Money Makes the World Go Round

A curiosity of sports administrators everywhere over the last quarter of a century has been the apparent belief that their drive to monetise the game in every facet would pass unnoticed by everyone else.  The fans, under the misguided belief that the game belonged to them were the first ones to be cast aside, as ticket prices rocketed, television coverage disappeared behind a paywall and the wider game became utterly subservient to the pursuit of manna.  The English (football) Premier League was the first to make the connection, and the pathway to the present can be identified a good decade before that came into being, firstly with the removal of the gate revenue sharing model, then with the abolition of the key rule preventing owners from taking money out of the clubs.  With that in place, it was merely a matter of time before it became an investment opportunity with all that entailed.

In the case of cricket, the most obvious examples were the move to Sky and the creation of T20 at a professional level (as needs constantly pointing out to those who believe it was radical, it had existed at club level for half a century), which then led on to the IPL and its assorted imitators around the world.

In the space of little more than a decade, cricket had become the new sexy for those seeking to exploit commercial advantage in a way never seen before.  To some extent it was no more than the corollary of the Packer Circus in the late 1970s, but the scale and impact on the wider sport was of a new level entirely.

The last few weeks have shown indications that all of these developments have been coming to a head.  The BCCI’s response to the proposal to dramatically cut their still huge proportion of ICC generated revenues was to threaten a boycott of the Champions Trophy, Australia’s cricketers are in dispute with their board over money – even if not necessarily their own – while in England the proposed TV package deals for the upcoming auction of rights have caused divergent opinion on the merits or otherwise in terms of what they might mean.  But there’s a central element to all of them, namely that it is about the money.  Always the money.

There is an important part to this, a central theme that cannot be ignored. That is that the moment a governing body of a sport – and note, a sport – ceases to put the sport itself as the prime, indeed only, focus for its existence, then it stops being about the sport itself.  It becomes a means of creating wealth, no different to any other business.  In itself, that isn’t inherently wrong or evil, but it does change the focus and the strategy and changes the rationale for the game’s existence.  This isn’t a lament for the days of amateurism, but a recognition that it becomes merely another branch of the entertainment industry, with all that entails.  Those who love the game for the sake of it are never going to be important any longer, their value exists solely in the financial contribution they can make to it, and if it isn’t obvious on a balance sheet, then for the purposes of future planning, they don’t exist.  It is for that reason that the thousands of people in any given nation who give up their time to keep the game going are not just overlooked, they specifically don’t matter.  Lip service is paid to them, but nothing more than that.  When they complain that the ECB or their equivalents don’t think they matter, it’s because they’re right – they don’t matter.  All that they do comes to fruition anything up to 20 years down the line and cannot be assessed financially in the here and now, and that is all that is important.

The various stories across the press are not disparate items in the world of cricket, but separate strands of the same wider topic.  The dispute between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association has been covered in the UK from the perspective of the unlikely possibility that Australia might not have a team for the Ashes, as though that was in any way the principal issue at stake.  Within the Australian media there’s much more nuance about the matters at hand, with Gideon Haigh as so often cutting to the heart of the matter.  The wider issue he addresses is that conduct of CA is such that it regards the players as commodities to be given their orders by their bosses, rather than as integral to the game itself.  Cricket boards have reached the point where the pursuit of money is the end in and of itself, rather than a necessary means to support and grow the game. This about face in approach is critically important, for once understood all the decisions and proposals are much more easily grasped and the reasoning behind all that they do becomes clear.

The best Australian players stand to benefit, in the short term at least, from adopting the CA proposal; their rejection stems, they say, from their concern about the levels below the highest, both amateur and professional.  Even if their opposition isn’t entirely altruistic – which it may well be – they have a very strong case in objecting to the removal of a revenue sharing model.  With all well paid professional sports stars, the cry goes up that they are overpaid, yet this dramatically misses the point.  No one goes to a game or watches on television because of the administrators, it is entirely and totally down to the players.  Every commercial deal is made on that back of that essential point, and the players deserve to paid in proportion to the money coming in.  It’s not even purely the international level cricketers either, for the showcasing of their skills is on the back of those below, right the way down to someone appearing on a Sunday afternoon for their pub side.  In the purest commercial terms, the players are the product, and while the value of a David Warner and an amateur club player is obviously vastly different, they still form part of the same equation.  That CA don’t see it that way at all can be gleaned from the attempt to divide and rule by separating out the top players from the rest to try to force through the changes.  Those leading performers deserve credit for both seeing through the ruse and refusing to solely look after their own financial interests.

Top sportsmen (and overwhelmingly, it is men) are rarely motivated by money once it reaches a certain point.  The difference between coming first and second in a golf major is not a matter of money, but of pride and sporting ambition.  Attempting to set one group against another when the money is already good is doomed to failure.  It’s certainly not just in cricket where there is resistance, in recent times tennis players at the top level have threatened action of those below them weren’t better rewarded for their efforts.

All too often, they are criticised for greed, the question put is how much more money do they want.  It’s a false equation – they deserve to be paid in proportion with how much is generated, largely by them.  It’s nothing more and nothing less.  Boards and owners regard them as employees to be compensated and do not see that the money does not belong to administrators, no matter how much they dislike that fact.  It is also why the boards have a mentality that grassroots funding is a cost, rather than the raison d’etre for their existence.  It’s why they try to minimise that outlay rather than consider it the driving motivation.   As a point of principle, the Australian players need to win this argument, even if the result may not be a community one at the end of the matter.

For this is not a parochial Australian matter, the same arguments will be had around the world.  The ECB are preparing their latest round of media deals for coverage and there has been much comment around the likelihood of some free to air television coverage and even some celebration that it will form part of the future arrangements.  This is misplaced, even though any free access is to be welcomed in and of itself.  The ECB are hoping to play Sky Sports and BT Sport off against each other to maximise the income, and have split the packages with that in mind. Almost all of the meaningful coverage will go to one or the other, since within Package One goes all the international cricket and the country cricket – such as it is in the latter case.  The new T20 league goes into a separate category, doubtless with the intention of it being the consolation prize for whoever doesn’t get the first one, and necessitating a second subscription for those who wish to see it all.  By splitting these the overall value is undoubtedly higher but it can’t be said to be good news for the individuals paying for access.  Which of Sky or BT gets them is neither here nor there in the larger scheme of things, given the Balkanisation of sports television.

Where it gets more interesting is in the free to air packages available, offering two men’s T20 internationals, one women’s T20 international, ten men’s and eight women’s T20 league matches.  On the face of it, it’s a reasonable size too, but it indicates a pure focus on the T20 side of the game for wider consumption. Partly this will be because terrestrial broadcasters have to fit sport around the rest of their schedules, and two and a half hour programmes will fit ideally in contrast to five days of Test cricket.  The logic of the argument that T20 is a gateway to the game more generally can be supported by the categorisation, but equally it can be seen as regarding the shortest form of the game as the only viable one from the perspective of both free to air broadcasters and the ECB itself.  This case has been made many times, most often in the misleading and specious argument that the likes of the BBC have shown no interest in Test cricket.  That is true, and is because the ECB have shown no interest in the BBC, so why should they bother?

Where the free to air packages go will also be indicative of whether the ECB take the wider broadcast of the game as being in any way important.  According to Nick Hoult at the Telegraph, the BBC are one potential home, but so are Discovery, via their Quest channel.  There can be no doubt whatever that the BBC would offer the largest footprint for potential viewership, just as there can be no doubt whatever that Discovery would sign a larger cheque.  Choosing the latter would be incontrovertible proof that money is all that matters to the ECB.  No protestations about the importance of growing interest in the game could ever be believed if they still hid away the free to air broadcast on a minor channel, for make no mistake, Quest is a minor channel, one which most people won’t even be aware.  The reach of the BBC is vastly greater than any alternative, including ITV, although few would complain if it went there instead.  If the ECB do want people to watch cricket, the main channels are the only game in town.

Whatever the outcome of the TV bids, the same processes applying in Australia are going to come to England as well.  Already players are going to miss England matches in order to play T20 tournaments elsewhere in the world, a situation that remains ever ironic given the way the ECB publicly berated and belittled Kevin Pietersen for wanting to do far less than is the now the case.  Those who have bought tickets for the matches in anticipation of seeing England’s strongest team will be disappointed, and are once again ignored as being irrelevant.  In England at least, it hasn’t quite reached the point it did in Australia where two separate national teams were playing at the same time, but the acceptance of the concept of the national team not representing the best available is well established, even before taking into account the ludicrous schedule that necessitates resting players.

England’s players are well remunerated in international terms, but the ECB’s focus on extracting the maximum from the game at the same time as concentrating power to themselves will undoubtedly lead to the same kind of friction seen in Australia.  The gap between the international players and the county ones is vast, the difference between genuine affluence and a barely reasonable living, particularly given the short career on offer.  Boards have opened the Pandora’s Box of commercialisation, and are now attempting to screw the lid back down as the realisation of what that entails begins to dawn on them.  Franchise cricket in the form of the T20 league is merely the apogee of this centralised mentality.  The county game will be sidelined – not in itself a disaster for the wider game were there alternate structures in place but there won’t be.  For many county professionals – let alone smaller counties excluded from the party – there will be a severe chill in the air, the downgrading of both county championship and the assorted one day competitions can’t do anything but damage their livelihoods for it is impossible to imagine the revenues from the existing competitions doing anything but dropping vertically.  More critically for the wider game, the same applies to Test cricket.  It is hard to believe that the ECB will wish for Tests to be running alongside the latest shiny toy, for that would weaken the commercial proposition they have pushed so hard to create.  In isolation, that might not be a disaster, in common with all the other tournaments worldwide, it’s severely problematic.  That T20 is now the prime focus for the ECB, and for cricket more widely around the world is indisputable.  The rub here is that T20, sold as the means of generating legions of new cricket fans, could have done exactly that with some wisdom.

At some point there will be a reckoning in terms of the England players too.  They can earn heavily as free agents and the security of an England contract only has value for as long as they can’t do better as free agents – which would include playing for England, but not under ECB control.  The top down model of enforcing both behaviour and availability works for as long as the boards run everything within their domain.  Their own actions are sowing the seeds of their downfall, yet there is no real awareness that this is the case.  The lack of focus on the sport for the sake of it can be seen with their treatment of the counties as an obstruction to be overcome, while even their initiatives at the lowest level are open to question. Danny’s excellent article about the All Stars Cricket initiative raises a fundamental question about their approach:  While anything to encourage cricket is inherently a good thing, the usual opacity concerning how much the ECB are investing applies.  ASC is a commercial venture first and foremost, and it’s hard to get away from the feeling that the clubs know better how to do this themselves, and would benefit more greatly from financial support to do so.  It smacks of a PR exercise that’s more about the ECB itself than the game of cricket, the cost involved rather gives that away.

Across all sports and indeed outside of sport, there is the danger of harking back to the past and viewing it through rose tinted spectacles.  School cricket was never the panacea some make it out to be, and club involvement in the modern era is vastly superior to what was on offer 30 years ago.  But never has the wider game been further removed from the sharp end of the sport which has transmuted into a money making machine with no regard for outcome nor care about the game itself.  The ECB remains an organisation that primarily looks after its own interests, never better demonstrated than in its structure whereby the non-professional game has no elected representation anywhere within it.  Its authority is self-reinforcing, driving downwards and telling the vast majority of English cricket what to do.  The much maligned FA is by contrast a model of democratic accountability, to the point that much of the criticism stems from it being an amateur organisation trying to manage the professional sport.  Cricket could not be more different.

Given that, it should not be surprising that the ECB (and CA) focus is on its own success, defined by how much money it can bring in and divide up amongst its stakeholders – yes stakeholders.  Not too long ago the ECB attracted derision for forgetting to include match going supporters in that list, but the truth of the matter is that this wasn’t an embarrassing oversight, it was a statement of fact.  You don’t matter.  You might play the game, you might go and watch the game, you might coach colts, you might umpire or do the scoring.  You aren’t important and you are thoroughly and completely taken for granted.  The only time it will be noticed is if the grounds are empty or if the TV deals decline in value and even then it will be a matter of looking at the symptoms rather than the cause.  The only bulwark against this are the professional players, the one group in all this who might be considered to care about cricket for the sake of it.  They are the only ones who might actually stand up for the game, irrespective of how many millions they might earn themselves on the back of it.

What a delicious irony.

 

 

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41 thoughts on “Money Makes the World Go Round

  1. thelegglance May 18, 2017 / 4:04 pm

    Quick note of thanks to Sean for suggestions and (constructive!) criticism.

    Like

    • Sean B May 18, 2017 / 9:58 pm

      Coincidentally I had fired up my laptop to do a piece on the very same subject when the WhatsApp message came through from TLG that he had drafted something. Rather annoyingly, this is about 100 times better than the piece I was going to write. It’s truly superb.

      Like

  2. BobW May 18, 2017 / 4:21 pm

    What a great article.
    The line ‘the moment a governing body of a sport – and note, a sport – ceases to put the sport itself as the prime, indeed only, focus for its existence, then it stops being about the sport itself’ is so true. To be fair it is not just cricket. The Premiership is another example. It’s about greed and the delusion that goes with it.

    Like

  3. SimonH May 18, 2017 / 5:19 pm

    “The best Australian players stand to benefit, in the short term at least, from adopting the CA proposal”.

    Isn’t part of the CA proposals that they couldn’t play in the IPL for three years? Wouldn’t that make the Aussie players who could get an IPL gig much worse off?

    (Apologies if Gideon Haigh addressed this – I can’t access his article. I’m also not denying that the Australian players have right on their side in this dispute – just suggesting this is part of the mix in the dispute. I suspect CA desire to regain more control of their players and it may be part of an ECB/CA rollback directed at the BCCI).

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    • thelegglance May 18, 2017 / 5:22 pm

      It’s not clear how true that is, there are (as usual) different takes on it. That’s why I put the “in the short term at least” qualifier in. CA are claiming it’s the case.

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    • thelegglance May 18, 2017 / 5:27 pm

      Oh by the way Simon, to get the articles from the Australian probably the best way to do it is to a google search for Gideon Haigh and see it that way. References from Google seem to bypass the paywall.

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      • SimonH May 18, 2017 / 5:44 pm

        TLG, thanks for the tip. I’ve been trying to escape Google – but it seems impossible!

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        • thelegglance May 18, 2017 / 5:45 pm

          Only a shorthand, I daresay it applies to DuckDuckGo as well!

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      • SimonH May 18, 2017 / 10:09 pm

        “CA has behaved as unchecked mono­polies are apt to. It has postured, obfuscated, delayed, intrigued. It has sought to divide the players among themselves: women from men; international from domestic; just recently, senior inter­nat­ionals, to whom it offered extended contracts, from their colleagues. That having failed, it has escalated to outright intimidation….. what sticks in CA’s craw is the inconvenience of considering any view but its own. How dare the players express opinions? How dare they do anything but obey?”

        Wow, Haigh is good.

        Liked by 1 person

        • thelegglance May 18, 2017 / 10:11 pm

          He’s one of, if not the, best. And you know when I first read that section, all I thought was that CA are simply a far more competent and able ECB, who dream of being that capably nefarious.

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      • SimonH May 19, 2017 / 8:30 am

        Not sure the ECB need any instruction in nefariousness myself….

        CA haven’t yet verbally insulted their own fans, compiled dossiers on their own players, sent Peever to the ICC or silenced all effective media criticism (Haigh, Bretting and Lemon – to name three – are all siding mostly with the players).

        Maybe CA are better at it? We’ll see – CA haven’t won their dispute yet and, by their own standards, the ECB didn’t fail in their nefariousness (Pietersen was sacked, the players have been pliable so far, Flower controls the next generation, TV revenues didn’t suffer, ECB power on the ICC seems resurgent etc). The price of hacking off the likes of us I’m sure bothers them not one jot.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Nicholas May 18, 2017 / 6:20 pm

    On the topic of the rights, my educated guesses for the various packages’ destinations would be as follows:

    Sky take Package 1 and their status quo is maintained

    BT take Package 2 – boom, the ECB gets more revenue and a new TV partner

    BBC take Package 3 – the ECB realises that the wider exposure that the BBC would give them to the new T20 and the women’s game is worth a lesser monetary bid

    Sky take Package 4, unless the ECB wish to maintain the status quo of the BBC website also having access to clip rights

    Channel 5 take Package 5

    That way, we see the status quo maintained when it comes to international and county cricket (which, as we can see, is what the ECB wanted all along), with BT and the BBC doing their best to promote the new T20 shenanigans.

    The ECB could have been *far* more creative when it came up with packaging up the rights, but once again they’ve let us all down. It’s a disgrace, tbh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thelegglance May 18, 2017 / 6:25 pm

      My hesitation on your (reasonable!) guess would be that BT have shocked Sky before on the question of broadcast rights – Champions League football being the case in point. It makes commercial sense for them to pay more in order to make BT Sport a properly viable platform, i.e. picking up more sport and more viewers. So whereas for Sky cricket doesn’t necessarily hold a strong value in the great scheme of things, for BT it might actually drive additional subscription.

      So the commercial logic might *might* suggest a big BT bid.

      Like

    • Mark May 18, 2017 / 6:32 pm

      Which is why if I was the BBC I wouldn’t bid for any of it.

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  5. Mark May 18, 2017 / 6:29 pm

    A few years ago I was driving home and I heard some representative from the premier league on the radio…say…….”I don’t call them fans, but customers.” I thought….. be careful what you wish for. Fans don’t behave in the same way as customers. Customers are only loyal if you provide exactly what they want. The premier league chairman have been very happy to alternate between calling their paying public either….fans or customers …..depending on the situation. When they don’t want any input from the fans, just their money, they tell them they are customers. When their team is about to get relegated, they demand the now called “fans….” come out and support the shirt, and get behind the club.” Notice it’s a club when things are going wrong. But a business when they want to put the prices up

    Over the last 20 years Premiership football has been very keen to align themselves with the entertainment industry, when it suits! Every few years a new Sky contract is issued, and the price of season tickets, and Sky subscriptions climbs ever higher. Right on q some sap from Deloitte’s is wheeled out to explain to moaning fans (customers) that they are part of the entertainment industry and should shut up. Bizarrely, they then take the top acts and compare them to all of the premiership. Adele is one of the biggest stars in music right now, and a ticket to see her at the Albert Hall is big money. So too a top Opera singer at Covent Garden. So, football translates this into a defence of why they should get the same. This of course is utter bullshit.

    First, how often are you going to go and watch a top act in concert. Maybe once in a lifetime. Perhaps a few times. But 2-3 times a week? I think not.

    Second, the entertainment industry is ALL about PERFORMAMCE …..not results. When you go to see a top band you expect the lead guitar player to know all the riffs, and the lead singer to know the lyrics. Sure, you may not get perfection every time, but if you are a top act, you have to perform. If you don’t, you disappear very quickly. In sport it’s more about the result. How often does a manager say “the result is all that matters?”

    This makes it much more difficult to set a price for most of sport. How often can people afford to go? Problem for the governing bodies in their desire to align themselves with the entertainment industry is they have to pay their top stars like Adele or Frank Sinatra (one for the teenagers) But they want to treat them like some poor sap who clocks in and out on a punch card. The Aussie players want to keep a revenue share of the takings. Why not? They are the ones that the fans (sorry customers) come to see. And if they give this up, and revenues keep climbing they are losing out. And who then is getting that money? The Administrators? Sorry CA or ECB or ICC. You ain’t the talent.

    Liked by 2 people

    • SimonH May 18, 2017 / 7:32 pm

      Which is where Harrison’s edict that England are going to play an “exciting” brand of cricket regardless of results comes in….

      Fans care if England can block out an honourable draw, customers don’t.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Rooto May 18, 2017 / 7:34 pm

    A truly excellent article that will take me more time than I have tonight to digest fully. Just a little cynical quip from me (as ever). For how long – if at all – will package two be seen as the compensation for missing out on package one? I reckon some at ECB towers fervently hope that the reverse is true. Tests are just the second prize for them, compared to their Wizard of Oz-style smoke-and-mirrors T20 bonanza.
    Driving forwards to the future – just like Thelma and Louise!

    Like

  7. jennyah46 May 18, 2017 / 9:15 pm

    An excellent article Chris.

    Like

    • "IronBalls" McGinty May 18, 2017 / 9:45 pm

      Here here..a Magnum opus! 🙂

      Like

  8. Sean B May 18, 2017 / 9:55 pm

    As an aside, Quest is part of the discovery channel group (Eurosport, National Geographic, Discovery etc), who are all in turn owned by Walt Disney media group. I have met some of their UK marketing leaders and they’re pretty shrewd and not short of a pound or two. If you want an example of this, then see how they did Sky up like a kipper in their last round of contract talks. Sky caved eventually and gave them what they wanted (or pretty close to it). I doubt very much if the empty suit and his team have the skill to negotiate with these guys.

    Of course, there is the fact that they can pretty much blow every other bid out of the water should they wish, to host the games on their invisible channel. So you here you go ECB, here’s your chance to show the world that you really want to grow the game on FTA, by giving it to one of the 5 original analogue channels!

    In reality though, another day, another dollar lining the coffers.

    Like

  9. amit garg May 19, 2017 / 4:56 am

    An interesting piece of analysis on the state of affairs indeed. Well done.

    I have a slightly philosophical take on it in that vanity / hubris of these “stakeholders” will lead to the eventual downfall of the sport. It always does.

    What I have also noticed however, is that this “short termism” isn’t unique to cricket. I see it all around me. Having been around in the world of finance, I see it in the banking industry; I see it in the calls of an investment analyst who is not prepared to predict a company performance beyond the next 12 months. Everyone is focussed on the “low hanging fruit” and on the “immediate wins” while saving their own jobs in the short run and with absolute scant respect or vision for the longer term future.
    People forget, that a tree has to bear fruit first before it can ever become “low hanging”…

    I suppose, that the point I am trying to make is that the behavior of these administrators are just a reflection of the “short termism” that exists in broader society. Everyone in power wants to create a name and legacy for themselves but in realty they secretly hope that no shit hits the fan in their tenure. So hard decisions that may be critical for long term survival of the game are unlikely to be taken.

    As has been pointed out on the forum before, the fan base is dwindling. The game now competes with many others for attention and money so, even the players are likely to have more choices to pursue a career. Bear in mind, that a career in sports is not just about the passion for the sport or about being good at it. For a sports(wo)man, it is also a life choice that determines how he/she will live and sustain themselves over a life where sports career will likely be short.
    Financial security plays an important part in that decision in countries like India, where the sheer population demands you to look for alternative careers.

    So yes, money is important for the players.
    However, distribution of the money raised from the sport to junior, grass root levels is also important to maintain a “pipeline” of players and the infrastructure and to subsidize the game in “non-profitable” territories” is also important. The ego trip that administrators often go on, isn’t so important but then (sh)it happens.

    There is some other stuff that’s happening – something else to ponder on – Other boards are beginning to stand up to BCCI that has been rendered ineffective by the Supreme Court in India.

    I read about the counter proposal by CA to some top players to skip IPL for more money (even as it threatens industrial action against players) and I read about the whole new drive to get T20 leagues going in UK (KP must feel a bit philosophical).

    These developments make me wonder – Can ECB and CA get it going without support from cricket fans in India? More importantly, can any broadcaster make money without being able to access the Indian viewer?

    If the answer seems yes, then probably think again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • SimonH May 19, 2017 / 8:13 am

      Hi Amit, I’d be very interested if you have any info on IPL attendances this year – are they growing, declining or staying about the same?

      Also some parts of the English media are claiming that Indian TV money for international cricket is in sharp decline. Mike Selvey claimed recently that England are now the most valuable tourists for any home nation. Do you have any info or thoughts on this?

      Like

      • amit garg May 19, 2017 / 3:05 pm

        Sean, I will need to find sources online. BCCI has its annual reports online – let me take a look.
        I no longer stay in India so I won’t have the complete perspective. But then again, I am no longer as interested in IPL as I was a few years ago so unlikely to have paid any attention to crowd sizes on TV. Giving up my cricket channel subscription last year wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. The only reason I added it back was to watch the India-England series.
        But I still think, Mike is likely to be wrong on the most valuable team. Sheer size of audience dictates that it would be an Indian tour for any top side. Despite their performance on the last tour to India, SA remain the toughest team to beat when they tour and Australia remain a tough side anytime one plays them.
        That said, England currently have a few marquee names in all formats, and have started entertaining audience in short formats so they will probably be a popular team.

        The point I was trying to make, is that broadcasters can keep a lower charge for the cricket channels in India because of the size of audience. If Fox is unable to find money in India, will the fans in England be prepared to pay more money than they are already paying? If not, how does ECB hope to monetize its assets?

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  10. dannycricket May 19, 2017 / 6:36 am

    I have to say, my main quarrel with the ECB is not that they try to make money. It’s that they do it so incredibly badly. Take for example the new TV rights packages which the ECB are offering to TV companies right now, which has the County Championship bundled in with England’s international fixtures. The ECB have said that the commercial value of the county championship coverage is “nil”, and Sky Sports have shown almost no games in the past few years despite having the ability. This means that English domestic cricket has an asset which takes up roughly half of the season (and therefore accounts for roughly half of their costs) but brings in no TV money whatsoever.

    So the ECB seemingly had two choices: Throw it in as a worthless bonus to something with actual value, or do something to increase its value. And anyone involved in English cricket should know how you can do that; you give it to a Freeview channel. It transformed the IPL from something they pretty much had to give away to ITV4 to a multi-million pound multi-year deal with Sky Sports. The Tour De France will likely go the same way when ITV’s current deal ends. It’s a method that’s been proven to work.

    It’s true that many Freeview channels wouldn’t be interested in showing county cricket, even if it was free. I doubt the BBC would devote 28 hours of coverage on BBC1 or BBC2 over 4 days, and red button coverage is usually ignored by most people. Nationally, I think channels like ITV4, More4, Spike, Dave and Quest might be interested, at least in marquee games like Middlesex-Surrey and Lancashire-Yorkshire, as well as the first game with the new champions and the final deciding game(s). The biggest market for most championship games would, I think, be the new local channels on Freeview.

    As an example, channels like That’s Manchester, That’s Lancashire and Made In Liverpool could easily come together to produce affordable live coverage of Lancashire’s home games. They could also get money from the local channels of the away team, which might even make the whole thing profitable even before advertising and sponsorship. A few years of growing the popularity of county cricket this way, increasing the value of the coverage, you could then decide to sell it to Sky or BT. At that point they’ll want not only to spend money on something which is now considered worthless, but they’ll also want to show a lot more county games because people will know the teams and players. And all of this would cost the ECB nothing, because they don’t get anything from the current or future TV deals for the County Championship.

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    • AB May 19, 2017 / 10:02 am

      “The biggest market for most championship games would, I think, be the new local channels on Freeview.”

      This has always been my argument. On radio, local stations cover the local teams. Why couldn’t the ECB just give away the CC rights to local tv stations?

      Given that their assigned value is “nil”, it wouldn’t cost them anything in lost revenues, and there boost to viewers would be significant.

      Like

      • Nicholas May 19, 2017 / 11:52 am

        Hmm, call me a (small-c, please!) conservative stick-in-the-mud if you’d like, but I don’t think the local TV channels would have any pull with anybody, and their production skills are limited-to-none, they certainly wouldn’t have the wherewithal to produce a multi-camera sports OB.

        I think having a locked-off camera at both ends would be the most that you could expect them to do, and it’s only the die-hards that would watch that, as people would expect a certain amount of multi-camera work on even the most basic coverage. (The BBC county coverage of old was 8 cameras by the mid-90s.)

        Yes, it would be more popular than ‘nothing’, but I think you’d be better giving the webcam-esque coverage to the BBC website to sync with their radio commentary if you are going down that route. I think that would gain more of a ‘cult’ following than the local TV channels.

        Who’s to say that the local channels would be interested in it, unless the production costs are covered by the ECB, too.

        Now, I think that the ECB should be covering production costs for championship cricket and should be marketing it properly, and I think that they’ve shown a staggering lack of imagination in this rights tender. But, I personally, don’t see the local TV channels as part of the solutions.

        A pan-website deal (BBC, Cricinfo, Sky, any newspapers) of fixed-end cameras with BBC commentary would be a different matter. I think that would be a winner.

        Like

  11. LordCanisLupus May 19, 2017 / 7:37 am

    This writer is good. Very good. Might retire and sit on my earnings from this and have a weekend in my garden shed.

    I thought I’d add a different perspective gleaned from a meeting I had this week.

    As some of you may know (from Twitter) I was in Bangladesh earlier this week. My job takes me to some decent places, and yet I wasn’t overly looking forward to this one, I had a fantastic time, got a lot done, and met some hugely important people, including the most visible, important businessman in the country, Salman Rahman. He just happens to own the Dhaka Dynamites, the current BPL champions, so we got talking a little about cricket. Suddenly, without prompting, he talked about the tri-series in Ireland, lurched for the remote control to the most enormous television I have ever seen, and wonders aloud if the evening’s IPL coverage had started. He seemed disappointed that it wasn’t. The business colleagues who were with me, and knew Salman Rahman well, said if it had been on, we’d probably have watched the whole match with him.

    We left him, and I went into the meeting room that had doubled up as a smoke-free zone while my colleagues puffed away in the lounge (us ex-smokers are so self-righteous). Twenty minutes or so later I was offered the chance to meet Shayan Rahman, Salman’s son, and the man who runs the Dhaka Dynamite franchise. My colleagues said he was a “cricket fanatic”. I had some scepticism in this, it had to be said. Was he, or was he just someone crashing in, and cashing in, on the game because Daddy had money, and the company who owns the team is exploiting it?

    We chatted for 30 minutes. Three businessmen and my work colleague feigned interest as two cricket nuts just talked, and talked, and talked. I put the case of the fan, shut out of the game, slagged off as “outside cricket” and Shayan put the case of a T20 owner, bringing the fans what they want. I thought he would be more effusive about Bangladesh beating England in test cricket, but instead he was telling me how the BPL would hold its own (even though South Africa’s new competition will be scheduled in conflict to it). I know the BPL has had its corruption scandals, but Shayan revealed to me some of his new signings (and I slagged a couple of them off for being past it) and came across as someone totally in love with being able to pick and choose who he could have playing for him. He also revealed, after my intro about being a blogger, us being in Wisden a couple of times, and why it took off, that he was a very good mate of KP. And of Kumar Sangakkara. I wish I could name drop a couple of mates like that.

    What I think I’m saying, instead of just being completely dippy about a meeting with someone like that, is that the owning of a franchise, by a huge business, can be about the love of the game, and I can be a little blinkered by it. Shayan came over as someone like me, but about as far away from me as possible. He came over as a business person who wanted to share his love of the game, and make a bit of cash if at all possible. I can be naive, but I’m not. I liked the guy, he liked me, and while I’ve been on the end of many of these nice things recently, I’ll take his “we’ll meet up when I’m in London” promise at face value. I had to be dragged out of his office, figuratively, because I could talk all day.

    There’s something about that meeting I can’t put my finger on. But some of the content links into this blog. The Rahmans are the owners of Beximco. They are a major conglomerate who would be noticeable by their absence if they weren’t doing something with Bangladeshi cricket. There is tangible optimism in the country for the game. They also feel that they aren’t the administrative whipping boys now, because the improved performances on the field have given them confidence off it – interesting how those progresses on the field have done that. There were ten channels on my TV showing live or recorded cricket. The IPL is on every hotel TV that I saw. Open access. Passion. Love. Visibility. Caring.

    Fans.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Zephirine May 19, 2017 / 10:24 pm

      Great story! Maybe when he’s next in London, Shayan Rahman would do an interview for the blog? It would be a bit of a Dmitriscoop.

      Like

  12. Mark May 19, 2017 / 10:51 am

    They have never marketed county cricket properly. The county chairman have never tried to be radical. The fact the crowds are small tells you one of two things, 1 prices are too much. Or two, there is no interest. No demand. (In which case you have to drum up interest and demand by trying out some original things.) Instead they hide behind the same cliches. A bouncy castle and a free pint.

    If the counties actully took more trouble to come up with some fresh ideas, and then elect people to the ECB who want to change things for the counties and not fill their own boots, maybe you would get more progressive ideas. If there is a demand problem, you need to drum up business by giving the product away for free. Invite schools to bring kids for free. Jeez, Let everybody come in for free. Market the product on TV, radio, newspapers, Internet. A million people checked into the BBC site over one weekend. I know cost, cost cost. But it doesn’t have to cost the earth. It does need people to sell it. County players need to help market their own product. Movie stars and musicians have to get out and push their product. Sportsman have to do the same. They need people who are more charismatic at the marketing level.

    Get some consitency into the product. The games kick off at the same time every week. I’m more inclined to support day night county matches than test matches. (Which they are now trying)

    However, at the end of the day county cricket is always going to be Marmite. You are never going to fill stadiums with it. All of this should have happened twenty odd years ago. It’s probably too late now. A new generation has been completely disenfranchised with cricket. If the only reason for anything to exist, is just to make money then we might as well bring back the Victorian freak show.

    If you destroy county cricket you will as a knock on effect also destroy test cricket in time. Because if everything is 20/20 based soon the players won’t exist with the techniques for the longer form of the game. Perhaps that is the agenda, which explains a reduction in test cricket. As I said before they are managing decline. As 39 keeps telling us they want a new audience. New customers for a new product. Perhaps they should just introduce base ball if money is the only object?

    Liked by 1 person

    • thelegglance May 19, 2017 / 10:58 am

      It will vary by county I am sure, but in my experience they’ve been extremely poor at making use of the clubs. There they have a ready made audience who are already interested, and in many cases an audience of kids who haven’t been before. Occasionally there are offers, and not so long ago I went to Hove because they had given away tickets to quite a few of the cricket clubs that day. And a fair few people were there – I’d say a good couple of hundred had turned up and in midweek. So it worked, and it was quite a fun day. Now that’s one attempt and only one I’ve seen in several years. So why not target the mums and dads of the colts to do the same thing? Giving away tickets is the easiest thing in the world, and where you have huge spare capacity it’s not even losing anything.

      Like

      • Mark May 19, 2017 / 11:53 am

        Absolutely. They have huge spare capacity. And you can get back some of the money from free tickets on food and drink. (If you price it sensibly) Again there is scope for local people to produce good value food and drink. Get local farmers involved Don’t just go with standard fare. Offer the colleges or schools a chance to sell their cakes and produce. (Do kids even learn to cook these days?) Point is you have to work that bit harder. But make a local thing. Promote local events and produce.mhave differnet days when things are sold. There is a lot things you can try.

        Bring in village cricket clubs for free days. Let them meet the players. Again you have to work harder, and more imaginatively. Not just wait for a cheque from the ECB to drop on the doorstep. In fact it makes countys too dependent on the ECB, and they then lose control of their own destiny.

        Like

    • AB May 19, 2017 / 11:58 am

      “You are never going to fill stadiums with it”

      Which rather begs the question, why do they play it in stadiums at all then? A ground of 3000 that is full has a far better atmosphere than rattling round in an empty 15,000 seater stadium.

      CC teams should tour their county and neighbouring counties with no more than 2 games at the main county ground.

      When I grew up in a minor county, we were so starved of live professional cricket that 2000+ people would turn up to watch some half-hearted testimonial match at a local club ground because a couple of ex-internationals were rumoured to be turning out. Imagine how many would come for an actual game of professional cricket?

      Like

      • thelegglance May 19, 2017 / 12:02 pm

        That doesn’t work financially. If you have a ground it’s a sunk cost but has significant upkeep expense. When you go to the outgrounds the preparation of them involves significant expense, and more to the point you end up with a white elephant main ground that isn’t paying its way. If everyone were starting again, then it might work, especially with temporary stands as and when needed, but any business has to work the assets otherwise they become liabilities (in the true sense rather than the accounting one). That’s why going to outgrounds has declined in recent years, you have the cost of going to them and preparing them and you still have the cost of maintaining the principal ground. I have some sympathy with the counties on that one.

        Like

  13. SimonH May 19, 2017 / 11:25 am

    Appointment to listen radio:

    Like

    • Nicholas May 19, 2017 / 12:02 pm

      “Aspall has been in the Cider-making business since 1728, but this is the first time it has partnered with cricket.”

      Dear God…

      Like

  14. Zephirine May 19, 2017 / 10:50 pm

    The thing about the ECB, it’s not just that they’re a badly run business, they’re sanctimonious with it.

    They strike all the attitudes of the governing body of an amateur, Corinthian sport, in which to play for your country is the highest achievement and all that counts is that the flower of the nation shall represent the nation, for honour and glory.
    At the same time, they actually run the national side as a money-making concern first and foremost, not very competently, while still demanding all the total commitment and obedience from the players that a pure old-fashioned sport would expect of its national heroes.
    And the players may wonder how they set out to be heroes but ended up as highly paid serfs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • quebecer May 20, 2017 / 9:15 pm

      Bang on, zeph.

      Like

  15. SimonH May 20, 2017 / 9:03 am

    Latest goings-on concerning the ICC and the run-up to the vote next month that will ratify the ICC board vote in April:

    http://www.hindustantimes.com/cricket/bcci-nudging-shashank-manohar-to-get-bigger-slice-of-icc-revenue-pie-officials/story-PCRK8SxOvxDJZKeujlgj0I.html

    Coincidentally or not, the BCCI’s current position (get a bit more money, concentrate on the governance reforms) is exactly the position that was reportedly being advocated in the BCCI SGM by…. Srini.

    Like

  16. Mark May 20, 2017 / 10:29 am

    I notice on the BBC I player podcast Syed/Flintoff/Savage they are using the moniker…..”The Ping pong guy”

    I was wondering if we should be getting some of the royalties for this?

    Like

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