Thursday, 12 November 2009

Tirupati, Cricket and the changing Indian demography

First Tirupati- which is a town in South India with a temple dedicated to Lord Venkateshwara, of the Hindu faith. What is impressive about the town is how well it is organized and maintained. Smoking is banned, littering is absolutely banned, Indians are not allowed to chew tobacco (and spit out the red stained saliva). And in the name of the Lord, all Indians that enter the town respect the rules.

It is in a way, a little Singapore. I had to walk bare-feet for a mile in the city and it was really clean. You cannot walk barefoot in any city in India. In Tirupati, you can.

That was the good news.

The bad news was the crowds. Hundreds of thousands of people have been visiting the temple each day. This has been the case for many many years. And yet, the capacity of the temple management to regulate crowds is inadequate. Each solution is outdated by the time it is implemented, and the pushing, jostling to catch a view of the statue of the lord (which is stationery) is unimaginable. And this is the richest temple in the country with donations pouring in. Why cant crowd management solutions be put in place and implemented?

As I stood in the temple however, I made however, another observation that i note here.

Indian demographics is changing the nature of the visitor to the temple. The temple management should take note of this and act now, else be overwhelmed by the surge in the number of devotees.

When I visited the temple as a child, the exercise of traveling to a far off city, finding accommodation etc was an expensive “holiday”. So much so that it was restricted to many in the “upper middle class”. My parents saved money to donate to the temple.

Now, with travel getting cheaper and the average income in India on the rise, there are many more visitors. But the profile of the visitor is predominantly rural/ semi urban and from the small towns. This is good news. But on the other hand, the donations (per person and adjusted for inflation) being put into the temple are likely to be much lower than in the past.

The temple is going to find itself with few resources per person to handle the bulging crowds.

The temple has also created specific slots for a more personal viewing of the Lord, very early in the morning. These cost USD 2000 for a 10 year pass (where you can have a more exclusive viewing for the family once a year). Ordinary viewing tickets are USD1 per person. These however are limited in number. And with time are getting more and more expensive- supply and demand at work. However a family paying USD 2000 would expect a certain level of service from the temple in order to continue making this contribution to the temple.

On this visit, in spite of the “exclusive” pass, I found myself having to cover 2 miles and search in three buildings to find the office where I could get the “prasad” for the prayer I attended. The rules and the offices change every 6 months, so devotees have not many options to learn beforehand of a procedure.

The two above points highlight a classical marketing problem called segmentation.
You have a mass market. There the challenge is to maximize revenues from a large base but low affluence consumer. Cost management is critical here.

And you have the “niche” segment consumers willing to pay more, but demanding extra services. These are high margin consumers.

Managing both ends simultaneously is always a challenge, especially in a country like India with its “socialist” beginnings.

But the Tirupati temple trust need to wake up to the evolving Indian demographics to ensure the town and the temple continues to bring in devotes who can pray in a comfortable way.

2. The second area where I see a huge change that is going to come about is the sport of Cricket. Wildly popular in India raking in millions of dollars for the administrators, media and players.

The popularity of cricket in India has risen along with the rise in affluence of the Indian middle class. Almost every Indian living in the large towns has played cricket in his childhood. It is cheap, and with the availability of a playground, easily accessible. Unlike hockey and football (which need specific ground sizes and proper grass to play on). Swimming, golf, tennis all remained very expensive for India.

The Indian middle class that played cricket in its younger days (and lives in its cities) is now the Indian upper middle class. We pay to see people play and we relive our childhood neighborhood games when we see the cricket.

Cricket was always a middle class- upper middle class sport and with few exceptions, all of our players came from these backgrounds.

That is changing. The cities have no place to play cricket and indeed the affluent kids are shifting to tennis/ squash and other sports. These sports will grow in the future.

Cricket meanwhile is being shifted to smaller towns and villages which seen the only places now with open grounds where kids can play and practice the sport.

Emerging players for the national team (in the next 5 years) will have very non urban backgrounds. They will have learnt the sport by observation rather than training. (In non urban centers, training and coaching facilities are non existent).

They will come in with unorthodox techniques. Not ideal physical conditioning.

They will suffer far higher burnout than current cricketers, thereby limiting their playing time and the capability of the Indian team. Cricket will not be the money maker it is in Indian life today. The cricket board, in my view, is totally blind to this.

My guess is that unless administrators of cricket in India focus more on developing training facilities in smaller towns and villages, the competence of the Indian cricket team will decline very sharply in the next 4-5 years.

Lets wait and watch how these two areas of Indian life are influenced by the changing Indian demographics.