Cricket

Traditional media awaits paradigm shift as sports move towards direct fan engagement

  • Vedam Jaishankar
  • April 8th, 2021
  • 13:06:43 IST

Let me start with Ravichandran Ashwin’s enormously endearing ‘Let me tell a Kutti Story’, which along with Virat Kohli and legendary Pep Guardiola’s fascinating discussion took passionate sports fans by storm during the COVID pandemic.

What Ashwin and the brand behind Kohli and Guardiola’s remarkable efforts did was to deftly bypass traditional mediums of communication and establish a direct link with fans. In the process, they initiated a paradigm shift that is certain to have far-reaching consequences for media, fans, brands, and sport itself.

Sure, there were others too who took fan engagement directly to their audience. But the sort of targeted address that Ashwin and Kohli-Guardiola pulled off was nothing short of a tectonic shift.

Nothing magnifies this approach more forcefully than IPL 2021 that unfolds on 9 April. It has not only underlined that last year’s direct fan engagement was not a one-off phenomenon, but also shown that technology has made traditional mediums of engagement redundant or at least less relevant in the emerging world order.

The big leap forward is probably due to the fact that the IPL is already a massive brand and commands a fan following like few others. It has seriously disrupted world cricket, its pecking order, and schedule and is now taking a giant step towards directly addressing fans and followers. In the process, the IPL has marginalised the media or made it almost irrelevant.

The league's belligerent move away from print and electronic media might be a bigger disruption than it initially seemed. Last year, the IPL Governing Council did not accredit journalists when it was forced by COVID protocols prevailing in India to shift the event to UAE. Even most of the television commentators were forced to work from a hotel in Mumbai.

The role of traditional media may undergo a sea change in post-COVID world. File image.

The role of traditional media may undergo a sea change in post-COVID world. File image.

This year too, although IPL 2021 will be held in India, no print journalist has been accredited. Most of the television commentators too would have to work from the studio’s bubble set up in a Mumbai hotel.

Interestingly, there would not be much of an opposition if this were to become the working model in the near future too. Of course, some journalists would be unhappy, but newspapers, websites, and television channel owners on the lookout for new revenue streams and ways and means to maintain a lean and nimble workforce may not mind if these moves contributed positively to their bottom lines.

The old practice of sending cricket journalists to the four corners of the world to cover the game and do features, interviews and thereby spend a fortune on expensive flight tickets, boarding, lodging, per diem, etc may be a thing of the past. Interviews over the phone, zoom, and the like which could be done at a fraction of the cost could well be a standard operating procedure in the days to come.

Host associations too would be delighted at the way things are shaping up. Their media boxes could be a lot more compact, thereby freeing prime space for premium ticketed spectators as and when spectators are allowed.

What would all these lead to in the short and long run? A mind-boggling targeted focus on fans and consumers really.

For one, player agents, brands, event managers, and others would look at fans’ attention as a resource, thereby lending it infinite importance. (Information overload has paradoxically resulted in shorter attention span worldwide whether in reading books or watching long movies.)

There is no doubt that poverty of attention is an issue. Thus, a captive audience (like IPL T20 fans, for instance) is an invaluable resource. However, caution must be taken to ensure that the wealth of information is filtered efficiently in order that the finite attention resource is not wasted.

Thus, information has to be tailored to gain maximum attention. Paucity of attention can be only because of a design flaw or a flaw in the flow of information.

Thus, to maximise the resource of attention, all information needs to be personalised, authentic, and suitably interpreted. Above all, there must be easy accessibility (whenever, wherever). The biggest danger would be pollution of information (spam, etc) which is why human ingenuity and feel would be as important as artificial intelligence.

The IPL is in a position to provide all these. It would have unencumbered access to fans’ attention even in these early days and would thus be on the cusp of triggering a massive media disruption. There is little doubt that COVID has been a catalyst in this disruption and that the olden days’ via media between event/brand/player and fan/consumer is on a very shaky wicket. Watch this space.

Vedam Jaishankar is Author, Journalist, Columnist who also imparts Sports Management lessons to Business Management students.

Updated Date: April 08, 2021 13:06:43 IST

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