Shailesh Kapoor:The State Of Our Sport: Asiad, ISL & more

26 Sep,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor


In many ways, the 1982 Asian Games (also called Asiad) in New Delhi had a major role to play in India’s television history. They marked the advent of colour broadcasting in India, and also initiated a culture of viewing live sports broadcast, a pleasure unknown to most Indians till that point of time.


The 17th Asiad is currently underway in Incheon, Korea. But you would be excused for not knowing much about them. The Asiad event, which India once gave great importance to, has progressively lost significance over the last two decades. There is little media coverage, and virtually no viewership.


Even the Olympics, which have gained more prominence over the last few years thanks to India’s medal count moving from a zero for many years to a record five in 2012, record scant viewership.


Even if we look at the comfort territory, i.e., cricket, viewership has moved away from Tests and even ODIs, to the IPL. Evidently, we are becoming a country of leagues. With a high-investment property in Indian Super League (ISL) lined up, this trend would further consolidate in the coming year.


But the shift is not from nation-vs-nation sport to sporting leagues. It is fundamentally a shift from sports to sports entertainment. Consumer research in the sports category reveals the insight that watching sport, per se, is not always an entertainment experience. Purists, who follow sports to the last detail, are a handful in number, ranging from less than 15% of the total viewer base for cricket to less than 5% for most other sports.


For everyone else, tuning into a sports channel is primarily an entertainment-seeking activity. You are hoping to be dazzled by some high-octane action, a twist in the tale, some humour and even some song-and-dance. And yes, while you are at it, you will also like a particular team to win.


A purist (and I am one, when it comes to sports) may scoff at the state of affairs, but in what has been a one-sport nation so far, if this is what we need to build any kind of sports awareness, then so be it.


Where that leaves our handful of sporting heroes, who win laurels for us at International meets, is questionable. Saina Nehwal is arguably India’s greatest sportsman in the 2010-14 period. Yet, her awareness and popularity remains abysmal in mass India. Badminton is not an entertaining sport to watch, and to make matters worse, it is considered by many viewers as a fairly easy sport to play (and hence, no big deal in winning top honors in it!).


We are the crossroads of a sporting revolution of some kind. While a section of the sports fraternity is busy developing genuine talent in boxing, badminton, shooting and the likes, a large section of viewers are happy watching sports like popcorn fare.


Only time will decide which of these two directions will we head in. Both of them, however, are a major improvement on being a cricket-crazy one-sport nation.


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