Wednesday, June 19, 2019

How to Sell Cricket to the Baseball World

Though there are some similarities between Cricket and Baseball, the major playing nations are almost mutually exclusive. While cricket is limited to England and a handful of the former British colonies, Baseball has always been popular in Canada, Caribbean, Japan, Netherlands, South Korea and the United States. Thus far, the marketing efforts to expand cricket into the major baseball nations have been marginally successful, at best. Even when an exhibition cricket match is played in the US, the audience is mostly the immigrants from the cricketing nations, making it commercially unviable to attract any major TV channel to carry it live.

For cricket to be a viable alternative to baseball in major baseball nations, it has to be lot more entertaining to the viewers at large. While the cricket fans consider the shortened T-20 format very entertaining, it’s not so at all for their baseball counterparts. In fact, the baseball lovers will still find it quite “boring.”

The only way cricket can be sold to the major baseball world is by reinventing the format itself. From the entertainment point of view, the two-innings format is fundamentally backward-bending, offering little to virtually no incentives to the commercial media in the all-baseball world, because more often than not, this format makes an on-going match far too predictable, thus destroying the fun and thrill of it. For example, when the team batting first collapses or even performs sub-par, the outcome is more or less predictable. So, who would stick around for the second inning? Not the TV viewers, at least – which is the primary viewership.

Therefore, a more entertaining and thrilling T-20 format needs to be invented and tried in the baseball world. If it becomes successful there, it would be equally, if not more, successful at home as well.
Once this new T-20 format gains commercial momentum, the makers of virtual sports will quickly jump in, taking it to the next level where viewers can virtually play along “live.” The Virtual 2.0 will be AI-friendly, allowing the virtual batters to try out different “timing” and “striking” options which the actual on-field batter could only wish. Similarly, the virtual bowlers will be able to try out various “line” and “length” options which, again, the actual on-field bowler could only wish.

So, how to reinvent and sell cricket to the baseball world? Here it is…

1. The New Format will Comprise 8 Innings – In terms of the number of overs, the new format will continue to share the T-20 (i.e., 20-overs) format. But, instead of the existing 2-innings format, the new format will be split up into 4 batting innings per side (5 overs per inning) to a total of 8 innings, thus allowing each team to bat for four rotating innings, meaning the team that opens the batting will return again to bat out the 3rd, 5th and 7th innings, respectively. Needless to say, the same team will take the bowling/fielding for the alternate 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th innings, respectively, when the opponent bats. The problem of the one-batting-inning per side is that the match often becomes far too predictable early into the second inning; for instance, if the side batting first does not put up enough runs on the board, the match becomes quite predictable within 5 to 7 overs into the second inning – to the utter dismay of the attending fans and the media audiences at large.

2. The New Format will Comprise One Set of Batting Wickets – Unlike in all formats of traditional cricket, one set of batting wickets will be used so only one batter can bat at a time. The advantage of having only one batter at a time is that the batting momentum will continue, keeping the entertainment ante significantly up, which is critical for the new format to garner audience. In the traditional format, since two batters bat together, the entertainment aspect of the game often gets compromised. Generally, when one batter goes on a scoring spree, the other slows down, playing a more supporting or defensive role (except in death overs), which could be technically fine, but generally at the expense of the entertainment value of the game. Having one batter at a time removes the potential of the second batter slowing down, altogether. 

3. Each Batter and Bowler Gets One Over per Inning – Under the new format, each batter gets to bat only one over per inning, with the mandatory introduction of all five new batters in consecutive innings. Of course, when the first five batters do not survive till the end of the fifth over, the inning ends, thus preventing the bowlers from sacrificing their wickets to pave the way for the specialist batters. To put in simple terms, the five batters from inning one can be repeated in inning three while the five batters from inning two can be repeated in inning four. Similarly, bowlers can bowl only one over per inning, with the mandatory introduction of all five new bowlers in consecutive innings. Therefore, the bowling side will reintroduce the five bowlers from inning one into inning three and the five bowlers from their second inning into inning four. This general one-over batting and bowling restrictions will force teams to recruit more all-round cricketers than specialists, lessening the usual predictability of the game. A team can use a dedicated wicket-keeper across all four innings, for now (this practice may also be dispensed with down the road, making way for more unpredictability).

4. Scoring Runs will require Returning to the Base – Scoring (non-boundary) runs in this format is going to be very different from all forms of traditional cricket. Batters must return to the base (batting crease) to be credited for any runs, making the traditional singles (1’s) and threes (3’s) totally off-limit. Of course, boundaries and over-boundaries, in line with the traditional forms, will remain in force. In other words, the batters can only hit 2’s and 4’s (maximum per bowl) by returning to the base. The elimination of singles and threes will therefore require more precise hits and placements, as well as enhanced judgment and athleticism. In order to minimize inaccurate bowling and imprecise throws, regular wide balls, no-balls, byes and leg byes will be allowed, adding runs to the batting side.

5. The Existing Batter Dismissal Rules will Continue, for now –  Until this new format gains some meaningful commercial momentum, any new and specialized technology will not be forthcoming. Therefore, the use of the existing DRS and related technology will force this format to continue with the current batter dismissal rules like, bowled, caught, stamped, hit wicket, leg before, run out, etc. Since singles and threes will be unavailable, the possibility of run outs will significantly rise.  Similarly, the proposed restriction of “one over per batter” will give rise to more aggressive style of batting, resulting in more stumping and caught/behind dismissals.    

6. Fielders and Bowlers will be allowed Protective Gear – In the traditional format, batters and wicket-keepers are amply protected with (protective) gear, but the fielders and bowlers aren’t. It makes no professional and economic sense to allow a good percentage of the players to sit out a good part of the season with finger injuries. This new format will therefore allow the bowler and all fielders to use baseball-type gloves on one hand to help prevent such unnecessary injuries. Of course, on the field, it will be their choice to use it or not. By the same token, they will lose their match fees (or prorated contract fees) if they are forced to sit out with such preventable finger injuries. The liability clause of the disability insurance must also contain similar stipulations, thus making it difficult for them to be rehired for future events as well. While they need a helping hand from the rules committee, they must also be willing participants. Irrespective of their prominence and celebrity, this format will never allow or encourage anyone to practice or demonstrate any narcissism whatsoever, so that the audience continues to exponentially grow, not drift away.

7. Names of Existing Field Positions will be Renamed – Granted, the game of cricket is a common religion in cricket-playing countries so the fans learn not to question its age-old shortcomings and idiosyncrasies; for example, the field position names like “Silly mid-on / Silly mid-off” “Point” “Third Man” “Forward short leg,” etc. will be a hard-sell in non-cricketing countries. The new format will therefore comprise a new set of non-technical, sensible and easy-to-remember field (position) names, e.g., Base, Short Base Left/Right, Long Base Left/Right, Deep Long Base Left/Right, Short Boundary Left/Right, Long Boundary Left/Right, Long Slip Left/Right, Deep Long Slip Left/Right, etc. Instead of confusing the new audience with unnecessary semantics – Long vs. Deep, etc. – the name Deep Long Base Left/Right will be self-differentiating, meaning this field position will be further deeper than the Long position, but along the same field corridor. In order to market a sport globally, it must be a marketable product, free of silly antiquities and age-old cultural nuances.

8. Tie-breaker will require One More Inning, not just one more over – In case of a tie, i.e., both teams tied at the same score, each team will bat one more inning, instead of the traditional one over each. When a match is finally decided by one over, it becomes somewhat unreasonable and irrational, at least from the audience viewpoint. In this new format, the one additional tie-breaker inning will bring more sanity and reliability to the game. For example, NBA Finals are played on ‘best-of-seven’ format, allowing the better team to prevail than ending the entire season with a one-off fluke. Likewise, the extra time in soccer is 30 minutes (1/3 of the regulation time) followed by shoot-out, etc. If the tie-breaker inning ends in a tie again, a one-over solution will be implemented until, of course, the tie is broken.

9. Batters will Not have the advantage to Play for the Record Book – In both short forms of Cricket – One Day International (ODI/50 overs) and T-20 (20 overs) – bowlers are restricted to 10 and 4 overs, respectively; batters however have no such restrictions. This encourages them to play for their own record book at the expense of the true spirit of the sport. For example, in ODI, as a batter approaches a personal century (100 runs), he tends to take much lesser risk by slowing down the run rate, often moving at a significantly slower rate. While the cricket fans are used to this practice, spectators and viewers in the baseball world will find it extremely annoying. The proposed one over per inning batting restriction would remove this selfish practice altogether.     

The combination of 4-innings per side, one set of wickets and one batter at a time coupled with one-batter/bowler per over will make the match more unpredictable, hence entertaining, till the end – a big win-win for both live and media audiences.

This new format must attempt to show the baseball world that an alternative and vastly different version of cricket could easily be developed and marketed, which is highly entertaining, thrilling, media-friendly and interactive fun sport. The 2D TV is way too outdated for sports and entertainment. By making this version 3D TV-friendly, viewers will have more fun watching it and perhaps participating alongside. A “Virtual” version will soon be developed, allowing viewers to play along “live.”

Initially, this format could be sold to the TV channels that broadcast traditional cricket and baseball in the cricketing and baseball worlds, respectively. As this format gets momentum, the bidding war for broadcast rights will intensify. The investment company owning its worldwide rights will hopefully go public so the sports fans around the world may own a piece of this futuristic sport-and-entertainment pie. If the value of the Indian Premier League (comprising only eight teams) can skyrocket to $6.3B in 11 short years, this new format of cricket could result in an astonishing value within a decade as well, considering the popularity of baseball in some of the richest countries (US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Netherlands, etc.) and that of cricket in the UK, Australia, Asia and Africa and West Indies.

Thank you.

Sid Som MBA, MIM
President, Homequant, Inc.


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