Cricket lovers, media planners and advertisers must be heaving a huge sigh of relief with the news that the ongoing India-Australia series has not been called off after all. Steve Bucknor’s umpiring, especially in the second Test match played at Sydney, and the three-match ban slapped on Harbhajan Singh for alleged racist comments made against Andrew Symonds have infuriated cricket fans all over the world, including the Australian media.
For a moment it looked like India might abandon the series. But following negotiations with the ICC, Bucknor is now out of the picture, while Bhajji has been allowed to play in the third Test at Perth, the ban under suspension pending an appeal by India.
The controversies have more viewers now keenly following the matches, which, according to media planners, is a positive fallout of the fiasco. And this is good news for broadcast channel ESPN-STAR Sports and its advertisers.
Commenting on the overall impact on viewers, Nikhil Rangnekar, Executive Director, Starcom India West, said, “With the tour continuing, it is bound to boost the ratings as now people who have not been following the Test series would be interested in knowing what is happening next in the series after so much hype and controversy. Also, now with Steve Bucknor not officiating in the third Test, people will want to know about the replacement umpire (New Zealand umpire Billy Bowden) and whether he would be anti-India or pro-India.”
Another factor which seems to be going in ESPN-STAR Sports’ favour is the timing of the next Test match. The Perth Test match will begin from 8 am IST, and is expected to bring in a lot more viewers unlike the previous two matches, which, according to media planners, registered low viewership.
Divya Radhakrishnan, Vice-President, TME, also feels that it is a ‘hay-making’ period for ESPN-STAR Sports as it will now get more viewers than before, which in turn will attract more advertisers and revenue.
Kunal Jamuar, General Manager, Madison Sigma, said, “I think the way we lost the first Test match, and the kind of umpiring we saw in the second match, it was given that viewership would decrease. But that is not the case now, thanks to the Harbhajan controversy. I think, now the viewership will only increase, and it is a good sign for ESPN-STAR Sports and all the advertisers who have already booked their airtime spaces with the channel.”
Jamuar further said that news channels had also benefited a lot these couple of days, and that they would be on the lookout for more content in coming days of the series. “I won’t be surprised if we see media taking on yet another issue in the game and put it on air a number of times in a day. They will be on a constant lookout for interesting content to increase their viewership as well,” he added.
Commenting on the controversy’s impact on advertisers and the number of ads on ESPN-STAR Sports, Rajneesh Chaturvedi, GM, Motivator, GroupM, said, “As far as advertisers are concerned, I don’t think there will be more demand to be expected in the upcoming matches. Had we won the Sydney Test or had it been a draw for that matter, it would have been a different case. But still, if we put up a great show at Perth, suddenly we might notice an upsurge in ads on the channel.”
Also, there are a few brands that have signed on some Australian cricketers as brand ambassadors. Now, if these commercials are aired during the ongoing cricket series, there could be some serious repercussions for their brand image as people would not like to associate with unpopular celebrities.
Commenting on this front, Jamuar said that such commercials featuring the Aussies, if any, would be taken off at least for this series. “Advertisers don’t like to associate their brand with infamous celebrities. But I do think that such ads might come up with a few Indian players, too, featuring as brand ambassadors like it was done in the case of TVS some years back,” he observed.
As a certain detergent brand says ‘Daag achche hain’, maybe in this case it might just turn out to be ‘Controversies achche hain’, with the gainers being ESPN-STAR Sports, the advertisers and the viewers, all of whom would have their paisa vasool moments. And the icing on the cake of course would be India leveling the series. However, cricket purists might scoff at such controversies, wishing a return to the gentleman’s ways in the game.