It’s hardly headline news to state that the national newspaper industry is an industry in serious decline, so it should be no surprise that one of the big beasts of cricket journalism should find out that his services (and likely hefty salary) were no longer needed by the Guardian a couple of weeks ago. Whilst I never like to hear of anyone losing their job, any tears will be tempered by the fact that Lord Selvey has no doubt received a decent pay off after 31 years of service and by the fact that he has shown himself through his various barbs on Twitter to be quite an unlikeable gentleman.
So how the situation arrived when newspapers such as the Guardian feel the need to cull their Chief Cricket Correspondent? Well the answer is a little more complicated than the fact fewer people read print anymore and fewer people take an active interest in cricket, although naturally these are actively linked; however this sharpe decline has actually been years in the making and brutally quick in it’s execution. If we go back just over 10 years ago, all this seemed a long way away. The Telegraph had a daily readership of over 900,000 and the Sunday Times had 1.6 million readers, both were making lots and lots of money through advertising (the recruitment advertising arm of the Sunday Times was making £500k a week on it’s own) and hey England had just regained the Ashes from the mighty Australia, so all was looking rosy in everyone’s garden. However if we bounce forward to the situation today, then things are certainly not looking rosy for both the national newspapers and cricket as a whole, so it is worth briefly charting the fortunes of both as without doubt cricket’s health is very dependent on the coverage that it receives the nationals.
What is clear is that the National press has been somewhat arrogant about it’s place at the top table for an awful long time. They felt that they were both the mouthpiece of the nation and the only place (alongside some TV and some Out of Home) where brands should spend their hard earned marketing money to reach their precious audience. The problem is that their arrogance made them spend a lot of their time attacking each other with faux clever marketing campaigns rather than looking at the bigger threats looming on the horizon (sounds vaguely familiar doesn’t it). If we look at things from a purely commercial point of view, all papers are absolutely reliant on advertising as their main revenue source, and from that advertising spend, print advertising is by far the most lucrative (most papers actually make a significant loss on their cover price) and hence any threat to this income makes newspaper owners sleep very poorly at night. This was where the first industry hit took place – the rise of Digital. As the industry changed and how people consumed media changed, the newspaper industry suddenly seemed to be stuck in an archaic rut with print audiences immediately starting to decline rapidly and whilst many owners put out shiny new websites fairly quickly, the money they could charge for digital advertising was a lot less than they could charge for print advertising. This was when the first cull started to happen around 2007. Things did calm down for a while as whilst the revenues they were earning previously were long gone, they still had a stable base of readers (either print or digital) and came up with new, more expensive offerings for the brands who still needed to reach their readers, which at least allowed them to stabilise their bottom lines. This was all fine up until a couple of years ago when the 2nd hit happened, the rise of programmatic advertising, and this is something that the industry has not and probably will not recover from. Automated, or programmatic buying has taken over the industry not only because it makes ad transactions more efficient but because it can make them more effective, as long as the right data is applied. Ad buyers can use programmatic buying to fan ads across the web and then, mid-campaign, evaluate what’s working best, which geographies, times of day, audience segments, publishers to narrow their target accordingly, so they’re paying only for highly effective ads. This has killed the national’s revenue line at a stroke, as all of these companies have the data they need to provide brands with the option to target a particular message to a particular audience at a particular time of day, something the nationals cannot offer and surprise, surprise their revenue has hit the floor and panic has well and truly set in. A serious bloodbath is about to occur.
So you may be wondering why I’m talking in such depth (and thanks for sticking with this) about the decline of the national newspapers on a cricket blog. Well you see all of this has been particularly bad news for our beloved journalists including many cricket journalists and for the sport itself. For many a year, cricket journalism flourished (their words, not mine) in some kind of alternative reality bubble, whereby they could post an article in print, good or bad, and then spend their time giving themselves a big pat on the back at a job well done. This was somewhat tempered when all of the posts started to appear online and various and sometimes quite derogatory BTL comments started to appear; however again many were happy to declare these people as loonies and carry on with business as usual (despite many being not, there were some fantastically knowledgeable contributors to the Guardian BTL back in 2012 before the mods moved in and many moved on). It was the advent of social media and in particular Twitter that really burst their bubble as they were now open to criticism from the masses, many of whom were both knowledgeable about the game and angry at the continued selective reporting, around the content of some of their articles. Some of the new breed were savvy enough to engage in meaningful conversations with those that questioned some of their writings, whereas some of the others, mainly the old school, decided that they would take the opportunity to shoot down any questions in as rude a way as possible. You only need to look at the childish level of language that Paul Newman used towards Tregaskis when the latter quite rightly accused the former of writing a total puff piece about Alastair Cook.
Despite the inconvenience of having to speak directly to the masses, many of our beloved hacks have still spent their time cocooned in their own ivory tower, enjoying the hospitality of the ECB and occasionally getting to do their dirty work too; however whilst they had been cocooned away from the harsh realities of the real world, what they didn’t realize is that the power base they thought they were sitting on has gradually ebbed away. Firstly the amount of cricket correspondents was cut, then coverage of county cricket was cut to almost zero and now we’re in the situation where none of them should be sitting comfortably as even the big beasts are simply not immune to what’s going on in the real world as the sackings (or forced redundancy’s) of Selvey, Bunkers and Pringle et al clearly show. The ECB is fast starting to run out of hatchet men and who knows how safe Newman is these days. The other side of the coin is that there are a number of very good national journalists out there, again mainly from the new breed and it would be a terrible tragedy if the likes of Nick Hoult, Lawrence Booth and Ali Martin found themselves out of their jobs and stuck with writing titbits for the The Cricket Paper with it’s circulation of about 150. The signs I’m afraid though don’t look promising.
So why is this so worrying for the world of cricket? Well again, I suppose we can easily travel back to 2005 and the choices that our friends at the ECB (yes them again) have made since that time. The 2005 Ashes series was a classic and got the whole of the country behind our national team with over 8 million people watching 3rd Test of that series on channel 4. The problem for the ECB was that it didn’t fill their coffers so well, so of course they made the decision to get into bed with Sky and remove any FTA cricket except the odd highlights package from the home test (not that this is a particular criticism of Sky as on the whole their coverage is very good.) This at a stroke cut off access to the masses who had been captivated and excited by the cricket in that 2005 series (it also didn’t help that the national team then got hammered by the Aussies and then had a very lean time under the sorry stewardship of Peter Moores); however there was enough coverage within the national press to keep cricket, if not front of mind, then at least with a share of mind. However as soon as this coverage started to fade from the backs of the nationals with only 1 or 2 cricket correspondents per paper compared to a veritable army of football correspondents, then the impact that our cricketers had soon became invisible to the next generation of potential cricket fans. After all, it has been over 10 years since an England cricketer has been nominated for SPOTY, out of sight, out of mind, one may observe. This lack of coverage of the national game (the county game seems to be fairly obsolete in it’s coverage now, with either only a diehard set of supporters or those who would like to get drunk watching T20’s in certain parts of the country) coupled with the shameful behavior of our boards in the Big 3 takeover has meant that cricket is at it’s lowest ebb around the world. Overall, the decision to take all coverage away from FTA alongside the lack of coverage in the news has meant that cricket is now even more elitist than ever, the preserve of those that can afford to play (i.e. public school boys) or those that are well past their prime, have hung up their bat and are grudgingly willing to pay the exorbitant costs that Sky charge (i.e. me). Growing the game comes a distant second to a quick payday it seems.
Even more worrying is the fact that the ECB doesn’t seem to be able or want to do anything about it. The constant bickering and tinkering with the both the county and domestic T20 competitions is simply like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, it’s simply not going to get the numbers through the door outside of London or other cricketing hotspots. Their constant leaking of information from the ECB around those that ‘aren’t from the right family’ to it’s favourite attack dog – Paul Newman or the dull and meaningless and often supervised interviews with England’s so called superstars alongside their powder puff reporting on the game’s key issues really isn’t getting anyone excited about the game I love. As for social media, there is a decent hot bed of interest from the cricketing community, yet all we have a monotonous England cricket account and no real highlights from any of the games – way to go guys, ignore the most important channel in reaching out to generation Y, Z and the millennials, that’s a brilliant strategy in attracting new followers to the game! Another tick in the Tom Harrison “achievement” column.
This might not be the most uplifting article you’ve read in terms of the health of cricket as a whole, but the comparisons with the health of their friends in the national press are at best incredibly troublesome and at worst extremely frightening and this is not something that is going to go away like it or not. The ECB (and their friends at the IOC) have a stark choice, do something radical now to get people to the game, such as a better share of revenues to invest in grass roots, showing decent highlights on YouTube or Twitter from both red and white ball cricket and bring back some FTA coverage across the board or risk the total devastation that the national press has witnessed by sticking their heads in the sand and hoping things will go away. Time is running out and I only hope that it’s not too late already, because once the horse has bolted, we’ll all be staring at the empty gate wondering where it all went wrong.
A very sad yet true blog however it’s not just the print journos who should also worry.
One further thing to point out is that in 2017, cricket viewing is going to get even worse as BT enter the fray. As soon as the overinflated Sky Prem League deal was announced, I said that it would have repercussions for cricket as Sky looked to make savings elsewhere. And so it has. They’ve had fewer overseas jollies for all of the Sky presenting team with only a few going at a time and now Gower & Beefy are being put out to pasture as Sky cull the expensive correspondents in their team.
Plus how many of Sky’s existing 500.000 or so viewers are going to pay out even more to get BT just to watch England lose an Ashes in Oz? I know I won’t.
Also as more overseas boards decide to sell their content exclusively to other broadcasters, it may be that Sky will no longer get exclusive access to the overseas games and the average fan will lose touch with the overseas game as well. Therefore cricket viewing across the world could suffer. The shortsightedness of the ECB & ICC in trying to get as much broadcasting money as they can upfront instead of thinking about the future of the game may end up killing the cricketing golden goose altogether.
With the ECB’s hands being tied by the current Sky TV deal, it’s hard to see much being done in the next three years that will make a massive difference to cricket’s exposure. The proposed franchise T20 competition with 4 games on FTA TV might bring a lot more money into the county game, but I can’t see it bringing in many new fans. In all honesty I’m not sure there’s much even a competently-run ECB could do to bring English cricket back to 2005 levels of popularity, and my perception of the current ECB after the mess they’ve made of the Kia Super League is that they are not run competently.
2005 was a different time. More people read newspapers, many (perhaps even most people) still only had five TV channels, and whilst most people had internet access they probably spent less time on it. Then, just being on one of the five main TV channels was all the exposure cricket needed to sustain itself and, with a popular and successful team on the field, grow.
Nowadays, people have a lot more choices and typically choose to read and watch things they’re already interested in. Even if all England international cricket was on BBC 1, would a 10 year old choose to watch that over CBBC, or CITV, or Pop, or Kix? Or indeed would they just watch their favourite shows on an on-demand website?
With the breaking apart of the traditional media, it would take a massive amount of marketing skill and effort to reverse cricket’s decline into irrelevance. The ECB never had to use either before 2005 and, sadly, demonstrated neither since.
I agree with you both, I chose not too dig deeper into the TV rights deal or indeed ticket prices, for fear of producing some sort of Ed Smith length essay, but they are absolutely valid points.
Agree with the point that now is a completely different time. We all know the ECB neither has the nous or skill to reverse the decline, but they should be held accountable for their own making of this. Perhaps it is too late to reverse the irreversible, but I’d at least like to see them make some effort, rather than praying than the Golden goose somehow keeps laying…
My suggestion for the ECB would be to try and attach English cricket to media, brands and people who are already successful in the areas they’re targetting.
Take for example children. I say kids seem more likely to watch CBBC than BBC1 now, could the ECB get a cricket show onto CBBC? I seem to recall there was a programme about women’s football in the run-up to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, is it too much to think they might show one about cricket? Another thing kids seems to like (and I’m no expert) is McDonalds. Too often England seems to chose sponsors aiming at the middle-aged or elderly but I would suspect McDonalds would love to associate themselves with sport & fitness, and a quintessentially English sport at that. Crucially, McDonalds seem to have mastered advertising to younger people. If McDonalds ran a cricket-based ad campaign with cricket prizes given away with Happy Meals or whatever, that would reach people the ECB wouldn’t even dream of.
Perhaps the thing the ECB has to work on even more is just getting the sport and the players into the mainstream public consciousness. The most watched shows in the UK last year were Great British Bake Off, Britain’s Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing, I’m A Celebrity… and Eastenders. The ECB should be looking at these shows and trying to work out how to use these shows’ popularity to help English cricket. Perhaps Lord’s could host one of the GBBO challenges? England players could audition for Britain’s Got Talent, whether they’re talented or not it still makes for good telly. Rather than spend this Winter toiling through the subcontinent in conditions that don’t suit him and risking a career-ending injury, Jimmy Anderson could head for the I’m A Celebrity jungle for a well-earned rest. I would assume inviting Eastenders actors to attend cricket games or play cricket would draw the attention of TV gossip magazines and websites to the game.
And so I would go down the list of things that are already popular in TV, music, social media, and everything else and try to get even just a small portion of their popularity pointed towards cricket and cricketers. It’s a lot harder than just throwing the sport on FTA TV and letting everything take care of itself, but I think it’s the only way that would work now.
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Look at their sponsors Danny. Up market brands like Waitrose and Investec. Spec savers is more well known, but hardly going to excite kids.
20/20 was supposed to be the format to attract young families to cricket, and the sponsor is Nat West. A known brand, but not a company that engages with young people and promotes the game through their products.
We now have Fosters joining Hardys wine (both Austrailian companies promoting English cricket.) but again not kid friendly products. I expect The ECB goes with whoever pays the most. Little thought seems to be given to how you could promote the game through a sponsors products.
Who sponsored the BBL? KFC, not an effing bank.
The NWB is still targeted at males aged 25-50. It’s for an after-work booze-up in the sun with a little cricket thrown in. The BBL crowds are full of women and children.
The ECB and the counties say they want that BBL market – but I’m not sure they really do. The bar takings are something they struggle to look beyond.
Interesting piece Sean. I fear thou that the horse has already bolted, and is 3 meadows away enjoying the lush grass. It’s too late to shut the gate now. I said a few years ago that the ECB is just managing decline. Essentially cashing in as much as it can in the short term.
What fascinates me about the finacial model of both cricket and newspapers is how some have the luxury of some sort of subsidy or cross subsidy. Not all of Murdochs newspapers make money, but they can be helped by his tv and film companies. Not an option for some other newspapers.
Cricket also is heavily subsidised. All the money coming from Sky is nice, but let’s be honest most of Skys subscriptions are paid for by footabll supporters wanting to watch the Premeirship. If everything has to make money with a purity of no subsidy a lot of things will cease to function. Don’t know what the answer is to all these problems. A lot of young people don’t buy newspapers, don’t bother to vote, and are not interested in many sports including cricket. Good luck appealing to them on any subject.
Indeed, Murdoch’s been very canny as usual by spreading his risk. He also chose to wisely invest in an up and coming but well respected programmatic firm that gave him access to that market last year. The Guardian on the hand spent £100’s of Millions buying an ageing publishing firm at the height of its power in 2008. Guess who got the better deal!
I do think there is still time to reach out to the younger generation, though this is severely limited, just need to know the channels and message to engage them (still a very difficult job mind). Trying the same thing over and over again, will result in exactly the same result, complete failure.
Thanks for an excellent piece, Sean.
I suspect that there are many factors at play in the defenestration of Selvey (for whom I shall not shed an especially large number of tears).
The Guardian has, as I understand it, been making losses for years. In the light of their most recent figures, it’s a wonder they can pay for any staff at all:
In a climate like that, the paper can only pay for the essentials, which does not include a specialist cricket correspondent. They will be desperate to reduce the payroll to make the numbers look better.
I’d guess that whatever the levels of interest in cricket, people consume written coverage in different ways now. When was the last time you saw someone reading a printed copy of the Guardian? It’s a fair bet that a vast proportion of their readership is online only.
And in terms of what online cricket content we access, most of us seem to follow OBO feeds – which tell us everything which has happened during a day’s play, which leave us with less appetite for then reading a formal report on the day’s play.
I’d take a further guess that the Guardian’s OBO page garners far, far more hits than Selvey’s match report – because readers will visit it numerous times during the course of the day’s play (whereas you only visit the day’s overview report once).
In other words, demand for Selvey’s work might have significantly declined even if the overall level of interest in cricket has remained the same.
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Spot on Maxie. None of the nationals are in a great place, but the Guardian is probably in the worst situation of all of them and if they think their membership scheme is going to solve there problems then they’re delusional as well.
Also the Guardian’s never had a massive print following (around 350,000 in 2006, probably a lot lower now) and their online following, whilst large, is partly down to the fact that they haven’t put a paywall up and is the only free to access quality (i don’t count the Fail as a quality).
Selvey’s dismissal is undoubtedly due to pure cost cutting, but one may guess that they would’ve looked at article figures from their better paid journos and made a decision from there. I do still think there is a role for the day’s play summariser piece alongside the OBO, sadly that was never Mike Selvey
“I’d take a further guess that the Guardian’s OBO page garners far, far more hits than Selvey’s match report –”
And of course, the Guardian OBO is a report of the Sky coverage and is completely dependent on it.
A few years ago….actually probably not even as many as I think…..I was quite worried that the Guardian was going to fold, and that the newspaper I’d grown up with, that my Mum and Dad had bought since the 1950s, and which I’d grown to love, would no longer exist.
I found some of the focus in the supplements and the weekend paper a bit out of my zone – there seemed to be a lot of shiny, wealthy people with lifestyles a hundred thousand miles away from me and what I knew doing bizarre things and worrying about irrelevant trifles, but they were just at the edges.
Then they grew. They seemed to infect the whole newspaper. Their world-view became the leader page. The correspondents I admired drifted off, others seemed to grow older and more establishment, and the new younger journalists seemed a bit too….well….cut from the same Public School/Oxbridge/South East England cloth. The rise of Julian Glover, who left to become a speechwriter for David Cameron was the point at which I really wondered how much I could put up with anymore.
I know this isn’t a place for politics. But the decline in respect I have for the cricket pages on the G reflects very much the decline of the rest of the paper…..as if it has become more and more a pale reflection of the rest of the media, whether it’s a commercial imperative or just losing sight of the traditions of a once radical newspaper I do not know. But the entire experience I used to enjoy when reading the G has diminished to such an extent that I wonder now if I would truly be sad if it disappeared tomorrow. In some ways, it has already gone.
Curiously enough, I have much the same feeling about English cricket, and that’s why the success or failure of the England team no longer inspires much emotional reaction from me except a wish that Alistair Cook gets out stupidly for a very low score every time he bats, and otherwise I don’t much care what happens.
I guess what I’m saying in a confused and roundabout way is that, if the fate of cricket and the print media re entwined, their decline mirrors my own declining interest in them both. And the fault for it lies entirely – entirely – in their own hands.
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Thanks for posting Northern Light, although I never had the same affinity with the Guardian, I did hold its cricket coverage in a decent light until around 2010/11 when it became the pudding of self interest it is today. It’s the complete hypocrisy that turns me off alongside the dreadful modding of BTL, where those who hold Selvey’s line are allowed to shout the loudest and those that don’t are either deleted or subject to the lovely musings of WCTT etc.
The last paragraph really strikes a chord with me, and subconsciously mirrors what this piece is very much about. I know longer read the Nationals nor do I feel a part of English cricket anymore and the fault lies completely with their actions
As if to prove your point, here’s a non-cricket, non-political example of the Guardian’s headlong plummet into laughable irrelevance:
I’ve always been into cricket, but also other sports.
I don’t have Sky. This year I’ve watched hours of Tour de France and just a few snippets of cricket.
As a result the step-daughter has seen some cycling and knows about yellow, polka dot, green.
No cricket was consumed by this child.
That’s the difference that FTA makes.
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Good post, well written.
As the way we seek information changes, I look at cricinfo in comparison the the guardian. It has pretty much everything; match match reports, analysis, stats, interviews, opinion pieces and video, it’s all there, and the quality of journalism is high and with a diverse range of voices. The only things missing is an intelligent discussion community, and live coverage. Cricinfo is an absolute treasure, And they don’t have intrusive advertising, they’ve never asked for a single cent (unlike the guardian who hounds me incessantly; fat chance of seeing any of my money with Selvey on the team). Somehow cricinfo found a way to make it work,
For those who missed the news the guardian announced a loss last week of £170M, which after removing exceptional costs was £70M, up £10M from the previous year. Hence the 250 redundencies, including the senior Cricket Correspondent.
There are voices out there, and there is an audience, I expect they will meet up eventually, but probably outside of the traditional venues. Dmitri does well with this blog, Dennis F does well, Kimber started with his own blog and is now with cricinfo, the likes of Gary Naylor et al are floating around offering good, intelligent sports journalism. I won’t object too much if the complacent and entitled hierarchy of todays cricket journalism is put under notice.
Drugs; what drugs? Big three heist?; just a knee jerk reaction according to the guardians Bull.
DOAG?; didn’t bother to watch it. Governance?; Oh look, country cricket! They deserve to become irrelevant.
As an aside, this a gracious and elegant way to say goodbye when you’ve been made redundent by the guardian:
The journey from hip young gunslinger to curmudgeonly old fart is surprisingly short. In the end you do your best, pass on the baton to others, and head off to the pub – happy in the knowledge that you have at least learned one thing.
When to stop.
David Marsh is a former production editor of the Guardian.
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And from that same article, here’s a quote that bilious inadequates might wonder about, and weep:
“As I leave Kings Place to devote my declining years to the school run, Sheffield United Football Club, and my quirky music website, what will I miss most? The biggest single change I’ve seen, other than technological, has been the virtual (in both senses) disappearance in the gap between journalists and readers. For a long time the odd – sometimes distinctly so – letter to the editor was about it; now there’s a continuous dialogue: the @guardianstyle Twitter feed (“the pedant’s pedant”) has nearly 65,000 followers and it’s been wonderful to engage with and learn from so many funny, clever people. The same applies to the readers who have posted comments under these blogposts (see below for confirmation, or otherwise, of this claim). I shall miss you.”
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It is my belief that the greatest mistake newspapers are making with digital platforms is not to find ways to engage more with their readers. They have readers who are interested, and often take the time to engage. Quite often these people have more knowledge than the journos.
But often the paper does not want to hear from these people because it goes against the editorial line of the newspaper. This makes the whole interaction process dishonest. Don’t claim you want to hear from people, only to then purge and censor them because you don’t like what they say.
BTL is dishonest, disreputable and a con trick played by papers to intimate that they care. It’s the same as “please Tweet us using #blahblah” on the TV programmes. Anything critical is seen as “trolling” or “abuse”. What some journos did to Compton this summer bordered on that (in my view two in particular crossed the line, and maybe even a third) but that’s OK. They are journos after all.
The paper doesn’t give a shit what you write BTL as long as (a) it isn’t slagging them off and (b) you keep coming back. But just as you don’t look out the window for the entire train journey into London (when I commute) I don’t stop to look at the adverts. So what’s the point? Sean knows a lot more about it than me, but that Outbrain crap, and the other adverts don’t really register. Also, AdBlockers are killing even that prospect!
Newspapers don’t want to engage, and people shouldn’t use them as the conduit to engage. There are better places on all subjects. Where people know their stuff. As long as they don’t become echo chambers, then they work. I don’t go BTL to comment because I have my own pulpit here.
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I agree BTL is a con. Newspapers only want people who agree with them. So too tv and radio. But my point is it doesn’t have to be like this. They have people who are motivated, and in many cases know their stuff. But that means the journos might end up looking stupid, and it goes against editorial policy.
The newspaper has an audience who are willing to engage. But the editors are frightened of them. So they censor them. They are treating their customers like shit.
“BTL is dishonest, disreputable and a con trick played by papers to intimate that they care. It’s the same as “please Tweet us using #blahblah” on the TV programmes. Anything critical is seen as “trolling” or “abuse”.
Yes, mostly true, but what struck me about that quote was the value he placed on his interaction with his readers. He especially highlighted the value of the people he had engaged with, he described them as funny and clever, he humbly called for confirmation of his opinion in the comments below, and he said he’d miss them. Read the comments, the respect shines through.
It’s pretty much the polar opposite of what Selvey has done for the last few years.
Selvey had a funny and clever readership once, and it wasn’t the likes of heiro, zeph, nonox, Quebecer, tooting, and humptydumpty who screwed it up. He had a funny and clever readership once, but they all left.
BTL doesn’t have to be dishonest if people are allowed to comment freely..
But you have to have journos who can take criticism, have a sense of humour, or who are not pushing an agenda. (Their own, or the newspapers)
My dad was a printer, and he told me in the 80s that newspapers were a dying trade, and that’s even before the advent of the internet. In hindsight they reached their peak in the early 90s in terms of political influence and sporting nastiness, the sort that sold tabloids, and it has been a gradual decline. You don’t see people reading broadsheets on the commute to work any more – it’s either an online version of the paper which costs a fraction of the printed one, or it is the Metro (in London) – a free newspaper that is over-priced. The broadsheets, as they were known, are now an indulgence, so what we’ll have is a couple of “intelligent” papers kept on like rich people keep paying for airlines (like the old joke, what’s the quickest way to make a small fortune? Have a large fortune and buy an airline), and the advertising behemoth of the Mail, with the Sun still having an influence just by being The Sun.
The waning popularity of cricket is just much more negligent. I think it still revolves around the panic of the IPL’s creation. Our international players are paid far more than their sporting exposure merits. It has to be this way otherwise the more gifted will be tempted to cash in their international career for a shot at the T20 roadshows, and especially the IPL. I think that’s part of the reason KP has to be a pariah, I think that’s part of the reason Eoin Morgan gets stick from Newman. The contrast with football is stark. When a club buys an African footballer, they pay the guy a lot of cash, and then bleat and moan when he sods off to the African Cup of Nations in the middle of the season. They do all they can to get them to give up playing international football, because the Premier League is the financial behemoth. Loads of the managers hate international football, see it as the second class citizen and the clubs do all they can to sell the idea that Premier League, Champions League et al is more important than World Cups and Continental trophies. These guys, when they do give up internationals at an earlier age, aren’t decried as mercenaries, disloyal, but sensible, prudent players with short careers and maximising their earnings. Do that in cricket, like Morgan and KP have done, and people are off and running about their lack of commitment. The ECB got shit scared, saw the only way to get the money in that could pay the players in the IPL range was a total Sky package, and there we go.
Sure, they totally sold out in 2005 before the IPL, but the increased money received from Sky (and Indian paymasters for our home series against them) is now like heroin to an addict. They can’t go cold turkey, because the wage structure would collapse, the counties would be even more broke than they are now, and the sport would have to downsize. Once it truly downsizes, we might as well all pack up and go home. Cricket, if it isn’t there already, is a niche sport. Cycling, a sport we were rubbish at, is growing fast. The best events are on free to air even though Sky are the most successful team. The Tour can pack out crowds in the UK (London turning it down for the 2017 Grand Depart is baffling) and even yesterday’s sub-standard psuedo-Classic got people out. It’s accessible, it has stars, and they are visible. Cyclists have won SPOTY numerous times. The niche events are on sports channels, the big ones on main ones.
I’ll pack it in there. I haven’t even started on the ECB’s Big Bash rip off. Cricket is in denial. I think we are too. This might be the end for top wages for England cricket stars, and then the IPL might truly take over. Who knows? I just have no faith in Graves and Harrison having a scooby how to fix it.
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Couldn’t agree more. The administrators opened up in a genie with the creation of the IPL and now they can’t work out how to get it back in the bottle. Players naturally want to earn as much money as they can in a short career and who are we to begrudge it (unless you’re name is Paul Newman).
Rather than blaming the players, fans, Chairmen or whoever they can lay the blame on, then perhaps they should look at making the Test arena a far better paid opportunity for all international players and actually add some meaningful context to it. Who knows some fans may still not like Test cricket, like some fans, but i bet there are a number of players who would think twice about a career in the T20 mediocre leagues rather than a well paid opportunity to represent their country in a Test tournament that mattered.
Of course, all of this is by the by, as our glorious administrators would prefer to stick their heads in the ground and carry on with the scorched earth policy that they’re currently adhering to. I wouldn’t trust them with a boiled egg, let alone the golden goose!
Much to ponder from Sean and the comments. I’d heard that newspapers’ ad revenue had fallen off a cliff but didn’t understand why so many thanks for the explanation. LOL’ed at the Selvey graphic!
I feel a sense of loss at my idea of what the Guardian once was and should be, an independently-minded newspaper that upheld broadly progressive values and was beholden to no-one. I wouldn’t miss for a minute what the Guardian actually is and has been for a while in its cricket coverage, a bulletin board for ECB press releases topped up with some of the worst of Middle England’s bile and laced with the odd dash of identity politics as the sole remaining sop to progressive ideals.
If I thought the departure of Selvey marked a change in editorial line, I’d regard this as a moment of hope. I don’t think anyone seriously believes that’s the case though. I’m presuming we’ll be left with the Guardian’s current coverage minus Selvey. This means Vic Marks (who seems to have increased his output already) doing the internationals, Ali Martin doing interviews and governance, and Andy Bull and Barney Ronay doing occasional features. If Bull was the writer his fans keep telling us he is, that could work. But he really isn’t…..
The DT offer a model that shouldn’t be beyond the Guardian (in except one regard). Nick Hoult and Scyld Berry cover the internationals. Both are interested in governance and report on it when something’s going on. Hoult is more anti-Establishment, Berry more pro-Establishment – but both will call out errors if they see them. That would do me – interest, diversity of opinion, independence of mind. It isn’t cloud cuckoo-land to want this. The DT can also afford a bevy of former players as writers (Boycott, Vaughan, Pietersen, Warne sometimes). Okay, the Guardian can’t afford that. I can live with that.
The recent difference in Marks’ and Hoult’s reporting on the ECB and T20 has been painful. Marks printed some quotes from the Chairman of his old county and assured his readers that the debate was “reasonable and civilised”. Hoult had researched a stack of evidence and canvassed a wide range of opinions – and if calling the situation “civil war” was OTT for some, at least Hoult gets the profound chasm that exists between the ECB and many of the counties. He gets that that chasm is a result of the ECB’s serial mendacity over recent years because he’s been reporting it.
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Total agree Simon, Nick Hoult has been one of the few investigative journalists out there, happy to report on things that could upset his superiors (not sure why it would). The Guardian lot were too happy to tag along with Selvey’s special relationship with Clarke. They’re more than happy to put out some luke warm, powder puff to their readers these day.
Also agree totally on Andy Bull, i just don’t get why people rate him so highly..
slightly tangential to the topic – but definitely cricket correspondent related.
Interesting article from Ali MArtin re Jimmy Anderson, especially these bits;
While he concedes he was down on pace in Manchester, hovering around the 80mph mark because of what he has diagnosed as simple rustiness
“I didn’t feel like my speeds were where they could be at Old Trafford,” said Anderson, after conceding the decision to leave him out at Lord’s was probably wise.
so, where are the apologies from the press for slagging off the selectors and saying they should trust the bowler as the ‘know their own body’…….
Lol, I had read that and thought similar. Perhaps we would have had Anderson going around the park at Lord’s rather than Finn/Ball and perhaps pick up another injury.
I’m guessing Jimmy will be treated a bit better than Matthew Hoggard was when everyone realises he’s – what was their pet phrase? – “lost his nip.”
He’s so desperate for it to not be important, I almost feel sorry for him. But he’s a potty-mouthed, abusive defender of the status quo, so I also won’t shed too many tears if he gets cast aside like every other player when they’re no longer pulling their weight.
Nothing personal, Jimmy. You’re a great bowler of course. But the batsmen just aren’t scared of you anymore, however much you swear at them.
Unnoticed by the UK MSM:
I am guessing 50% in the pockets of Zanu-PF (elections are expensive too!). So what was the issue again with Nepal cricket when politics and sports blend?
West Indies have reached 48/4, with the top four dismissed in their second dig against India. Quite possible that this will be another innings defeat. What are the odds on the West Indies suffering 3 innings defeats in a home series?
Brave call that it won’t be four!
The only reason that I did not put four is that the West Indies have often missed out on deserved whitewashes (on the basis of quality of play) due to intervention of the weather gods. It happened in England, probably in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in their most recent tours there.
Likewise, West Indies have not often been whitewashed at home.
But seriously speaking, if India keep performing like this in the West Indies, all stats henceforth should include only the Big-7 opposition (excluding Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and West Indies), as this is beyond pathetic. Bangladesh seem to be improving, but no one is actually willing to play them.
Great article. Small point. The tv rights to Sky were sold in 2004 before the Ashes. Channel 4 used to get around 2 million which is a lot more than the 300,000 Sky get. We were told the extra money would go into coaching etc. However, the numbers playing and watching the sport are going down. The same will happen to golf.
However, even though it’s clear that FTA coverage would be far better than Sky for reaching new supporters, it’s worth remembering that broadcast television in the UK is also changing massively, and declining. Advertising has been hit in the same way as Sean describes for newspapers. Huge numbers of people don’t watch the mainstream channels. The average age of a BBC1 viewer is 55+.
So while latching onto Strictly or EastEnders for publicity would do no harm, it doesn’t mean that new young supporters would necessarily then start switching to BBC2 to watch Test highlights.
Arguably, we should stop worrying about FTA as it used to be and think about streaming services, running a cricket channel through YouTube or something else that hasn’t been invented yet.
There is something to be said for targetting older people as well, rather than solely going for kids. Most kids watch what their parents watch on TV, at least some of the time, so if you can get people who are 20-50 watching cricket it can still make a big difference to cricket’s future. The shows I listed were just pulled from the Wikipedia page for the 50 most watched TV programmes in the UK in 2015. I was using them as example of shows with broad mainstream interest I’d like cricket to tap into, but truthfully what I’d hope the ECB would do is adopt a Total War approach to dealing with this problem. Use every possible resource, target every possible demographic, be both shameless and ruthless in trying to bring new fans into the sport. So I’d also target whoever kids today follow on Youtube, Twitter, Instagram or whatever platform I have yet to hear about they’re using nowadays. I’d try to make current England players into celebrities who get coverage outside of the Sports pages, the way Flintoff and Pietersen are. Hell, I’d try to get England players cast as extras in Game Of Thrones and Star Wars. Do everything, anything, to raise cricket’s profile.
Very much agree. A coherent social media policy with access to live games, real time action and decent highlights should be the absolute bare minimum. Of course, that will never happen, as the ECB is tied in with Sky, who want to monopolise the market. Plus ca change…
Great piece Sean.
The problem is less about programmatic per se, more that 85% of all digital ad spend goes to Google and Facebook. Goolge made 19billion dollars in digital ad revenue, globally in 1st qtr of 2016. Thats nearly the value of the entire UK ad market, TV, ooh, press combined, annually!. These are precarious times for all original news/content providers that have a high cost base, not just the traditional news organisations.
But you’re right, its part of a wider concern, if you don’t already follow cricket, the algorithims that Facebook and Goolgle use to filter your searches and news feeds mean you won’t ever see it. The risks of the echo chaber are real.
Unless something seismic happens, as long as people are relying on Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat as their primary means of dscovery then, where there is high uptake of those platforms cricket is basically buggered in the long term as it will be invisible unless you are are friends with passionate cricket fans and players.
Taking it off of terrrestial TV was incredibly stupid then, now it’s difficult to see a way back given the way things currently are.
Spot on Mike, I had meant to include the power of Google and Facebook in this piece, but as an oversight left them out. Unfortunately they are devouring the market – nationals, B2B, digital owners, OOH and TV, the lot.