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The Popularity Stakes

Sports which place fan comfort and enjoyment right on top of the pyramid, alongside the needs of their top stars, are bound to prosper. The rest, in our sport-eat-sport world, will struggle

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For a sport to be popular and thus successful, the most important ingredient perhaps, is a huge, committed and growing, FAN base.  The number that moves commerce around a sport is, of course, viewership.  On television. Or the many other viewership platforms now available.  The number of fans who turn up at the grounds (or arena) to actually watch a sporting event ‘live’, are theoretically not even worth counting.  However, they have a massive influence on viewership figures.

Lack of arena spectators and the colours, noise and enthusiasm they bring in, can easily discourage a large number of less committed fans from consuming the event as a TV or digital viewer.  It is this relationship that separates the world of sports into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, barring exceptions.

Many other complicated factors influence the global or local popularity of each sport.  But in an elementary sense, the size of the arena, seating locations and spectating rules come to the aid of certain sports and make it very difficult for others.  Some sports where India excels on the global stage are sadly, on the wrong end of the spectrum and so, doomed to suffer.  For instance, shooting, billiards and snooker have small spectator galleries and maintaining audio decorum entails a heavy premium.  

Thankfully, the realisation that the sport needs to be more spectator-friendly seems to have dawned on shooting. Consequently, there is a lighter atmosphere within the spectator gallery now with even music during the event!  However, due to the extreme safety requirements of an indoor rifle or pistol shooting gallery, the seating area is only behind the shooters, and thus rather limited.  

When it comes to the business end of a billiards or snooker event, the small centre table can support a very limited, though cosily close, seating surround.  But, due to the nature of lighting, spectators are primarily in the shadows. 

Just a couple of examples where a sport may find it frustratingly difficult to compete for the popularity stakes. The best news in the world of sports is a growing awareness of the need to treat fans as major stakeholders. 

Television viewers are constantly presented with innovations to better the audiovisual experience in terms of angles, close-ups, graphics, slow motions etc., which is infinitely easier to provide.  But, due to the deeply set spectating traditions of various sports, change is slower within the arena. Life is simpler for fans inside the bigger arenas of, say, football, cricket, baseball etc. ? where they are largely free of restrictions on movement, sound, food and beverage. 

Many indoor arena sports are also very spectator friendly.  One glaring exception being the globally popular sport of tennis.  The extreme restriction on sound and movement during the action is rather overbearing.  Yes, tennis players need to be focussed and precise.  But so do, for instance, badminton players and basketball players, who are happy to continue finding their similar need for precision, despite crowd movement and cheering – which is often deliberately aimed at distracting.

The strongest resistance to spectating and other related changes in any sport invariably comes from players at the top of the pyramid.  Federations, authorities, event organisers are increasingly aware of the need to be more fan-centric.  But stars of most sports are quite content focussing only on the requirements of their ideal competition.  

This attitude very often stems from their myopic understanding of the pedestal that the sports fan should occupy.  Sports which place fan comfort and enjoyment right on top of the pyramid, alongside the needs of their top stars, are bound to prosper.  The rest, in our sport-eat-sport world, will struggle.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Charu Sharma

The author is commentator and quiz master

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