Chocolate and Gold Coins

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Tendulkar Effect on Indian Cricket

In the United States on any Saturday in the summer months, there will be 14 Major League Baseball (MLB) stadiums that will be filled to almost capacity – around 50,000 paying customers. The teams will draw fans from a wide region. Sometimes people will take the family 300 or more miles for a weekend trip that includes watching several ball games. In most cases, there was a minor league team close by that was playing the same game of baseball and the stadium was empty. Why would these fans drive 300 miles, pay a whole lot more, just to sit in nose-bleed seats next to some 500 pound obnoxious slob? Why not just go see the local team?

A similar story plays out in India, but its much more extreme. In the United States, there might be more than 1000 MLB baseball games per year. In India, there are likely to be only a dozen major cricket matches in a year. For those games, the stadiums will be packed with as many as 100,000 fans. However, there are hundreds of domestic cricket matches played every year and the stadiums will be nearly empty. With so many people in India, the only opportunity that most of them will ever see a cricket match live is to watch a domestic cricket match, but nobody cares about domestic cricket, they only want to watch the 11-member national cricket team. Consequently, the only cricket players that make any serious money are the members of the national team and maybe a few substitutes.

Why is it that people will pay so much to see the superstars play the game and nothing to see the same game played at a very high level by relative unknowns? The answer is the Tendulkar effect. Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest cricket player in Indian cricket history. He is not the greatest because he has scored more runs than anyone or scored more centuries or won more matches or anything like that. He is the greatest primarily because he earns so very much more money than any cricket player ever did. The enormous amount of money he makes creates enormous amount of “buzz”about him, the national cricket team, and cricket in general. People watch sport to see millionaires run around and sweat. The Tendulkar effect in cricket is the same as the Tiger Woods effect in golf, the Michael Jordan effect in basketball, and the Babe Ruth effect in baseball.

The curious thing about sport in general is that people are interested in sports because the enormous money that sportsmen make and these sportsmen make enormous money because so many people want to watch them. It’s very circular. The same thing happens in game shows: would anyone want to watch “Who Wants To Make $1000”? I don’t think so. Of course, this virtuous circle could just as easily be a vicious circle: nobody is interested in the sport because nobody makes any money playing it and vice versa.

The reason why the Indian cricket team is not the best in the world, despite the enormous talent pool that they can draw from, is because the market for Indian cricket players is underdeveloped. There are only about a dozen players who big money playing cricket. And since advertisers would rather pay a crore (10,000,000 rupees = $250,000) to have Tendulkar pitch their product than pay a lakh (100,000 rupees = $2,500) to have the number 20 player in India pitch their product, there will never be more than dozen star players in India. If the BCCI (the Indian cricket board) wants to create the best team in the world, they need to shell out the money to promote the domestic game.

One reason why India does not produce good pace bowlers is simply because the ones they have produced don’t create as much buzz as a quality batsman. There isn’t as much money in bowling as there is in batting, so consequently the market produces more quality batsmen than bowlers. Also, the injury rate is much higher for pace bowlers, which greatly reduces the expected payoff of pursuing pace bowling as a profession. In general, most people with the talent to be great cricket players in India decide at an early age that pursuing cricket is a silly dream. There are one billion Indians and only 11 spots on the national team. The only ones who pursue their cricketing dreams are the independently wealthy (Ganguly) and the idiots. My guess is that quality pace bowling takes more intelligence than it would appear.

The BCCI can promote the domestic game by making the domestic competition more lucrative. They can announce a big cash prize for the winner and runner-ups of the domestic competition. This will create buzz. And if they want quality pace bowlers, they should simply pay for it. They could announce a special prize for the top 20 pace bowlers in the country and award crores for each of them (more for number 1, less for number 20). Seeing lots of people getting rich by being good but not enormously great pace bowlers will encourage more people with to pursue pace bowling and this will increase the effective talent pool. But more than anything, seeing that kind of money will create the buzz necessary to promote the domestic game and to increase the advertisement revenue of these players.

In sports as in anything else, you get what you pay for.


  • It sounds like that all the fans in India are what the US sports complex would referr to as the casual fan. There are still 86,00 fans that attended college football games or the 40K fans that attend an NCAA final four where the players are not that rich.

    There are also people in who attend minor league baseball, arena football, or Busch seires car racing where the money is not that great.

    You should look harder at the entire culture before making general statements. Boxers make huge amounts in the world but people in the US still do not care unless the boxer acts like a freak show and generates some interest from the casual fan.

    By Blogger Superdestroyer, at 10:37 AM  

  • Hi Superdestroyer
    To say that all Indian fans are only casual fans is really unfair. Indians are quite passionate about cricket. It might be true that most people who tune in to watch a cricket match on television are only casual fans, but that would be true anywhere for any sport.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 12:28 PM  

  • Michael, I feel that your reasoning may be one of the factors but there are quite a few other factors influencing the money Tendulkar earns.

    Tendulkar wasn't the first flamboyant player. there were KapilDev and Gavaskar before that. And even tendulkar in his first 3-4 years of international cricket didnt earn much. But in (1993-94) when cricket was broadcasted on Cable by TWI, that changed the whole market. There was tremendous exposure for cricket in a cricket crazy nation. Good coverage, better commentary and more glamor.

    However, only the international games are televised. I am sure there is a lot of market for the domestic games as well. But unless you make it popular by live telecast and glamorise it by playing those games under lights with coloured clothes people wont start to follow it closely. And I am positive that there is a market for that.

    BCCI is the richest cricket body in the world and they dont face any competiton from any other sports in India right now. So they are not doing much about it. (there have been few improvments lately like increasing the deomestic pay structure, splitting the Ranji trophy into 2 tiers, having more A tours etc.) But still the regional tournaments are not televised and there is a huge potential to be trapped.
    But even if they do that, people will end up watching the international cricket more. Its like UEFA cup Vs the Euro Cup or World cup for soccer. Yes people do follow UEFA cup and Champions trophy and enjoy Real Madrid playing Man. United. But when Argentina plays England its different! And it will remain like that. The passions are much more.

    Moreover Tendulkar defined the new cricketing attitude in india. He was the first person to play aggressively with consistency and that time when India had just started liberalization -- it echoed with the national sentiment. He literally carried the hope of the nation. I am sure he isn't as popular now even though he commands the same respect. Because now you have other players like Sehwag who are just like Tandulkar in his youth. But he started it all!!

    Sania Mirza, if she manages to improve her rankings and compete at the slams for titles might do the same what Tendulkar did!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:42 PM  

  • Hi i
    I agree that there might be more interest in domestic games if they were televised but there isn't much interest now and therefore they don't bother televising them: its that vicious circle. The BCCI is is pretty fat, dumb, and lazy about domestic cricket in India. They're getting a ton of money as things are now so they don't want to change things too much. But there is a lot more money to be made in domestic cricket if they would popularize it.

    As for Sania Mirza, I think that will be an interesting thing to watch. Will she bring a lot of Indians to the tennis courts? It just takes one star to popularize a sport that no one cared about before. But she needs to go deeper into the tournaments to get some serious T.V. coverage.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 5:11 PM  

  • Michael......I think the BCCI knows all this, but the reason they don't do any thing is because THEY DON'T WANT TO! That would mean major structural reforms, and having a few people (head honchos) giving up their powers. The BCCI isn't even independently audited, and haven't released their financial statements ever!! And the coach and captain have no say in the selection process! So........what you say might work...but they dont care.

    And as far as pace bowlers go, the Dennis Lillee run MRF pace foundation is doing excellent work in getting up pace bowlers up to speed. Zaheer, the "lead" pace bowler, is only 25, while Balaji's just 22, Pathan still a teenager, and a few more very promising fast bowlers are emerging. So, i think the ground work is done.....and we're beginning to see results slowly.

    By Blogger Sunil, at 3:53 PM  

  • Hi Sunil
    I think the Pace Academy is a great resource, but I also think the main problem with pace bowling in India is not the training but the talent pool. Most people who are potentially great bowlers in India choose to pursue other things (maybe molecular pharmacology) instead. Therefore the talent that does emerge seems mediocre. You cannot get better pace bowlers without paying for it.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 7:30 PM  

  • Its more a chicken and egg thing. I dont agree with your statement that Sachin is great because he makes big money. If making big money is a referrendum on someone's greatness, then ganguly too would come under the same category. But he is not. Sachin makes big money because he plays charismatic n great cricket.

    By Blogger jitendra, at 4:35 PM  

  • Interesting post. Valid point about domestic cricket but there are more factors. Domestic cricket isn't popular in India (or for that matter in any country) because of extensive television coverage of international cricket causing overkill. Earlier radio and newspapers fired the imagination and attracted people to domestic games to get a glimpse of the Gavaskars and the rest. Now 1 Not many stars play domestic cricket and 2 everybody has already seen most of the top cricketers play on TV so there is no attraction in going to games and discovering something. Also, domestic cricket has a huge potential in the smaller towns in India. Nobody watches domestic cricket in the big cities because there are other 'cool' ways to spend your day like waste your time in a mall or 'be seen' in an international game. Smaller towns still yearn for entertainment and even last season, there were games that were played in front of packed audiences. If you market domestic stars in places like Dhanbad, Indore, Anantpur and Ranchi and if the BCCI decides to concentrate domestic cricket in the small towns, things might drastically change.

    Siddhartha (who wrote the profile of the 'idiot')

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:30 PM  

  • I think one thing to consider is the sheer painfulness of going to a Match. They last all day and the benches are broken, reserved seats mean nothing, there is no place to park if you go by car, there are no refreshments available at a match, the security checks are ridiculous and moronic(no cell phones or water bottles allowed) and at least for an International match in India, going with women is impossible unless you buy insanely expensive seats because of the crowding and shoving.

    I remember going for a match in Bombay a couple of years ago, and the match sucked so it wound up being one of the most painful experiences of my life, so much so I couldnt get out of bed for 2 days cause of a backache. Another time I left halfway, cause the match was being played in the summer, so it was unbearably hot, no water around or available, and the bench I was on that was meant for 8 people seated about 20 at that point.

    What I am trying to get a cross is I might put up with this for an India Australia, or Indo-Pak Match, but there is no way that I would to see Bombay play Punjab. Unless the facilities improve dramatically thats going to be true.

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:12 AM  

  • No Michael, you don't get it.
    It's the stardom, the drama and the theatre. The excitement, the thrill, not the money.
    We're a very poor country when compared to our capacities.
    And we're a very unhappy nation.
    We're being plundered by our own and we need something to be happy about - to unite us and simultaneously to quarrel and argue about.
    We don't drink and smoke like you guys do. We aren't "spoilt brats".
    Cricketers and international cricket give us a big kick.
    We're roughly patriotic people and very lazy people. Give us "the buzz" in Ranji and we'll watch that too. The media and BCCI aren't doing their job well with Ranji. The Indian media (save a couple of integral shops) is renowned to be jokers.
    We're intelligent and we wont settle for anything less than top quality - who has the time to waste?
    That said, if you ask us to participate, we'll pounce on every chance.
    We love spending on anything even marginally useful or fancy but we love lots of variety and choice.
    If you can offer it, we will savour it.
    ICL / IPL today, 3 years later, prove you wrong. Indians have been kept finanically, emotionally and intellectually backward- much to the loss of the global corporate community. Give us some money first - only then we can spend.

    By Anonymous cricketcrazy, at 7:33 AM  

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