x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The numbers alone tell the story of the Indian Premier League’s UAE leg

One UAE cricket official told The National they estimated between “280,000 and 300,000” fans attended the 20 games, which would translate to an average of about 14,000-15,000 a game for each venue.

The crowd, watching the IPL match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kings XI Punjab on April 28, 2014, at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium were part of five days that were a complete sellout in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
The crowd, watching the IPL match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kings XI Punjab on April 28, 2014, at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium were part of five days that were a complete sellout in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

ABU DHABI // More than 250,000 people are estimated to have attended the UAE leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which places it among the best-attended sports events in the country.

Nineteen of the 20 games played across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah over two weeks were official sell-outs.

Such was the demand that on some match days, organisers had to send out advisories asking fans to stay away from the stadium if they did not already have a ticket.

Though official figures are yet to be released by the league, one UAE cricket official told The National they estimated between “280,000 and 300,000” fans attended the 20 games, which would translate to an average of about 14,000-15,000 a game for each venue.

The league was moved out of India because of a logistical clash with general elections and wrapped up its UAE schedule with a match between Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad in Dubai last Wednesday.

Like all games at the Sports City stadium, it was a sell-out; 125,000 tickets were sold at that venue over five match days.

According to officials, 82 per cent of tickets were paid for, compated to 56 per cent when games were held in South Africa in 2009.

Those attendance figures were complemented by growing viewing figures elsewhere.

“The [TV] viewership for the opening match was bigger than in 2013 – 4.4 versus 4.1 ratings,” the acting Indian board head Sunil Gavaskar revealed last week. “When compared to the first seven days of last season, the online viewership has doubled – 12 million compared to 6 million.

“The page views on the website has been 50 per cent higher till April 26 – 89 million page views. On Facebook page, we have had 6 million likes. At the end of 2013, it was at 3.3 million. On Twitter, we have 1.4 million followers, up from 1 million last year, making it the first Indian brand to achieve this.”

That might sound like PR platitudes but given the corruption scandal the league remains embroiled in, it is of significance.

Ultimately, the significance of the two weeks for the game’s profile in the UAE might be greater. The attendance has been unprecedented.

The Pakistan cricket team, for whom the UAE is home at present, have had a few sell-out limited overs games, but there has been nothing to match the persistently full attendances of the last couple of weeks.

The only relevant cricketing comparison that could be made is to the heyday of the Sharjah tournaments from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Those were much smaller in nature and impact, though, given that they rarely lasted as long and were confined to a single venue.

Not least of the benefits to the local scene would be financial.

An official confirmed to the The National that each of the three venues were paid a hosting fee by the IPL per game. For a single game match-day, the venue received US$75,000 (Dh275,475) from the IPL and US$100,000 for the days when the venue staged a double-header.

That, effectively, was all profit as all costs inside the stadium related to the staging of a match were also paid for by the league. That, after 15 days, puts local cricket better off by US$1.25 million.

Added to the amounts the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) will receive from the International Cricket Council (ICC) for its national side qualifying for two top-level ICC events, it is a windfall of sorts. It could also, crucially, provide the financial backbone of a system of central contracts for the national side.

But as one official said, this is about more than just the money. The potential upsurge in the profile of an already well-embedded sport could be considerable.

Importantly, the IPL has been a reminder to the game’s most powerful board, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, of the benefits of having a profitable home away from home.

Before the UAE games were even over talk of hosting the multinational IPL offshoot, the Champions League Twenty20, in the UAE – maybe even making it a permanent home – had begun.

The biggest prize, from the BCCI’s return, is likely to come at the end of 2015. That is when the Pakistan Cricket Board is hoping to nail down a full-length series with India, which would see the duel that began the legend of cricket in the UAE brought back to what has been its most stable home.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae