KRISHNAKUMAR P. writes from Bombay: Is the Indian cricket fan so cheap?
Do only cheap tricks appeal to the Indian cricket fan?
When ESPNStar won the broadcast rights for India’s home matches for the next six years, Indian fans rejoiced.
First, there was hope of better telecast quality. Second, there was the promise of some erudite commentary. And third, there was the hope that the viewer would now get to watch the first and last balls of each over.
Above all, being a pure sports broadcaster with years of experience covering cricket, ESPNStar was expected to deliver a rich viewing experience as opposed to the kitschy fare delivered by earlier broadcasters.
In short, here was a golden opportunity for ESPNStar to begin the Channel9-isation of Indian cricket broadcast, by injecting some much-needed professionalism at a time when cricket has been packaged and promoted more as entertainment than sport.
But the manner in which the broadcaster has been promoting the India-England series starting on November 15 comes as a sad reminder that not much has changed from the time we were told that ‘it was tough being a West Indian or a Sri Lankan in India.’
The running theme in the ESPN Star TV commercials—‘Angrezon kit toh bajaa di!’ using, in different spots, a pungi, a dafli, a band, and basuri—is as bad, if not worse, as Neo Sports’s racist ads targeting the West Indians or the Sri Lankans.
Understandably, ESPNStar has just come back into the subcontinent and would want to garner as much attention as possible. And admittedly, these ads are just to tell the viewer that the coverage of the series is available with Hindi commentary.
But rather than absolve the broadcaster, this only raises another disturbing question: Does ESPNStar think that the Hindi speaking/listening fan cannot understand the nuances of the game and the only way to connect with those fans is to appeal to their basest instincts?
And does it think that fans are only interested in seeing the Angrez getting bajao-ed and would not be interested in watching a hard fought, evenly matched series of cricket?
What is even more disappointing is that, unlike the Neo sports campaign, which was in the innocent pre-IPL days, this comes in the age of the shrinking dressing rooms and when player camaraderie that cuts across nations and clubs.
Could ESPNStar not have celebrated this newfound camaraderie to promote a big series in India, the home of the IPL?
It is not like STAR cricket doesn’t know how to promote a marquee series on its cricketing merits with a dash of good natured humour and wit. You just have to wait for another ad break between overs to see the ads promoting another cracker of a series being played a couple of time zones removed.
A South African fan asks his Aussie counterpart, ‘Hey Bru, what do you call a world-class Aussie cricketer?’ and goes on to answer: ‘A retired cricketer’. Another spot has the Aussie fan returning the complement, saying the best chance South African fans have of seeing a Dale Steyn wicket on this tour is when he walks in to bat.
Back then, Neo Sports found itself taken to court for its racist ads.
Considering that this time around it is our former colonial masters that are subjected to some old-fashioned bajao-ing, ESPNStar may well get away with it. But make no mistake — these ads are crass, tasteless and offensive.