By Aditya Shamlal
Ever since as I a young boy when I went to Ferozshah Kotla to watch cricket or the RK Khanna Stadium to watch tennis, the lack of good food always puzzled me. When one is young, the magic of being able to watch one’s heroes live negates the hunger, the cold, the heat, the horrible seating etc. that a majority of the people in Indian stadiums have to deal with.
Anybody who has seen – in person or on television – grounds in England, South Africa, and Australia would see large grass banks with people barbecuing, guzzling beer and having a gala time. Looking at these scenes makes one wonder why we in India are treated the way we are by our cricket administrators.
Every town in India aspiring towards growth has a world-class cricket stadium, with world class facilities for players – the latest being the fabulous venue of the first India-England One-Day International (ODI) at Rajkot where the media box resembles the iconic spaceship at Lord’s.
The cash-rich Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has done a lot for the comfort of the players, but very little for the fan who played a huge role in filling its coffers. I remember going to the Kotla in 1999. There were no comfortable seats for spectators to watch the match for 7-8 hours; just concrete slabs, dirt banks with plastic chairs which were either broken or rickety. The food was pathetic, with day old aloo patties and veg burgers available as snacks and rajma/curry rice available for lunch from local caterers.
Those plastic chairs and concrete slabs at Kotla have given way to proper, fixed seating, and the local caterer has given way to Dominos. But are the grounds anywhere close to world-class facilities for the fans who spend hours in line, freezing in the cold of the North or baking in the Southern heat to get into the stadium?
Take for example the recent news about Manchester City signing on with Fabulous Fan Fare to provide in-stadium catering to its fans, during the next season of the Premier League. Fabulous Fan Fare is a joint venture between Fabulous Foods (a company owned by Jamie Oliver, a famous TV Chef in the United Kingdom) and Legends Hospitality, well known for its catering work at Yankee Stadium and New York and the Cowboys Stadium at Dallas. The aim of this deal is to provide world-class and tasty food for all the fans who visit Etihad Stadium to watch Manchester City to play football.
Given the current business model of Indian cricket, where television essentially pays for cricket, the fan in the stadium – and you have to be a real die-hard cricket fan to go to stadiums nowadays – is short-changed. The lines stretch on for miles and miles, the security pretty much harasses you five times before you get anywhere close to the cricketing action. The cricket thereafter has to be watched from behind a wire mesh or cage, unless off course you can afford the corporate box tickets. With sports bodies and franchises the world over, trying harder to bring fans to stadiums, it is quite astounding how our state cricket boards and the BCCI take no initiative whatsoever to make live cricket watching in India easier and enjoyable experience.
This is one of the major reasons for negligible attendance for Test matches in India. The BCCI and the state associations should stick to their core strengths of marketing Indian cricket, and managing the teams, and outsource or partner with bodies that specialises in in-stadia hospitality and facilities. This will allow the BCCI and the state associations to make their stadiums fan-friendly and give Indian cricket fans the best-possible deal.
With stadium facilities for fans still nowhere close to international standards, it is unreasonable to expect people, even those who have the time, to sacrifice eight hours of the day to sit in oppressive conditions and get no comfort in return. Unless the BCCI take some initiative and get state boards to improve the conditions for fans in the stadiums, more people will stay away from the grounds and follow matches on television or the internet itself. It goes without saying that empty stadiums look bad on television.
(Aditya Shamlal, a graduate from National Law School of India, Bangalore, worked with one of India’s leading corporate law firms in Delhi and moved as Senior Consultant at Gamechanger in October 2012. The above post has been reproduced with permission from Gamechanger)