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One-day cricket: Beyond economics
Madhukar Sabnavis | January 25, 2003
The World Cup is a fortnight away. And the build-up to it has already seen enough tension and controversies. Contracts. Players' share of guarantee money. Sponsors. To play or not to play in Zimbabwe. The excitement is palpable. Media and brands are riding it.
This is, perhaps, an opportune time to pull back and understand the phenomenon called one-day cricket. Its emergence could be instructive for brand marketers. After all, cricket is a brand in its own right. Consumers are willing to pay a premium to watch an exciting match and
advertisers are willing to pay a premium for time on live telecasts. And it certainly evokes strong passions among the aficionados - the hallmarks of a strong brand!
Born unofficially in the early '60s in England (through the Sunday league 'Gillette' Cup), the first official match between two countries took place in 1970-71. The five-day Melbourne test was washed out on four days due to rain and the 'Ashes' rivals decided to play a one-day match on the fifth.
It got institutionalised by the Prudential World Cup in England in 1975. However, one-day cricket actually catapulted to its current glory with the famous Kerry Packer invasion in 1977. The game of cricket has not
been the same since then and one-day cricket has overshadowed the traditional five-day game. Today, there is an official world champion only in one-day cricket (because there exists a multi-nation tournament for that) and the number of one-dayers outnumber tests by at least four is to one every year.
At one level, the growth of one-day cricket seems to be an economic phenomenon. Kerry Packer entered the fray due to a conflict on TV rights. However, Packer entered both one-day and test cricket - but his impact has been felt on one-days only. What could be the reasons?
Clearly, the growth of one-day cricket is a sociological phenomenon. It goes beyond simple economics and money. It is about changing outlooks and lifestyles and the inevitable contemporisation of the game to keep up with these changes.
Society at large, has changed in the last 50 years. And everything around us has changed to keep pace - the marketplace, the arts (music and dance), entertainment media (TV, cinema). Cricket had either ignored these changes or remained unaffected by it. The ICC felt cricket was immune to it. Unconsciously, Kerry Packer ignited and catalysed this change. What are the social changes that one-day cricket reflects?
Speed: Society, over the years, has hastened up the speed in which things are done. Fast food joints (like McDonald's) are designed to serve food in a jiffy. Self-service super markets increase the efficiency of shopping. Technology speeds up everything a human being does. Five-day cricket in this context is a laid-back, slow approach to the game. A shorter duration, one-day match is a natural fit.
Colour: Life has become more colourful. We've moved from black and white TVs and films to colour. Formal and casual wear have merged. In this scenario, cream flannels are a bit sedate and dour. So in came coloured clothing. (It also helps spectators and viewers to instantly recognise the teams playing and reduces confusion. After all, India plays England one day and Australia plays Zimbabwe the next day.)
Aggression: People have become aggressive in all walks of life. Both verbal and body language reflect this. Foul language and bad on-field behaviour made their entry into test cricket in the early '70s through Ian Chappell's Aussies. With tensions less in five-day cricket, 'nervous energies' were expended unconstructively in unruly behaviour. One-day cricket channelises such energies to more constructive things - 'performance on the field'.
Instant gratification/immediate rewards: Today, everybody wants results - instantly. Look at the corporate world - at 30, people want to be CEOs, and are becoming too. The rewards in heaven - later in life - is a bygone concept. Everyone is in a hurry to achieve. Gone are the days when spectators and viewers could spend five days watching a test which ends in a draw. One-day cricket provides results - five-day test cannot guarantee this.
Shortening attention spans: This is happening all around us. Books are going out of fashion - videos are in. Few TV programmes are more than 30 minutes long. Even longevity of marriages and courtships are reducing. A five-day test is a long and tedious affair.
Changing role of sports: Sports are no longer just leisure activities that people indulge in or watch in spare time. With the growth of television and conversion of sporting events into media events, they are no longer just 'pass time' activities. They are now means of entertainment for spectators/viewers.
They compete with all other forms of entertainment - music, movies, TV soaps, books etc. It has to have all the ingredients to tickle a heart, relax a mind and create excitement. The Olympics are just not a sporting competition but one big entertainment spectacle.
Look at the opening and closing ceremonies! Naturally, this meant rescheduling cricket timings to day/night, introducing mikes at the wicket to get more people closer to the action.
Kerry Packer, consciously or unconsciously, was the catalyst of the change. He brought in a new form of entertaining cricket. And transformed the game from being a spectator event to a media event. And thus increased its reach. Ironically he was pilloried by the ICC for corrupting the game. The same ICC which is raking in the money today!
At the core, both forms of cricket are about enjoyment. They are about eleven men playing another eleven - belonging to different countries. A battle between bat and ball. They are about one team trying to gain mastery over the other on the field.
But that's where the similarity ends. Five-day cricket is about the orthodox, copybook play of a Rahul Dravid. The perfect square cut or cover drive. The melody of music, the romantic poetry of Wordsworth and Shelley. One-day cricket is about the innovation of a Micheal Bevan or a Virender Sehwag. The reverse sweep or slash over slips. The rhythm of music, the poetry of Tennyson.
The brand is the same. However the manifestations are different. Two forms catering to two different generations, two different mindsets and lifestyles. While five-day cricket is for the connoisseurs, the classes; one day cricket is for the masses. One-day cricket is cricket's brand extension to keep it relevant to a newer and larger audiences.
And here are the lessons for brand marketers:
Recognise environmental trends and try to ride them early before they consume you. Cricket recognised the power of television as a media and the changing role of sports and transformed itself from a stadium event to a media event. And increased its reach.
Innovate or perish: Would cricket have existed in its robust form today if not for one -day cricket? Could cricket have gone into newer countries if not for Packer's innovation? One doubts it!
That's something worth thinking about.