Mumbai: As the sun set on India’s ICC World T20 campaign at Wankhede on Thursday night I happened to be one of those ‘privileged’ Mumbai citizens, courtesy a friend, who was able to witness a glorious West Indies batting performance. There is a reason why I use the word ‘privilege’.
Like countless other passionate fans, I always try to be at the stadium, soaking up the atmosphere and experiencing the nuances of the game first-hand instead of watching it in telly.
Sehwag’s 293 against Sri Lanka in 2009, Kevin Pietersen’s 186 in a match in 2012 which England won by 10 wickets, Sachin Tendulkar’s last international match are all occasions I have been witness to.
As you would’ve noticed, 2 April, 2011, the day India lifted the ODI World Cup at home in Wankhede, is missing from my list. As are all the games involving the Men in Blue — the T20Is and the ODIs.
I missed South Africa’s 438, the World Cup final. No, I am not a puritan who believes Test cricket is the only cricket. Rather, as a middle class salaried fan I would give my right arm and some for a ticket to cheer Team India on in ODIs or T20Is too.
And I write on behalf of all those who were absent on Thursday night not because they wanted to give India’s World T20 semi-final clash against West Indies a miss but because they were priced out of the occasion.
As the usual chants and the ‘Wankhede Wave’ barely lasted 10 seconds, this became a crowd I could no longer relate to. No ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’ when the team is in trouble. No cried of ‘Anushka Sharma’ when Virat Kohli hits a six. It was rather depressing when in the early overs the crowd was dancing to more to the Bollywood tunes than the game itself.
As a trained economist working on policy design, I try to look at it in an institutional framework. The basic question is, whether short run profit maximization from cricket is the optimal outcome financially or otherwise?
If the answer to the above question is yes, many economists including yours truly would suggest opting for better price models in tickets that can be adopted to exploit the excess consumer surplus.
For example, tickets are unavailable for fans willing to pay the “correct price” but freely available in black market at 5-10 times of the already expensive printed price. In that case, auctioning the tickets to the highest bidder may lead to better returns. This would lead to revenue maximization as well as elimination of the black market.
But if our answer to the above question is ‘no’ and we believe that there is a limit to which such short term financial windfalls can be harvested, then we have to look at more sustainable models of revenue generation and make some systemic changes. We may look at how the world goes about doing this, what are the best global practices that we can adopt.
First, the system of clubs hogging the majority of tickets should be stopped. This reduces the number of tickets available to the common fan, thus creating an artificial scarcity. What is worse is that the cheap tickets that club members receive always find their way to the black market.
Thus it’s just a way for majority of club members to earn a quick buck. Some even waste them away! And in some cases, ministers and their minions corner a sizable portion of free tickets, shrinking further the pool for common man, as Sanjay Sawant says in a report in Firstpost.
These hurt revenue maximization and blatantly ignore the ‘one price’ principle.
Inexplicably, the BCCI has not yet used technology to ensure non transferability of tickets — maybe with a provision to return them at a printed price. In a day and age where even the Indian Railways has managed to make tickets non transferable, it’s quite unbelievable that the BCCI, despite adopting barcodes for entry and QR codes for booking, has not found it necessary to have ID proofing.
This will deter people who book tickets for hoarding.
The other suggestion is to have season passes for regular fans. These can be identified once you have non transferable tickets as suggested above. These season-ticket holders are usually given the best stand as a reward for their loyalty.
For the main issue of pricing, there are two models. England adopts the first strategy of maximizing short run revenue and in Germany, fans themselves are the shareholders and the clubs have implemented an accessible pricing policy. So much so that the costliest tickets for German Bundesliga games are still cheaper than what I had to pay to watch India at Wankhede. This is not adjusting for purchasing power.
Lower prices will eventually give better returns over a longer term. As it is the share of entry receipts in total revenue is miniscule looking at the billions of dollars that sports earn these days from various multimedia rights and merchandise. For this, the BCCI should also provide state associations a share of that pie and not make them solely dependent on gate receipts, which I am told is the current system.
This will lead to the local fan getting the due importance.
Finally any sport is as good as its fans. Watching a game at the stadium is worth it because of passionate crowds. Ticket prices should make it easier for the average middle-class kid to go to the stadium. As VVS Laxman proclaimed a few years ago, it was a visit to the stadium where it all began for him. May be the next Laxman will not be able to enter the stadium at all!
Fans are the heart and soul of the sport and I believe it is of vital importance that they are not distanced from it.
Cricket has had a monopoly over fans with virtually no competition but with the Pro Kabaddi League having to hold two seasons per year based on viewer demand, the Indian Super League going great guns and Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowing to make the Under 17 FIFA World Cup a grand success next year, that may change.
Now it is our decision whether we follow our former colonial masters England where most local fans cannot afford going to stadium for the big games or we follow Germany, the world champions, who have the highest decibel levels at Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund. I would go with the latter.