Cricket stadia across small town India have suddenly started seeing the influx of large batches of school kids accompanied by their teachers and peons to attend the international cricket matches. The former generation would remember going to the stadium with their cricket-crazy families in the 90s - the madness of a stadium considered to be no place a school should organize an excursion to.
What has caused this sudden replacement of the stadium-going audience? How have the stands which used to be packed to capacity with fans wearing flag colors for war-paint and chanting the names of their favorite players for war-cry, been taken over by a handful of kids running all around paying only partial attention to the ongoing match?
A stadium has a sound of its own. The collective mass of the unwashed and the well-heeled all contribute to this sound in equal measure. The acoustics, the ventilation, the structure - all of them contribute to this sound. Like the sound in Johannesburg's bull-ring - the Wanderers' stadium with its imposing vertical structures is very different from that of Kolkata's melting pot - the Eden Gardens with its more distributed seating and stands that allow for air even if it could get suffocating when 1 lac people jam into it. When the home team does well, the inner aggression of the fans comes out.
Now imagine these roars getting replaced by the happy cheers of a few thousand school students as s0me of the biggest names in cricket fight it out in the middle. This is the new reality of Indian cricket. As more and more mind-numbing matches get played in series after series of no context and no drama, the stadium-going audience is the first thing that has taken a hit. Apart from a few marquee contests with context, most matches (usually India vs Sri Lanka in any format or test matches in general) these days are played in front of partially empty stadia - a sight unheard of till a few years ago.
What this mass exodus has done is, it has made the BCCI more benevolent. BCCI has started a program for schools to get their kids to the stadia for free by promoting the concept called "My Debut Match" - an initiative to get kids to watch their first cricket match, live in a stadium.
We believe the rationale behind this is to fill up the stadium seats and keep making some revenue from stadium advertising. Even as ratings plummet, TV rights and advertising rates continue to rise and more than make up for the fall in stadium revenue.
Are the school kids mere mannequins filling up the stadia whose deathly quiet would otherwise make for a very disturbing comment on the state of cricket in its favorite nation? Do brands have something to learn from BCCI's fleet-footedness in covering up and trying to emerge as a paragon of virtue from a damaging situation? What is the role of sales at an institutional level, in this case schools, in order to solve problems of low volumes in any business? Is sport a more acceptable part of the curriculum now?
Maybe its just as well that BCCI feels the need to promote the sport among the young. Maybe it will change the feudal way it runs the sport in the country. Maybe.
Photo credit - Sportskeeda.com