January 10, 2008

India vs Australia Cricket Controversy. What if it were a gimmick?

No one is insinuating that the India - Australia controversy is a farce. A test match has been lost, an umpire has retired and claims of racial discrimination have been made. Be rest assured that these are not the results of a marketing gimmick.

The PR generated from this controversy though, has the sponsors in a great situation. The test match has received heightened publicity levels and more eyeballs from viewers. Even channels who were selling the spot for Rs. 50000 per 10 second spot will increase rates to Rs.75000 for the match at Perth.

"There is no such thing as bad PR" has just been reinforced. This has been repeatedly used by the Indian movie industry. The period one month before a launch will have a rumour of a relationship, an affair, a breakup or an attempt by one of the chief protagonists to bare it all. All controversies & rumours hit headlines and the movie gets prominent coverage, way before its launch. This almost ensures a great first week.

Or check out the Indian media news channel of today. There is a lot of sensationalism and the term "Breaking News" can be hilarious. Drama is everywhere. It is less credible and I hate it at times, but it works for the masses (let me admit, sometimes its just entertaining).

Let us compare this with test cricket. Test cricket in its 5 day format has long lost out to its exciting cousins "one day" and more recently "20-20". What can one do to make this more exciting? How do you drive viewership? How can test cricket get more moolah for the channels? What can the boards do to heighten interest and eventually the game?

Let me reiterate that I am not saying that the current controversy was created. It is sad that this has happened to cricket. Nor am I saying that controversies of such levels should be created just for some extra publicity.

What if we look at something smaller - a "Controlled Controversy", or should I call it "Drama", in test cricket. The objective could be to make the audience relate not just with the game but with the players, their emotions, their antics etc.

Currently, very few members of the team speak to the media. It is controlled, so that one view goes to the media and the public. If freedom of speech were given to every individual player, would their thoughts make greater news than politically correct statements from a captain. People then get to relate with the players, identify with some of them and choose to support or go against opinions/antics.

Such drama, if used well could heighten interest by creating an illusion of greater rivalry. It serves as drama for the viewers. It suddenly becomes interesting.

A highly engaged & involved audience is surely every marketer's dream.

Of course it has to be controlled so that it does not get out of hand and probably curbed in cases of matches between teams like India & Pakistan, where there is absolutely no necessity to create greater rivalry.

Which brings me to the question of Why are India - Pakistan matches / the Ashes more interesting and deliver greater moolah for all concerned? What if that rivalry and passion could be recreated with more teams? What if drama in the sporting world increased? More mind games were played? Does it add layers to the game, the individuals competing and hence increase interest? Yes, there is a possibility of killing traditional sportsmanship, but would you hate it or love it? Would you follow the sport more closely for developments?

Too many questions in this post and no answers. The next time you see a "controversy" before a sports series begins - it could just be someone marketing innovatively.

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