BROOKLYN, NY – It was a surreal feeling at MatchPoint NYC, a humungous 120,000 square feet fitness and health facility in the heart of Brooklyn, this past weekend, on February 24.
Adjacent to swimming pools, and tennis courts, a giant indoor cricket extravaganza, with plenty of interactive entertainment thrown in, was hosted by Hotstar – India’s largest premium live streaming service which was launched in the U.S. in September.
The meet featured two giants of Indian cricket, former Indian players Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, who flew down from India for the meet.
The Vivo IPL Hotstar CricFest at MatchPoint NYC was a publicity stunt for Hotstar, who acquired the digital streaming rights for the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL), scheduled from April 6 to May 27, 2018.
With a promotional one-month free watch, Hotstar is, no doubt, trying to make inroads into the market share of Willow TV, which is currently available only on cable and satellite.
Ipsita Dasgupta, President, Hotstar International, at Star India, an Indian American and former New Yorker who relocated to India 10 years ago, was present at the meet.
She showcased the features of the Hotstar app, compatible with Android and iOS mobile devices, as well as viewing on TV screens through devices like Roku.
This year, Hotstar will present the IPL matches with commentary in six different languages: English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Bengali.
The popularity of Hotstar in India can be gauged by the fact that its app got 340 million views for all 49 matches during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, and over 200 million views during the IPL Season 8.
The “engaging and immersion experience” as Dasgupta expressed it, to enjoy the dynamic IPL through interactive features on Android and IOs mobile devices, for the US and Canada audience, as well as media sharing facilities, was very much evident in the CricFest itself.
Popular sports presenter Gaurav Kapur moderated proceedings during a press conference, and later, for a chat with Kumble and Singh amidst almost 1,000 invited fans, from the tristate area.
“We are interested in the casual cricket fans here in the US, and we are constantly innovating to make their experience engaging and immersive,” said Dasgupta.
Much before the fans got to hear Kumble and Singh reminisce about their past cricketing days and glory, there was plenty of entertainment, food and drinks at MatchPoint to enthrall the fans.
Attendees got to savor some delicious street food from each of the eight Indian cities that play in the IPL, located in mini stalls at an arena in MatchPoint, that had the feel of an expo, with dim lights, flashing screens, and huge billboards.
The superb dishes, concocted by Gaurav Anand, the chef-owner of Awadh, the popular Upper West side Indian restaurant located on Broadway, was a huge hit.
Attendees included Vissu Kottapalli, the co-founder of CricClubs, an online service that hosts cricket leagues for amateurs, and real-time scoring for games.
For guests, there was also a professional batting cage in the arena, with tennis balls, as well as a virtual reality experience for cricketers who fancied their chances of hitting a few balls, without the agony of getting hit by a real bouncer.
Children and adults got to also get a virtual reality experience of hitting a ball in a stadium, and got a video shot of their prowess as a gif file, within seconds. There was also a section to take a cricket quiz. A ‘Waxy Hands’ section turned out to be popular among young fans.
“I want young Americans to take up cricket, learn it, and play at the highest levels,” said Kumble, speaking at the meet. “You only have to see what players from Afghanistan has done in the IPL. One day, (players from the) US will do the same,” he added.
“When you play cricket, whatever age it is, whether you are 14, or 30 years old, it keeps you younger,” said Singh, who will debut with the Chennai Superkings, after being a fixture of the Mumbai Indians for a decade, in this year’s IPL.
There was a sense of euphoria, hard to believe that an actual game of cricket was not going to played at MatchPoint, as fans chanted in unison “Sachin, Sachin”, during short clips of video recordings of past matches that were played when Kapur sat down with Kumble and Singh for a chat.
A highlight of the evening was when a young fan, probably eight years old, asked of Singh, “How do you bowl a doosra?”
Singh went on to exhibit his looping arm action, signature delivery, with a tennis ball, on an artificial cricket pitch in the middle of the arena.
The boy who asked the question was tutored by Singh, and tried his hand too at bowling the delivery, amidst warm applause.