The attendance of a sports league is an important measure for it’s popularity, just like sales volume is for a product or company.
As you would expect, the domestic pro sports league with the highest average attendance per game in the world is the NFL (2008/09 season). On third place comes the first soccer league in the list, in this case the German Bundesliga. Quiz: Which league finished second? MLB? Aussie Rules? Wrong, and if you don’t know it you probably won’t guess it right. That’s because the league in question has only been existing since 2008: The Indian Premier League (IPL), a professional cricket league in India.
I have to admit that cricket is one of the few blind spots I have in sports, I hardly know the rules of the game let alone the names of any star players or teams. Still I believe the story of the IPL is worth looking at from a business perspective. Given it’s young age, it can still be considered a start-up, which is why I would like to learn some lessons from it with relevance to start-up companies:
In 2008, the league was founded and a great success right from the start. As I read, an average of 58.000 people were watching each match in the stadium. Here’s the first lesson start-up companies can learn from the IPL: With the exception of the Eden Garden in Kolkata, none of the stadiums does even reach a capacity of 58.000 seats, some of them can only hold around 30.000 people. So even if all matches would have been sold out, which does not seem to have been the case, the 58.000 figure could have never been reached. Still, in all kinds of communications you will find that figure. Lesson 1: In the earliest phases, communicate success stories to make people believe in what you do (still I would personally prefer to be honest…).
In 2009, the season (which actually only takes a little more than a months in total) took place during the time of the general elections in India. Therefore, the government did not allocate any police or military forces to the matches which would have been needed to ensure the safety of the events. That’s why the Indian Premier League season 2009 was played in … South Africa! Over there, none of the regularly used stadiums could hold a lot more than 25.000 people, so the average attendance must have been a lot lower than in 2008. The interesting factor: You won’t find the average attendance of the 2009 season communicated. Instead all you see is how happy the IPL was about the filled stadiums in South Africa. Start-up Lesson 2: You will have setbacks. Only communicate them as detailed as you have to and try to make them look like a success or like part of the plan.
In India, roughly 200 million viewers watched the matches from South Africa. The idea worked: For 2010, the IPL will move back to India, it will be extended and new sponsors will come in (some teams are even sponsored by top flight Indian movie actors or industry magnates). If they would not have gone to South Africa and just skipped their second season in 2009, the IPL start-up might have been killed before it really took off. The way they did it they brought it closer to establishing itself. Start-up Lessons 3: Don’t let problems stop you. Find a way around them even if it might sound like a crazy idea at first glance. Don’t ever lose momentum!
Only one question left to answer: What does the headline of this post refer to? Like I said I have no real clue about cricket rules, but some people explain them by using the classical line “When you’re in, you’re out and when you’re out, you’re in!”. I thought it would fit well with the IPL going out to South Africa and by doing so becoming “in” in India. However if someone of you can explain it in any more detail your comments are highly appreciated.