Can elite F1 supplant cricket?

21 Oct,2011


By Tuhina Anand

with inputs from Rishi Vora and Shubhangi Mehta


With so much hype surrounding the Formula One Grand Prix at Buddh International Circuit slated to take place at the end of this month in New Delhi, it makes one wonder whether F1 is the sport that can be an alternative to the cricket-crazy nation of India.  So while we have been talking to a cross section of the industry to understand how bullish are they on the F1 and one thing that has emerged clearly is that cricket will always be “the” sport that will rule Indians and other sports, be it hockey, tennis or F1, will remain the poor cousin. Thus cricket will be the game that will be raking in moolah for both advertisers as well as broadcasters, and not to forget the players themselves with multi-million endorsement deals.


Mr Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults, is clear that there is no sport that can kill cricket, as it is a very democratic game that anyone with a bat and ball can play. But sports like F1 are restricted to a few. Also, he is of the opinion that F1 is an upper end/niche brand, hence the advertisers like Mercedes Benz would benefit from being part of the event but not Uncle Chipps!


Niche is a word that well defines F1 and is what has emerged from MXM India’s interaction with various industry leaders. Mr Arvind Sharma, Chairman of India Sub-Continent, Leo Burnett too echoes the same sentiment. He said, “Cricket is a mass sport in our country. I do not think that F1 can take over cricket in any which way. The brand that are associating themselves with F1 are a niche brand which cater to a specific audience, which can also be called the upscale society.”


There are others too like Mr Sambit Bal, Editor, Cricinfo who vehemently says that F1 caters to an absolutely niche market and for F1 to replace cricket in popularity, even after 20 years, is far far-fetched. Mr Ayaz Memon, veteran journalist, reasons: “F1 is an urban sport watched by an elite audience. The popularity of the sport is growing, no doubt. But, I don’t think it’ll kill cricket. India is a cricket-crazy nation, so very unlikely.”


In fact a broadcaster, who refused to be identified, puts its bluntly, “No, that’s very unlikely to happen. India is a one-sport country. F1 does have some avid followers, but are outnumbered by people in India who think the game of cricket is a religion and not just a sport.”


As earlier mentioned by Mr Bijoor, the appeal  of cricket lies in it being democratic in nature. One can see young and old wielding the willow in every gully and mohalla hence truly being the sport of the nation. That explains why sportsperson from any other game are still struggling to gain prominence in India barring few that could be counted on fingers but that doesn’t apply for cricket where the entire team and the lead stars find their way to mint money be it through endorsements or even taking up commentary post their innings. Plus the fan following for someone like Tendulkar or MSD is something no other sportperson can even dream of. Rajeev Raja , NCD, DDB Mudra Group  goes to the extent of calling impossible that a sport can replace cricket in India. He said, “The mass appeal that cricket has cannot be compared to any other sport in India. It appeals to almost 900 million people whereas F1 may not even appeal to 100 million people, its only a niche segment that this sport will appeal to and hence we will find similar advertisers advertising with the sport.”


While it is agreed that cricket will always reign supreme in India and F1 is seen as the sport for the elite niche, one thing can’t be denied – that the hype around the Grand Prix is unprecedented. In fact it is this hype that is making one think that probably if not an alternative but an able competition to cricket is here. Internationally, F1 rakes in the moolah and is very popular. Mr Dhunji Wadia, President, Everest Brand Solutions said, “It has been widely believed that we are slow starters, but once we gather momentum, we race to the finish line quickly. A lot of young people in India want to have an alternative to cricket and perhaps Formula One is the right sport.  The statistics on sponsors and advertising revenue are sounding promising for the first event.  But there is still some way to go and it would at best be an urban phenomenon.  Having said that, no other sport has generated as much enthusiasm over here besides cricket.”


So at least for starters the prospects for F1 are promising. Mr Darshan M, CEO – I1 Super Series at Machdar Motorsports Private Limited, a company that is looking to bring the IPL format in motorsports to India, explains cricket and F1: “The comparison is like sunrise and sunset here – both are beautiful in their own way. Motorsports is globally very popular and F1 definitely is an opportunity among youth for whom speed is thrill. In fact, the craze can be gauged from the massive turnout in Bengaluru recently to see Lewis Hamilton show his moves. I think there is enough space for another sport other than cricket to make a name in India.”



Picture: Fotocorp

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