India v England: Thousands expected for Second Test in Mumbai - the city with the busiest cricket field on the planet
Sachin Tendulkar may play his final Test on his home ground
There is an irrepressible buzz about the Second Test that was missing in Ahmedabad. It has a lot going for it.
The match is being played in the city which remains the heart of Indian cricket. At the Azad Maidan, probably the biggest and busiest cricket field on the planet with 21 pitches, many of the boundaries overlapping, there look to be as many matches taking place as ever there were.
Sachin Tendulkar, its most famous son (of the maidan and of the city) and hero of the nation is playing what may well be his final Test on his home ground. Virender Sehwag, the most flamboyant batsman India has produced, and compiler of their three highest Test scores, is playing his 100 Test.
All of this – and a 1-0 lead in the series – is confidently expected to put thousands on the gate in the next few days. Test cricket lives! But none of it has come close to overshadowing the most significant announcement in Indian cricket, maybe in all of cricket.
A new sponsor has been secured for the Twenty20 Indian Premier League. PepsiCo India, tributary of the company which produces the second highest selling soft drink in the world, has signed a 397 crore rupee deal over five years.
At present currency exchange rates, that works out at a little above £45m, or £9m a year, or £1.3m a week that the tournament is played. In a climate of slow economic growth, squeezed budgets and supposedly declining cricket audiences such a lucrative contract has come as a surprise. It is twice what the previous tournament sponsors paid for the first five years of IPL.
Pepsi have long been associated with Indian cricket. While they have had plenty of legitimate deals, both with the team and individual stars like Tendulkar, their most famous connection with the game, was perhaps in the 1996 World Cup in India.
Having failed to secure the sponsorship rights for the tournament which went for around £7m to their bitterest rivals, Coca Cola, they decided on a different strategy. Using the stars who were signed up to them they went ahead and advertised during the tournament anyway, flying helium balloons above stadiums during matches and a brazenly cheeky slogan: “Nothing Official About It.”
It was one of the most spectacular and successful examples of ambush marketing in history. They were different times but this latest deal demonstrates that cricket is capable attracting a fast moving consumer good as a main sponsor.
Pepsi see cricket, or Twenty20 cricket at least, as still having an appeal to a youthful audience. Tendulkar, at the age of 39, is probably not part of their future strategy. There was something poetic about the words of Gautham Mukkavilli, the CEO of PepsiCo in India and poetry is something necessarily associated with the IPL.
Mukkavilli said: “The partnership will add to the stature of both the brands; cricket is a religion in India and IPL is now its most revered temple where the faithful flock to. Given its historic association with the game, brand Pepsi will add new lustre to the tournament.”
Make no mistake, the most significant part of that little homily was the vision conjured by the faithful flocking to the temple. Pepsi would no sooner have sponsored Test cricket than promoted the health giving effects of Coke. Twenty20 is not only a new religion, the IPL in particular seemingly has the power of a cult.
Perhaps it is good for cricket as a whole, perhaps not. The company is already one of the main commercial partners of the International Cricket Council, with which it has a deal until the 2015 World Cup, worth around £4m a year.
It is also demonstrates again that the power and shrewdness of the Board of Control for Cricket Indian should never be underestimated. Sometimes, as they have in the past few weeks of this England tour, they give the impression to the outsider of not being sure what they are doing.
The fact that matches take place, given the formalities that have to be undergone with so many people involved in signing this and acceding to that, appears is a wonder. They may even have arrived at the IPL by accident as much as a design.
But everything they touch turns to more gold. When they advertised the base price for IPL tenders at 60 crore rupees (£6.8m) a year, many advertising consultants thought it was much too high. In the event, it has been reported that two companies, including Coca Cola, bought the tender documents but did not proceed with a bid.
Two contenders were left standing, Pepsi and the mobile phone provider, Airtel, sponsors of the present Test series. Airtel came in well behind Pepsi, about which there may have been some sighs of relief at the BCCI. They would not particularly have wished to hitch their star to one wagon.
This deal will unquestionably enhance the drawing power of the IPL just when many assessed that it had reached its peak and was on the slide. It will certainly not diminish the desire of players to appear in it and the day when a proper window must be found in the schedule grows closer.
TV audiences are down but the game is spreading, even in India, to places where it has never been before, out of the cities and into the vast countryside. There is still a suspicion among some consultants that Pepsi have paid over the odds but equally a feeling that it and the IPL may be made for each other. Marriages of convenience frequently work for both parties.
The England and Wales Cricket Board meanwhile is searching for an England team sponsor. They expect to have no trouble finding one but do not expect it to be because the faithful flock to a revered temple.
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