Is cricket still the most preferred sport in India or are other games also gaining prominence? To discuss this, on International Sports Day, April 6, The Advertising Club held a stimulating debate on the topic, ‘There is no life beyond cricket in Indian sports’, as a part of their digital debate series Vice & Versa.
The event was moderated by Gautam Bhimani, an ad man, author, broadcaster and cricket junkie. Shashi Sinha, CEO, India, Mediabrands, spoke for the topic while Boria Majumdar, historian and sports journalist, spoke against it.
The engaging debate started off with Sinha speaking of how 2020 was a year of crisis where matters of health and economics took the front seat and the dreary mood of the country changed in September, when television channels switched from playing news to cricket during the IPL season. He said, “Forty crore Indians watched the IPL, this number surpasses the 20-crore viewership of the Prime Minister’s address to the nation during the pandemic.” He stressed how the IPL took the first spot on Google Trends despite the distressing news of the pandemic flooding our mobile phones.
Speaking about the business side of cricket, Sinha shed light on how advertising sales came down by 30-40% during the pandemic but IPL tickets were sold out in Dubai even before the first match of the season.
To counter the statements made by Sinha, Majumdar spoke of how women’s cricket does not get attention and how India’s victory against Australia during the Women’s T20 World Cup was not mentioned by Sinha. “Is IPL equal to cricket? The jury is still out, IPL is equal to a spectacle,” remarked Majumdar.
Majumdar continued to speak about how other sports are also celebrated in the country. “P V Sindhu winning the Rio Olympics Silver medal in 2016 is still the most watched women’s event during that season.” He gave the example of how, during the Delhi Shooting World Cup in April 2021, India won 15 gold medals and so the government decided to invest multiple crores in simulating a similar range that they will get during the Tokyo Olympics that will happen in the month of July.
To stress the visibility of other sports besides cricket, Majumdar articulated that P V Sindhu got the maximum number of brand endorsements after Virat Kohli and it is not Rohit Sharma or any other cricketer.
As numbers point to social preferences, Sinha spoke of how the reach of cricket on television is at 92% while the reach of all other sports put together is under 10%.
Bhimani later stirred the conversation towards how advertising with cricketers deliver a deliberate payback while there is an optional payback when it comes to other sportspersons.
Majumdar said sportspersons who are not in the field of cricket should be given brand endorsements even if it is an uphill battle. He recalled how PV Sindhu’s average brand endorsement rates went from Rs 5 lakh to more than Rs 1 crore after her Olympic winnings. He explained how other sports are still popular among Indians. “Whenever there is a competition to select new sportspersons, you will have over 3,000 entries. In any shooting competition in India, there are 10,000+ entries alone.”
When the debate progressed to how the amount of investment in different sports can gauge the chosen sport/ sports of the nation, Majumdar argued that finances have nothing to do with the fervour towards any sport. “Who said that just because IPL gets more money, it is important than other sport,” he said.
Sinha countered the statement, saying, “When you deal with numbers, the fact of the matter is that the Government invests Rs 200 crore in the national cricket team, while they do not fund even 10-15% of that amount when it comes to other sports.”
Though there has been a rise in the popularity of other sports like badminton, kabaddi and football, the question still stands whether cricket is the dominant religion in this country.