“Public sentiment is everything. With it nothing can fail; against it nothing can succeed,” said Abraham Lincoln, statesman, lawyer and the 16th president of the United States of America. More than 160 years later, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) seems oblivious of what public sentiment really means. Arrogance, they say, is the outgrowth of prosperity. That perhaps is the reason why the affluent, and the most powerful cricket board in the world, doesn’t care two hoots for the media — the same media that helped it get rich.
Last week there were two major sports award functions in Mumbai, one of them organised by Sportstar magazine and the other by BCCI. The latter, I am told, was more of a ‘family’ affair where only the people who boss over Indian cricket, present-day cricketers, some former cricketers, sponsors and a few friends of the ‘family’ were invited. The sports media, sadly, wasn’t there.
What was appalling about the function, as my friend and prominent cricket writer Clayton Murzello mentioned in his weekly column, was the fact that while some star former cricketers sat twiddling their thumbs at the back of the hall, the BCCI bigwigs and the sponsors occupied the celebrity seats. Moreover, it is reported that all the awards, save the one given away by Anil Kumble, were presented by office-bearers of the board. The BCCI, it seems, has got a bit swollen-headed and has certainly got its priorities wrong.
One of the reasons cricket is the most popular sport in India is the backing it has received from the media over the last 30-odd years. With live telecasts on television and live streaming on digital media, the game has reached every nook of the country, thus increasing its potential as a marketing tool manifold. In recent years, social media has helped fans engage with the game on a minute-by-minute basis and has thus driven demand to watch it through the ceiling. It is the media bundle, however – broadcast, print, digital and social – that has brought the money pouring in into the BCCI coffers.
Notwithstanding the BCCI’s media policy, it would be imprudent on their part to treat each of those media platforms separately. If an analogy were to be drawn, the cricket board’s media reach in the country is like a tree in full bloom, in the middle of an Indian summer. The roots (print), the trunk (digital), the leaves (television) and the flowers and fruits (social) have worked together all these years to make cricket the game it is today. Sourav Ganguly and his men should be wary of chopping away the trunk and the roots from the board’s communication plans and not be enamoured by the colour of the leaves, the flowers and the fruits — the latter are ephemeral, literally.
The bloated, wealthy cricket board now owns bcci.tv, engages in social media interactions with fans, and manages its communications through in-house, qualified staff.
What the BCCI badly needs, though, is a public relations professional who will formulate a total communications plan for the cricket body and not just have people on its staff who can fire-fight when required.
In Peak Performance, authors Clive Gilson, Mike Pratt, Kevin Roberts and Ed Weymes discuss why 12 of the world’s best sports organisations keep on winning, year after year. ‘Sharing the dream’, according to the writers, is an important aspect for these organisations when it comes to attaining excellence. It is achieved through a process of internal and external communication. “The dream provides meaning and it sustains involvement. It is built on historic performances and reinforced by legends, histories and traditions, creating a legacy of dreams. Sharing the dream is achieved through storytelling, constant celebration of success, and the display of compelling tangible symbols of success,” they observe. “Inspirational players are first and foremost storytellers.”
Who do they share their dream with? The authors call them the seven Ps: principals (shareholders), players, purchasers (business partners), partners (sponsors), philanthropy recipients, public and the press (media). In most outstanding sports organisations, relationship building and dream sharing is imaginative and sustained. “By sharing the dream widely, peak performance organisations inspire confidence and belief in their own greatness. With them, clients buy more than a game, more than a product. They experience the aura of association,” the authors write.
The Indian media has played a crucial role in sharing the BCCI’s dream, especially at times when nothing was going right for them. Even the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) business plan is based on getting the best players in the world to participate, unstinted support from the media, and sponsorship. Why is the Indian cricket board then hell bent on destroying an edifice that has been built over the years with love and effort by a lot of dedicated and diligent people?
Other sports have, for donkey’s years, complained that cricket hogs the limelight in the Indian media. It is perhaps time for sports editors to now realise that cricket no longer needs that space and that it would make better sense to provide wider coverage to games like hockey, football, wrestling, boxing, shooting and even athletics. That would perhaps help games other than cricket to get better sponsorship. Indian cricket fans love the sport; their love for the game is legend. Not even the match-fixing allegations or the betting scandal and the Lodha Committee recommendations could dampen their spirits. A little less publicity given to the BCCI’s activities shouldn’t really affect cricket’s popularity.
Building credibility is hard work. It takes sweat, blood and tears to put together and just a few moments of madness to ruin. The BCCI is, I believe, mistaking visibility for credibility. If it plans to look after its own image building, then the big-shots of Indian cricket will do well to remember another Abraham Lincoln quote: “What kills the skunk is the publicity it gives itself”!
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, coach and sports administrator, he believes in calling a spade a spade
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