket talking about it, as the elements of marketing and advertising play a big role in Twenty20 entertainment. Leaving it at that, and to the respective experts, let's see what this year's IPL is throwing up, where it is gaining ground and where it is losing out.
Season five began on an iffy note. Franchises switched players, non-stop cricket was taking its toll, the club versus country debate was still on and topping the list was Team India's downhill curve. The Indian fans were thus tired, disappointed as well, and didn't commit themselves to the league's fifth season from the outset. They waited, watched and still haven't showed all their cards at the halfway mark.
Perhaps, the longevity of the IPL depends on its short span. The English Premier League, from where the IPL copied most of its blueprint, runs throughout the year. It is mostly played on weekends, with breaks in between for the players to play the Euro and World Cup qualifiers and international friendlies. In striking contrast, the IPL runs at a stretch for almost two months, matches are held every day and the space to breathe keeps getting shorter by the day. But to think that IPL can run throughout the year will be like flogging a dead horse.
Unlike footballers, the cricketers are committed to national duty for most part. After playing the home season, teams start touring as per the chockablock Future Tours Programme (FTP) prepared by the International Cricket Council. So what's the solution to not let the fans' interest in the IPL die down? A season half the duration of the current one? Well, that's exactly what the IPL needs to raise its sustainability quotient. Add to that a clear window in the FTP and even the credibility of the IPL will rise.
Where the IPL is doing well this season is luring people to the ground as we are witnessing jam-packed stadiums. But that can also be attributed to a wide-open field this season and the number of humdingers played so far. The indifferent form of Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore has turned it into a level-playing field, giving other teams a chance to increase their fan base with an improved performance.
But despite good attendance at the grounds, the BCCI needs to look at the ticket pricing in the wake of ever-increasing price-rise. At a time when the basic necessities are hurting pockets big time, tickets with a minimum price tag of Rs. 500 sounds a little too much. The board may not feel a need to change things when their gate earnings are not affected, but think about a commoner's fight for survival, and going to watch a match with the family becomes a challenge.
So the strings remain in the hands of the BCCI as the IPL is not an ICC event. Whether it's cutting down the season's duration or the ticket prices, BCCI has to call all the shots. But considering BCCI's penchant to smell money, even at the cost of the national team's downfall, it's hard to see them incorporating these changes and giving the fans a reason to smile, who continue to live in hope.