Friday, June 8, 2012

Of Artists and Entrepreneurs

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In discussing Test cricket, I often hear about the inability to attract enough fans. And therefore by some inference that it shouldn't be played at all because it requires "investment". However, many cricketers themselves consider test cricket as the highest form of cricketing art. Why then is there this raging debate? No one asked Claude Monet to paint. He did and some folks loved his paintings and paid millions for it. If everything were to be percieved through the lens of popularity and a customer centric view, then Monet would have been asked to paint homes and potraits. But he didn't. He went "rogue" and it was ok. This is art.

When cricket was first played, I doubt if people were thinking about how many people would watch it. I also doubt if it anyone was thinking about anything else except having fun. But as sports grow they acquire a life of their own. Commercialization of sport has brought "entertainment" to fans. Unlike the US sporting tradition, where commerce and loftier goals are only conveniently mixed, Cricket is trying an experiment where unpaid board members seemingly espousing loftier goals are trying to run the sport with a commercial interest at heart.

Basketball and football in America as run by the NBA and NFL are commercial entertainment activities. They are not non-profits or social welfare organizations. So they are driven by the same interests that drive any entrepreneurial venture. An employer-emplyee relationship exists between the "owners" and "players". Notice that the clubs have to permit players to participate in the Olympics. How often have tennis players from the US and other western nations not played Davis cup? Several. This would be sacrilege for Indians.

So why is everyone concerned about attracting crowds to games? So what if a game is played to empty stadia? Should they not be played at all? Why should formats be tinkered with and rules be constantly updated to make the sport more spectator friendly? Would an artist stop painting if he thought that no one would buy his works?

The answer is that the commercialization of sport has led to this ever lasting greed for more spectators, and more profit. But should profit be the motive for cricket. Should the fan base be "grown"? When Cricinfo was first started, was profit the motive? Those that painstakingly put stats and archives together didn't think for a second that they were going to grow the "fan" base.

I know that there is no going back. But if I were to appeal to the "powers-that-be" that they should let the fans take care of their entertainment needs and that cricket should be left alone, what would I be met with? I'll bet it'll be an incredulous stare to start with and a recommendation to visit a therapist next.

Let test cricket be played, even if to empty stands. Let ODI cricket be played though only in context. Let T20 be played to initiate the raw talent to high level sport. But let's not play all these to "attract" fans. Let's play all these so that players have fun and fans have fun watching awesome sporting feats individual and team. Let's not manufacture any more entertainment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree. Actually, last year during the WI vs Ind series in India, there were hardly any crowds, especially at Eden Gardens. Even the cricketers were surprised, but they still managed to play a great match and win the Test match. I believe that cricketers should do their best on the field, regardless of the crowd size. After all, that's why we have technology. LOL.