Cricket Fans Learn to Love the Sport in the Digital Era
While professional athletes are getting used to the absence of stadium crowds, fans are learning to appreciate the service coverage that broadcasters and the internet can bring them. Indian cricket is at the forefront of a digital transformation.
The Year Which Changed Professional Sports
Professional sports, in the collective imagination of our society, are inevitably connected to spectators and fan bases, large or small. Stadium crowds have always been hailed as the essence of the live experience, the “12th player”, across the globe (both in cricket and football).
The Covid-19 pandemic in India, however, challenged such concepts in the past year, as it postponed many major events, cancelled others and completely reshaped those that ultimately were held according to a dramatically reshaped event calendar.
The NBA introduced its “bubble”, bringing the season to a close from August through to October, as LeBron James took his first ring with the Lakers. Rafael Nadal equaled the GOAT, Roger Federer, with 20 Grand Slam titles, after Roland Garros was twice postponed yet finally held in the fall. And the ISL football championship was effectively moved to Goa and is currently played behind closed doors in three venues, ending in March 2021.
Immersive Game Experience
What made it all possible, after all, was the marriage of technology to the efficient organisation provided by the best sports professionals and media production teams. After almost seven months without any cricket, the nation’s thirst for live action was finally satisfied as the Dream11 Indian Premier League 2020 had its opening match in late September, and 200 million Indians turned it instantly in the “highest ever opening day viewership for any sporting league in any country”.
Broadcasters and OTT streaming providers did their part, certainly. Offering an unseen before user experience with surround crowd noises, fan walls and digitally enhanced reporting features, cricket was not the same for viewers at home, it was better! Fans were able to place bets instantly at Indian online casinos, regional language channels were offered in Hindi, Tamil, Bangla, Telugu and Kannada, contextual messages brought integrated highlights, live scores, player rankings and commentary and many other incredible features. Fans responded mostly positively, many felt closer to the game than ever before.
As the short but intense cricket season went on, a certain suspicion arose that this was an opportunity for the media to explore and for the advertisers to exploit. After all, cricket gods such as Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli have all been known to give their best when retreating into a personal zone of special concentration, albeit in the presence of thousands of adoring fans drumming up a thrilling atmosphere in the stadium.
What Lies Ahead for Sports Broadcasting and Stadium Attendance?
By the looks of vaccination coverage speeds, as well as many seemingly unrelated social and economic priorities which need to be sorted out first, professional sports stadia may remain without fans for some time just yet. Still, the excitement of the game is there, within our reach.
The bio-bubble which was installed in the UAE for the IPL teams and staff is a prime example for an inevitably drastic but efficient measure, in the face of a global pandemic. Another NBA-inspired gadget, the Smart-Ring which monitors vital stats, is a more than useful introduction for professional sports teams. Players have shown their ability to perform without crowds, as easily as they have become accustomed to a separation from their families in the Bubble. And fans are starting to appreciate and enjoy the game in a different but still intense way.
2021 will (probably) bring us events like the Olympic Games, the Euro Football Championships and the much-awaited T20 World Cup. Broadcasters such as Disney’s Star India and global tech giants such as Amazon have the experience and the growing know-how needed to enhance and improve user experience so that the game’s mass appeal still serves as a bridge between Superstars and Spectators.
©Cricket World 2021