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Sports

March 6, 2018
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Why has PSL 3 failed to pull in big crowds?

DUBAI: With just minutes to go before the start of a potentially explosive HBL Pakistan Super League game featuring defending champions Peshawar Zalmi and table-toppers Multan Sultans on Tuesday night, there was hardly any kind of buzz at the iconic Dubai International Stadium.

A few dozen spectators had made their way into the Ring of Fire and by the looks of it, not many were likely to follow them. In best-case scenario, the crowd attendance was expected to a thousand or so. Worst-case scenario: a few hundred.

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The alarming part for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is that it’s not a one-time happening. Low crowd attendance has been a trend for PSL 3 and that doesn’t augur well for this relatively new T20 league.

The state-of-the-art Dubai stadium hasn’t attracted big crowds since the launch of the league in 2016 but this year even Sharjah, previously a magnet for fans, has really failed to pull in big crowds. Apart from Friday’s double-header, last week’s Sharjah leg of PSL didn’t attract any big hordes of fans and that must have come as a big disappointment for the PCB.

The falling spectator interest in PSL is surprising considering that the league is claiming to have become bigger and better in its third year. It has added a sixth franchise – Multan Sultans – and is now looking forward to move to Pakistan for the last three games of the season including the March 25 finale in Karachi.

Critics argue that its the failure of PCB’s marketing team. They blame the board’s marketing gurus for taking things for granted.

They might have a point. The Board did some aggressive marketing campaigns for the inaugural edition and then repeated the same mantra last year. This year, however, the pre-tournament hype lacked intensity. If there has been any efforts on the part of PCB to ensure bigger crowd attendance then they have hid them well.

The low turn-outs in Dubai isn’t a big surprise considering that the Dubai International Stadium is situated far from the city centre. Even bigger hurdle in the way of fans is that it isn’t linked to the city by any kind of public transport.

But Sharjah, which will host a series of PSL games next week, has delivered an unpleasant surprise.

Even the participating players are surprised.

“It is not a good sight playing in front of empty stands,” said a senior players featuring in PSL. “As a cricketer, you want to perform in front of a full house because it’s the fans who bring the best out of you. Unfortunately, you rarely get a chance to do that here,” added the player, who requested anonymity.

Reviving crowd interest in the league is certainly a big task for the PCB but it can achieve that goal with a single move: taking the entire PSL season to Pakistan next year.

The Board is mulling over that idea but much will depend on the availability of foreign players for such an enterprise.

“It will be like a dream come true if the entire PSL is held in Pakistan,” said the senior cricketer. “But chances of that happening are slim because it will be really tough to convince foreign players to play in Pakistan for an entire season.”

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