The New TV Deal – Winners And Losers

Yesterday, the ECB announced who won the broadcast rights to English cricket from 2020 to 2024. To no one’s surprise, the winners were Sky Sports and the BBC. The BBC will have up to 21 live T20 games plus international highlights and both radio coverage and online clips for all English cricket. Sky Sports have the rights for literally everything else to do with English cricket, as they do now. According to the Guardian’s Ali Martin, the new deals are worth around £1.1bn over 5 years or £220m per year, compared to the current deals of around £75m per year.

The Losers

The Counties – Barely two months ago, the counties signed away the majority of their bargaining power in exchange for £23.4m of a projected £40m increase in income from the new T20 league. Now it seems increasingly likely that, had they held off for another few months, they could easily have received twice as much just from keeping the same county structure as before. The ECB and Tom Harrison successfully made the counties so desperate by holding back their money that they voted themselves into pointlessness.

BT Sport – This could have been a massive coup for BT Sport, but the odds always seemed stacked against them. The ECB have a very close relationship with Sky Sports so BT were always at a disadvantage. BT can at least console themselves that they have pushed Sky to arguably overpay for cricket rights, meaning Sky might have less money to spend on other sports in the future.

Channel 5 – The FTA channel which has shown England’s highlights on Freeview for over a decade, they probably have good reason to feel snubbed that they weren’t seriously considered as the home for England’s free coverage from 2020. It’s rumoured that they bid more than the BBC too, rubbing salt into the wound.

The Fans – At the end of the day, every TV and sponsorship deal in sport is about taking money from the fans and giving it to the sport/players with the TV companies and sponsors making some profit as well. If more money is being paid, you can bet that costs will increase for fans somehow.

The Winners

The ECB/Tom Harrison – By almost every measure, these guys won. They achieved almost 90% of their £250m/year target, got the BBC as an active partner in promoting the sport generally and specifically the new T20 league, and they successfully neutered the counties so they probably won’t have to share most of the money with them. Whatever you think about these people (and seeing as you’re on this site, we can probably guess), this is a spectacular victory for them.

Sky Sports – They get to remain gatekeepers of English cricket, although they have paid quite a lot for the privilege. With reports on Tuesday that Sky were looking to rebrand Sky Sports 2 as Sky Sports Cricket (to go with the current Sky Sports F1 and planned Sky Sports Football and Golf channels), it suggested they were pretty confident about winning the rights from the ECB.

The BBC – The BBC got the rights to 21 live T20 games plus TV/online highlights and radio commentary at a fraction of the market value due to their massive reach. They have the most popular UK TV channels, radio stations and news website, and since Sky presumably offered more than enough money the ECB could afford to offer the BBC a discount.

Women’s Cricket – Of the 21 live T20 games the BBC will have rights for, 9 of them will be of women’s cricket; 1 T20I and 8 games from the Super League. The BBC also have the rights to show highlights of England women’s other internationals. Whilst a cynic might suggest that some of these will end up on the Red Button or streaming online, it’s still a massive increase in exposure for this side of the sport.

The Players – With such a massive increase in income, it’s a fair bet that the players will be getting a significant pay rise over the next few years. The relationship between the ECB and the PCA seems very amicable (too amicable, some might say) so a situation like Cricket Australia are having to deal with seems unlikely. That said, if the players don’t think they’re getting a fair share there could easily be a revolt.

Did I miss anyone out? As always, comments are welcome below.

Advertisements

Day 3 At The CT – South Africa v Sri Lanka and Other Stuff

Hello from Dmitri World.

I’m writing this before the end of the Australia v New Zealand fixture, so you’ll have to forgive me for a lack of match report. The New Zealanders got off to a good start, but have started to encounter turbulence as the innings draws to a close. I’ll update the post at the end when I get to upload it onto the blog itself.

So the news thus far is that England’s comfortable win over Bangladesh has come with a casualty. The thought of Chris Woakes being bemoaned as a huge loss two years ago would be greeted with almost deafening laughter (as long as you were out of George Dobell’s earshot), but now the end of his ICC Trophy has been greeted with due solemnity and deference. I doubt we could have got more downbeat if we were a Barca fan and found out Lionel Messi was out for the year. In a stunning, and I genuinely mean stunning, piece of media groupthink, there are calls for the recall of Stuart Broad from the press-pack and the assorted hangers-on. I’ve seen ships that have sailed out of port, but this one has got half way around the globe! Think of Stuart Broad’s memorable white ball cricket moments. The first one that comes to mind was the shite he served up in the opening game of the 2009 World T20 against the might and fury of the Netherlands. Sure, don’t judge a book by one page, however memorable, but that you would almost unanimously come to the Stuart Broad conclusion smacks of collusion. How about Chris Jordan? Toby Roland-Jones? ODIs are a younger man’s game, and Stuart Broad needs to be kept back for tests. Don’t be silly. What next? A batting injury and call for Kevin Pietersen? (tee hee).

I Owe You Nothing

The other hot button topic is BBC’s decision to show the highlights at 11:20pm. I am a bit of a BBC loyalist, I’m afraid, because the options, have been shown to be far, far worse, and certainly for a sports fan like me. The BBC were dumped in 1999 because Channel 4 outbid them and threw a few more quid at the production values. The decision to dump the BBC was greeted with outrage by the stuffed shirts then. There was even a flirtation with TalkSport taking the radio coverage away from TMS, as they certainly did when they were free to bid for the overseas rights. The BBC cricket coverage, and sports team in general, must have been pretty cheesed off over the years as their coverage, in an analogue era, is compared to the digital coverage of this era, and cheap shots at local news interruptions, children’s programmes, and horse racing. The Beeb did cover highlights from the 2006-7 Ashes and the 2007 World Cup, but then haven’t been really on the radar since. ITV had the 2010-11 Ashes highlights package. I can’t actually remember if anyone had them for the 2013-14 series, but then I want to forget that clusterflick as much as possible.

That the BBC are giving any cricket free-to-air coverage, whatever that means in this day and age, is a bonus. At short notice they are not going to cast aside firm programming on the peak-viewing side of the news shows on BBC1 and BBC 2, so it is inevitable they will be on late at night. As many have pointed out, the conditions for covering this competition mean the programme can’t start before the end of the first highlight show on Sky anyway. What do cricket fans expect? As for BBC 4, its remit is as follows:

BBC Four’s primary role is to reflect a range of UK and international arts, music and culture. It should provide an ambitious range of innovative, high quality programming that is intellectually and culturally enriching, taking an expert and in-depth approach to a wide range of subjects.

Sport is noticeable by its absence. Yes, it has been used for extended Olympics coverage, or Euro/World Cup football overspill, but those events are planned years in advance. Here the BBC had a week. The BBC can’t just do what it wants. If it gets support or popular, as BBC 3 did, then it is threatened with closure. It is playing in a hostile market, and yet still people act like it owes the cricket public something. Basically, if I’d been told to eff off, had my coverage ridiculed, been totally ignored, failed with other highlight packages, had an extremely limited budget, and so on, I’d not be helping out a sport that had not stood by me. Watching various media numpties jump on their bandwagon has been as predictable as it has been sad. As they have presided over a sport disappearing from the public eye, they then do everything to disparage an FTA provider when they actually decide to show games because it “isn’t good enough”. Who the hell decided to hide the sport away in the first place?

Also. Can’t we record programmes any more and watch them when we want? When Selvey keeps telling us that we have a different digital viewing experience these days, why are you so worried about 11:20 highlights? Also, might have noticed there’s an election on? Newsnight on BBC2 isn’t going to cut short its programme at this time for an obscure, second rate, international competition.

I think Sean and I might disagree on this, but I’m just about fed up with the cricket press expecting the BBC to come to the rescue for its ailing, diminishing, hidden away sport, when the Beeb has been treated with nothing but contempt, the government has closed down avenues to put it on a more prominent footing if it wanted to (to appease the Pay TV masters) and the former head of the governing body, often through his own Sean Selfey Spicer, makes it clear what he thinks of the need to go back. Which commercial entity would clear any of its decks for a 50 over game between Sri Lanka and South Africa? Get real.

Nicholas’s comments below the previous post are well worth a read too!

Cricket Boots not Cricket Suits

The publication of the ECB’s latest financial statements appeared to have passed our fun loving press chappies (and chapesses) by. Which I found strange given the headline pre-tax loss of £37m. That’s quite an eye-opening figure which is explained away, as always, by the prevailing Chairman as part and parcel of the four year cycle of cricket life. In many cases there are points to be made that a loss that makes up north of 25% of your annual turnover isn’t “that bad”. £24 million of that appears to have been the “encouragement money” to County Chairman to give in on the T20 competition. Take that out, and a £13m loss looks more palatable when you consider the revenue-weak nature of our opponents last year. The funny thing is, though, that the Ashes really aren’t that much of a money-spinner. Without 2014 and the visit of India, that infamous reserve pot (which has been halved this year) would be in serious, serious strife. There certainly wouldn’t have been any  money to counties. Once again, our dependence on India is stark. It’s one of the key three strategic risks mentioned in the opening remarks (not explicitly, but under the guise of breakdown in relations with overseas cricket governing bodies – I’m pretty sure they aren’t referring with difficulties with Peter Chingoka or David Cameron there).

Other things of note is that one Director is being paid £600k for his work at the ECB. It appears to be a substantial increase on the previous year. Those of you thinking that Tom Harrison deserves it, form an orderly queue. No pushing in.

There’s the always interesting, and I’ve not quite figured out what it is, implied conflict of interest over Graves and a guarantee of a loan from / to Yorkshire. It expires in 2019. Nothing to see here.

There’s been a considerable increase in the number of development staff on the books. In itself that’s nothing to worry about, but in a year when you’ve spunked half your reserves up the wall you might think of waiting until you actually have your pot of gold before spending it.

These are the highlights, and they show how desperate the ECB is for a successful T20 tournament. Forget all the twaddle about growing the game, the success would diminish the importance on relying upon Indian summer visits to keep our game afloat. Let us not pretend that we would somehow survive an Indian administration apocalypse, because we are very dependent on them to play us. Very dependent. I await our fearless scribes and their take on these figures. You can also see my Tweets on the subject.

Oh Yes! Cricket

So to tomorrow’s game – at last. The South Africans must start favourites, as Sri Lanka appear to lack star power. I know Sean is going to the game, so hopefully he can provide some pearls of wisdom during and after the action. If you have any comments on the match, or on the above, fire away below, and if you get the chance, enjoy the game on the TV. Who you got for the Derby?

Plus, Kane Williamson scored a ton, the Aussies could have been in strife, and thus far I’ve not seen a ball bowled on Sky or BBC and not been able to tune into TalkSport. And no, not even Guerilla Cricket.

Enjoy your weekend, all.

Viewing Figures – A Ramble Through Facts

We’ve another guest post from Andy Oliver, this time about the viewing figures for cricket over the last few years.  It’s a subject that isn’t easy to find hard facts on given the reticence of Sky to tell anyone how many people watch of course.  As ever with a guest post, our sincere thanks to Andy for writing it, and he’ll be around to answer any questions – or of course you can track him down on Twitter – @oshodisa

Don’t forget we’ve also got Man In a Barrel’s piece about county finances – that you can find here: https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2017/02/17/guest-post-a-look-at-county-finances/


 

A topic of discussion that comes around occasionally is that due to Sky’s lockout of coverage, there is nowhere near as many viewers of cricket as there was 10 years ago.

How true is this?  Has anyone seen any facts, figures or discussion?  I bow to any MSM who have covered this but I cannot recall coming across that many actual facts or discussion (queue the first reply being a list of 4 articles covering the same ground!).  We often hear that 8m people watched at one point of 2005 Ashes, but no one ever says how many people watched ‘Cooks Redemption’ (TM Nasser 2015) Ashes victory.

A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me…

I’ve gathered this information from barb.co.uk, so cannot vouch for its accuracy, but they appear to be an industry body and say all the right things.  It’s been interesting seeing what info can be found on their website.  To generate their stats they have something like 5000 homes who provide a representative selection of the population.  These homes have automatic program trackers fitted to keep a log of what is watched.  They are then multiplied up to give a number of viewers and Bob’s your uncle.

The data publically available is not particularly user friendly for this type of research (There is a lot of data that I’ve had to plough through one weekly graph at a time).  I think that each individual result is an average for the duration of the program, rather than peak viewers at any given moment.  For example, the 4th(?) Ashes test in 2005 peaked at 8 million viewers but the program averaged 4 million viewers.  Please bear this in mind as I write below – I may play a little loose with terminology, but unless I explicitly state anything different, I mean the average number of viewers in any given broadcast as reported by BARB (so the 4 million, not the 8 million).  I’ve had to make a few educated guesses where info is not available or a particular programme is off the bottom of the week’s viewing figures.

 

Only the Facts Ma’am…

Since 2012 we have the following showing the maximum number of viewers any single day of a Test match play received.

2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Most viewers 497,000 647,000 429,000 805,000 427,000

 

So it’s a bit up and down, but arguably viewing figures are sitting at an even level with intermittent peaks, but what do they represent?  Well, 2015 and 2013 were Ashes years.  It appears that Australia have a large impact on how many people watch cricket on Sky.

Non-Ashes years appear ‘stable’ between 400,000 – 500,000, but our Australian friends give us a significant boost.

So a bit of judicious reviewing of Australia’s last four visits (including you know when) gives us;

 

Test vs Australia
2015 2013 2009 2005
Most viewers 647,000 805,000 1,109,000 4,630,000

So, the most viewed single day’s play attracted over 4.6 million viewers (average remember, not peak) in 2005, and this has declined to less than 650,000 viewers in 2015.  Sky have lost up to 4 million people who showed an interest in cricket back when it was free to air on Channel 4.

Where have all these fans gone?

And remember that these are the most watched days of play.  The average viewers for the series shows us;

 

2015 2013 2009 2005
Average viewers across series 360,444 470,434 668,190 2,760,000

 

Again, this is a significant decline from on average 2.7 million people watching a series to just over 360,000 people.

So, talking broadly, about half the peak viewers for any given broadcast stay on to watch more of a series than just one day.  This number will be swung by rain days / early finishes – but I would not have thought it would be that significant to massively affect the above.

Why are people not watching as much cricket?  Is it the time it takes (this is an assessment of Test matches remember), or is it the quality of the matches?  Obviously the opposition matters, but why has the number of viewers even for Australia decreased?

Are the ECB aware of these numbers?  Do they even care given that Sky are currently happy to fill their schedules with easy to produce programming and pay the ECB handsomely for it?  Do Sky care given that cricket costs peanuts compared to how much they pay for football?  I wonder how much Sky makes on subscriptions and advertising for their £65 million yearly investment with the ECB.

Let’s take a quick look at the top three viewed broadcasts for the last 4 Ashes.

2015 2013 2009 2005
Top three viewed broadcasts 647,000 805,000 1,109,000 4,630,000
476,000 701,000 1,033,000 4,030,000
471,000 668,000 951,000 3,370,000

 

This gives an idea of how sustainable the top viewing figures are.  As we can see, 2005 quickly loses over a million viewers, but equally it is just one day’s play that kept the peak of 2015 above the half million mark (no prizes if you guessed that was Broads 8-fer-peanuts at Trent Bridge (I think)).  Both have lost about a quarter of their viewers between the peak and the third place broadcasts.

I presume that this is a normal pattern as there will be peaks and troughs – especially over the course of a test summer, but the raw reach of cricket appears to be significantly diminishing.

 You can’t handle the Truth!

No matter how it is spun, Test cricket attracts fewer TV viewers year on year.  Is this because test cricket it boring (dominated by home series advantage), or because it does not have the visibility of (until recently) the IPL.  At least the IPL was available on ITV 4.  That may be another one to look at – viewers between IPL on ITV and Sky.

In fact;

2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
IPL finals 116,000* 100,000* 536,000 398,000 469,000
77,000 59,000

 

The IPL changed from ITV to Sky from 2015… hmmm, there is a pattern here!

A note about the Sky numbers – The final match was not on the ten most watched list on BARB (Or I could not find it), so I put the highest match actually watched in that week.  Not perfect, but it’s something to go on.  The 2nd numbers in Sky’s stewardship are the 10th most watch programme in the week the final took place (on the channel they were showing the IPL on).  Suggesting that the IPL final got fewer viewers than 59,000 and 77,000 for 2015 and 2016 respectively.

If that is correct… Wow…   Wow…

For all the good that Sky have brought to cricket; the technology, the quality, the analysis (back when they did that well – but I remember first encountering Hughes as the Analyst on Channel 4, when he did actual analysis properly), etc, they seem to have form for slashing the viewing numbers a sport used to get on Free to Air, and for reducing its availability and visibility.

But, a quick look at the last World T20: when England got Brathwaited in the final.  This tournament was in India so time zones come into play for a start, but Sky got over a million viewers for the final.  In fact England’s lowest number of viewers was 323,000 against Afghanistan on a Wednesday, which is basically as much as the peak number of viewers Sri Lanka got in the May tests which followed soon after.

So maybe there is hope there, that there are people who are interested.

If you build it, they will come…

Maybe we have seen in all the above that the broadcasters/ECB should be using T20 and ODIs as a gateway into Test cricket, not as an alternative.  Not everyone will make the transition, especially when Test cricket is sometimes dry, boring and predictable.

Thinking about that – any guesses for how many people watch the Blast Final (or whatever it was called before that).  I might have come across these at the same time as looking for the above.

2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Blast 262,000 229,000 384,000 245,000 433,000
Leic 0 v Ars 0 Tot 0 v Eve 0 Eve 2 v Ars 2 SWA 1 v ManU 4 not on tv
BT sports Sky Sky Sky
608,000 691,000 946,000 1,833,000

 

At least the Blast appears to get more viewers than the IPL!

The Blast final is on a Saturday afternoon/evening so I’ve found the equivalent Premier League game on TV at approximately the same time.

As you can see there is a big decrease from the Premier league viewers to those watching the Blast final, but maybe not as much as I might have expected.  I would have thought more games on a Saturday evening would have got over 1 million viewers, but evidently not.

The football is just a diversion from the above table though.  In reality the Blast figures should be compared with other cricket.  Now making a comparison against Test matches is like comparing apples and oranges, but at least they are still fruit.

As we can see from the above information in 2016 more than twice as many watched Tests as they did  the Blast. That must be a scary stat for the ECB, and it’s no wonder they want to re-tool the Blast into a different competition.

Houston, We Have A Problem…

On a personal note (and one that may be echoed by those who read this), I have seen club cricket slowly wither as people participate less and less.  There are a number of reasons for this (my own personal reason is that I have a toddler now who takes up a lot of my time so I cannot justify spending 15 Saturdays over summer out and about like I used to).

But the number of teams that struggle to get a side out, or fold half way through the season seems to be increasing (purely anecdotal, but it does feel that way).

My village pushed forward on the back of 2005.  That was a watershed ‘rebirth’ of the aging side.  We (the royal we, I wasn’t around then!) had a massive influx of juniors who saw the Ashes and wanted some of it.  They are still playing now and are vital young 20 somethings.  We don’t see that now though.  Most of the Sunday juniors are there because it’s free child-minding for the parents (again anecdotal, but from a senior member of the club who does the training).  Often the kids don’t seem that interested.

Why are fewer people playing cricket?  Why are fewer people watching cricket?  Does it take too much time, do people not like the characters associated with the game (either watching it, playing it or dare I say reporting it)?  Are there no heroes to worship (Mine was Atherton growing up…. No, I don’t know why….).  Nowadays people want to bat like Pietersen, Gayle, Kohli, Butler etc.  This is great – but these talents need to be put on display so that more people see them and want to emulate them.

I’m serious… and don’t call me Shirley

What’s the solution for getting cricket back into the public consciousness?  I’m sure greater people than me are actively working on the problem (or at least I hope to God they are).  I know it’s been discussed on and off here on BOC.

I’m not sure getting Test cricket on FTA TV would work.  Not in the short term at least, however there must be a way to get the Blast or some international ODIs/T20s on there.

I don’t watch Premiership rugby, but usually enjoy sitting down to the World Cup or Six Nations.  I’m probably the definition of a fair weather fan where rugby is concerned.

I would watch rugby because it is available.  If it had been available for me to play when I was younger/fitter I might have gone in that direction.  I don’t hunt down rugby on Sky/BT now.  I don’t have the time nor the inclination, but I do watch rugby free to air; I know about the sport and in the future I might start going to matches & watching more.

Where is the draw for the fans in cricket?

It may not be the answer, but it surely must be the starting point.  Everyone agrees that there are more ‘distractions’ available for kids growing up.  They may not sit down in front of TV and be glued for a day (like I was way back when).  But they are certainly not going to sit down in front of Sky and watch it.

It’s all well and good catering to the hardcore fans (is that us?), who go to games, despite the cost, who pay for Sky, despite the cost.  Just to actually see some action.  But where is the next generation going to come from?  Launching a Twitter channel is not engaging new fans.  They won’t go looking for it without hearing/seeing some cricket.

This is a Twitter exchange I happened to see from dear old Bumble.  Don’t know what started it, or the exact details, but it highlights the mindset.  If you put it there, people will come, which isn’t true, you need to make people come.  The only people who check Sky/ECB Twitter are people who are already fans.  This is not enough;

tweet

 

The ECB need to decide what they want from their cricket.  Do they want Sky’s (or BT Sport’s which is another topic) pounds, or do they want to get more people watching it (live and on TV), more people talking about it and ultimately more people playing it.

You be the jury…

This has been a WWAAAYYYYY longer article than I ever intended, so well done if you have stayed with me to the end.  Please tell me what you think?  I could have gone into early summer versus prime summer, what happened on those ‘most watched’ days, what day of the week got the most viewers, ODIs & T20Is, World Cups (more than I did) and who knows what else.   It’s probably a good job I stopped here!

And my topic headers will be no challenge to anyone who has done the Crossword!

Dmitri’s Review Of The Year – The Year of Peaceful Antagonism

hh-review-globe

It’s not exactly original, I know, but the end of a year brings forth a time to reflect, to review and to write tedious end of year pieces looking forward to the next. Good grief, I know I am guilty of that more than most! Be warned, this is a long one……

How will I look back on 2016? It has been a challenging year for blogging, it has to be said. From a personal perspective I’ve found this year quite tough. I’ve not had the pure motivation of previous years, and for quite lengthy periods have not been bothered to write. That’s probably a product of two things.

  • The first is that with a few glorious exceptions, the authorities have upgraded themselves from Keystone Cops to Dad’s Army, and thus haven’t really pushed the buttons. Combined with somehow finishing the KP for England (in the T20) debate despite none of us thinking it was ever an option they would undertake, the ECB mainly steered clear of self-made obstacles. Then they raised their T20 plans and banished Durham, and they gave us some gifts to work on. However, the ECB had a quiet year (by recent standards) it has to be said. The rumblings of old perennial flowers in the garden may give portents to future growth of enthusiasm.
  • The second is blogging burnout. I have said on many occasions how unprepared I was when How Did We Lose in Adelaide took off. Not just the time and effort to write and write and write, but also mentally how draining it can be, especially on top of a very busy job. The whole thing took a lot out of me. Writing the blog became borderline obsessive. Content, no matter how it was derived, mattered. I started feeling the pace during the 2015 Ashes. Having moved from HDWLIA to the new blog, it had become established and even had a new writer to help out (which greatly undersells what Chris has brought to this blog – but that’s how he worded his first offer, “helping out”), but I was thoroughly pissed off by the cricket, the media, the idiots throwing bricks at us, and probably culminated in the Twitter meltdown with Etheridge. I was knackered. At times during 2016 that has resurfaced. I have a life outside of here and work. I have a lot of other interests. It is time I paid attention to them. But, this is like an addictive drug. It keeps pulling me back. I’m sometimes not sure if this is good or not!

For me 2016 was a year when the campaigning, more vociferous (shall we say) blogging was put a little back in its box. This hasn’t been the year for it, although it may have ended a good deal more tetchily than it was in the middle months. That’s not to say I don’t think Being Outside Cricket is declining in relevance, such as we have. There’s still something on here you will not find anywhere else, and that’s a lot of cricket tragics putting forward angry points of view, without fear or favour. The voice is still heard, if a lot less acknowledged in public, and that we have retained a very healthy hit rate and visitor count despite a decline in the number of articles, in conjunction with a test year which, on paper, wasn’t the most attractive in pure media terms, and a lack of major controversies speaks volumes. At the end of 2016 I feel better than at most parts of the year. I do recognise, though, that the next four or five months are going to be absolutely brutal with a lack of England test matches, and only patchy instances of ODI cricket to sustain us. The one thing learned is that test matches drive traffic. Well that and KP and/or Alastair Cook. With an absence of those factors, all of us here are under no illusions how tough the barren lands of early 2017 will be. In contrast, the next year from May 2017 will be absolutely off the charts.

Outside of Being Outside Cricket, I am sad that people like Maxie (totally) and Tregaskis (to a lesser extent) are not rumbling around as they used to. Both are inspirations to me over the past few years, writing in their own styles, and attacking their foe with precision and not a little flair as well. If they are the guided missiles or sniper’s rifle, I’m a big hefty cannon! Maxie in particular is a grievous loss to our cause and to that of cricket blogging. Maxie drives traffic when he writes. You may not agree with him, but you read him. You may argue with him, but you listen to him. He has that skill to get under the right people’s noses. I have said that he will always have a place to write if he ever wanted to “come back” and that stands. Without him, and with the different direction I think The Full Toss has gone, it does feel quite lonely out here, being angry and keeping the fires burning!

That’s because others who were equally vociferous during the tumultuous times are much less so now. That is the writer’s choice, of course, and I don’t want to criticise them for it. Each cricket writer / blogger has to be true to themselves. I have said, many times, that if I wasn’t true to what I believed in you’d see it a mile off, and I wouldn’t be able to write for any length of time. I have a couple of individuals in mind (and not the Full Toss before people put 2+2 together and make 5), and they need to realise that playing both sides of the fence is taking much of their readership for granted. They are still capable of great things, pieces I read and enjoy. But there are other times I think “are you being, have you been, totally honest with your readers?” That’s for them. Call it friendly advice.

It would not be a review of the year without mentioning the madhouse that is Twitter. Contact with the media has fallen off a cliff this year as obviously we don’t need to be acknowledged as we were post-KP. Now that’s a dead issue the media, those who bothered, don’t need to know how the great unwashed feel. That’s no more evident in the recent Cook incidents. The press don’t need to protect him now, because there’s no combined angry backlash if he was to be sacked coming, other than from a couple of diehard pillocks the world can ignore safely. After KP there was an angry backlash from a number of blogs, new and old, and the reporters had to recognise this. Now there’s nothing to get angry about, there’s nothing for them to worry about. I’d be a little bit concerned, if I was a journo, about some of the key big beasts being put out to pasture. They weren’t, in the main, the ones who had the foggiest idea about “social media”, despite being on it.

Twitter has been a lot less confrontational. The odd arsehole that got on my nerves as always – some who follow KP’s twitter feed to have a pop strike me as particularly “obsessed” – but nothing like the rubbish I’ve had to put up with in the past. After the early issues this year with one, we’ve had a spell where we’ve managed, I think, to not get mad at each other, which suits me. The other one I have had constant issues with showed their nasty side by threatening to out my name in a particularly lovely Tweet, but even if they do, no-one cares. Then there was the remarkably odd parody twitter feed. I’ve blocked that old bollocks. Other than that, it’s all quite quiet, and that can only be a good thing for your health, I suppose.

So to the cricket. What, really? If I must? Let’s focus on England.

The year started with the Ben Stokes blitz in Cape Town. This incredible knock didn’t get England a win, but it did set the tone for some high octane stuff during the year. Almost, but not quite, unnoticed in that innings was the magnificent first hundred for Jonny Bairstow, which would lay the table for his year. England actually finished Cape Town on the back foot after a double hundred by Amla and a century by Bavuma, and a last day wobble, but returned magnificently on top at Johannesburg when the stars aligned for another of those Stuart Broad spells. Joe Root’s masterful century on a surface that Broad made hay on is conveniently forgotten by those wishing to criticise him now, and it laid the foundation for the series win. England then went on to lose a one-sided, we don’t give a stuff test, at Centurion. Funny how, when we lose these matches, we don’t give a stuff because we’ve won the series. I suppose it makes us feel like the 1990s Australian team if we think like that.

The ensuing ODI series with South Africa started with England’s attacking play dominating. The first two matches were taken in some style, before the tide turned, and England’s devil may care approach came unstuck in the decider. If one lesson was learned it was not to say we would win a series 5-0 when we hadn’t actually won the series. Maybe we’ll learn. Also, Adil Rashid dropped a catch and copped a ton of blame. That set a tone.

The World T20 competition was greeted with little hope, given it was being played in India and “we never do well in the sub-continent”. England lost to the West Indies in a Gayle tour de force, but came back to win the rest of their group games, including a phenomenal run chase against South Africa that was a much a trait of our new attitude as the loss in the ODI decider in South Africa had been. People, it’s two sides of the same coin. It just isn’t a tuppence, but a nice shiny new £2 one. England qualified for the semi-final, and overcame New Zealand, and when they got to the Final were relieved to be facing West Indies and not India. We all know what happened then, and we also know how important a moment in the cricket year for attitudes going forward in the media and the blogs that was.

The good feelings from the World T20, despite the tumultuous ending, and the start of the new county season seemed to beckon a bright summer. But the first half was low key, and in many ways just dull. The home series v Sri Lanka, both in tests and ODIs, lacked a certain something. There were exciting moments, none more so than Liam Plunkett’s last ball six in the first ODI, but Sri Lanka’s game approach was not matched by results. England won the test series 2-0, with a rain-affected draw the other “result”, and got through the two limited overs portions of the somewhat less than Super Series unbeaten. It was job done for England, but judging by attendances at the test matches, the level of interest on here, and my own (lack of) attempts to keep up with fixtures while on holiday in the US, it raised a number of very awkward questions about the quality of the product on show. This was the first time I had to listen via Guerilla Cricket. A useful service, but really not my cup of Earl Grey. After that it was Cricinfo (and my first question on Polite Enquiries which was met with George saying “I don’t think Dmitri is being totally serious”.

The second half of the summer was covered in my 5th Dmitri for the year. From England’s perspective it was a series that possibly got away. There was much rancour and discord over the omission of Anderson and Stokes from the first test, which grew when the whispers that they were fit were married up with a defeat at the hands of a vibrant opposition and around the same time Andy Flower broke his “dignified silence”. There was a distinct smack of “good journalism” about it all. The second test at Old Trafford was one way traffic once Cook and Root set about the task at hand, with Root becoming only the second domestic player since 1990 to pass 250 in a test match. England took the wickets they needed within the time allotted for a comprehensive win. A tight third test that ebbed and flowed went the way of the hosts when Pakistan failed to survive Day 5 (heard that one before), but any resting on the laurels was rudely awakened when a lax first innings at The Oval was at least 150 runs short (despite a Moeen masterpiece) and Younis Khan’s double hundred pointed the way to a series levelling victory. In both wins Yasir Shah had applied the bowling coup de grace. Yasir was lethal in London, undone up north.

The ODI series that followed had some magnificent performances, most notably the breaking of Robin Smith’s 23 year old record for the highest ODI score by an England player. Hales had 200 at his mercy but had to settle for 171. That new record might not last 23 months. England also made the highest ODI score of 444 for 3, Wahab recorded figures of 0 for 110 (second only to the legend of Mick Lewis in ODIs), Jos Buttler took 22 balls to reach 50 (an English record) and so on and so forth. We also had a number 11 make a 50 in the response! Pakistan rallied towards the end of the series, winning the last game, and then winning the T20 as well, but overall, sentiment towards the white ball team was in the ascendant. They were/are genuinely fun to watch.

The problem with England, its media, and many of its fans, is that there is too much emphasis placed on “doing what is perceived to be the right thing”. Looming at the end of the series was the trip to Bangladesh, where international teams were less keen to go, especially after the early July terrorist attacks at a bakery in Dhaka that was frequented by overseas visitors. After a very thorough review, itself indicative of the tricky nature of the decision, and backed by a host government prepared to throw a shedload of money at security, the tour was deemed safe to proceed. Players were given, by the ECB, keeping in mind the security issues, a choice whether they would go on the tour or stay. Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales said they did not feel comfortable and withdrew, just as Andrew Caddick did in India many years ago. The results were a widespread condemnation of Morgan, an Oliver Holt expedition so shallow that it barely merited being a puddle of a piece, and the generation of nonsensical heat and light about duty, loyalty, courage and leadership. A 2-1 ODI series win, under some interesting and tetchy leadership by Jos Buttler, was greeted like a huge triumph, and now the same heat and light is on whether Morgan should be in the team on merit, or whether we should just throw in the young guns, like, er, Ben Duckett (that went well in the test team). Morgan is a great captain of an ODI team and keeps his place on merit. Cook wasn’t a great captain of a poor performing test team, and was in poor nick for quite a while, and the press could barely mention it. We are a funny bunch.

Once the ODI series and the all the old cobblers that came with had been got out of the way, so we went into the two match test series. Alastair Cook had come back from the UK after the birth of his second child, and assumed the reins of the team, as they sought to hold back the hosts on some very spicy, spinning wickets. Both tests were filled with drama. Batting was perilous, but England got enough to win by a narrow margin at Chittagong, with Stokes being the difference, but the cracks did not hold at Dhaka, and Bangladesh romped to a famous victory. There was lot of great spin in evidence, with the English representatives coming from the media, and the hosts from the team, and especially the exciting talent that was Mehedi Hassan. The media tried to make it look like this was a valiant drawn series against a talented foe. Most of us thought this was a recipe for disaster with India looming, and no-one was being called for it except the three spinners. Batsmen weren’t to blame, they rarely are (unless you should not have been picked in the first place, Gary Balance). Those of us with long memories will recall the over the top reactions to a hit out or get out 50 by Ben Duckett for a while to come. It took all of two matches for him to become “unselectable” after that.

Then on to India. The result was pre-ordained according to the press and other experts. I’m listening to an old Switch Hit where Mark Butcher basically said that anyone with any cricket knowledge should have known that was going to be the result. I am really sorry, but I am not buying it, will not be buying it, and won’t be buying it any time soon. England were competitive, so they said, but lost key sessions and lost 4-0. Because this was the bar set at the start, then it was almost acceptable for it to be the end result. I was half joking when I said anything other than 5-0 would be painted as a success.

But you know, and I know, that this isn’t really what is going on. For the media to, almost as one, indicate that it’s time up for Alastair Cook suggests he’s not really thought of as totally without blame for this one in the same way David Gower wasn’t for the Blackwash of 1984. The captaincy was abject at some points – and all captains go through abject moments – but he seemed to be unable to rouse anyone, to get them enthused or excited. At times it was going through the motions. Karun Nair has a test triple hundred to his name, for heaven’s sake. Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Dravid, Viswanath, Hazare et al have not made one, but Karun Nair has. Jayant Yadav may be a very talented cricketer, but he has a test ton to his name too. Yet this was seen to be almost “expected”. I’m scratching my head.

England played well at Rajkot, batted with discipline, made a massive first innings total, dictated terms, and played with good sense. The declaration caused some ructions, but I wasn’t overly fussed about it. A decent performance after Dhaka was what was needed. Of course, some went silly over it, and then found out why you shouldn’t when we were handily beaten at Vizag. Kohli’s masterful 167 being the key batting difference, and while some were still saying the signs were really encouraging, most of us thought that unless the bleeding was stopped we were in real trouble. Of course, the toss was “crucial” there, and the result might have been different had we won it. When we won the toss at Mohail, we were promptly dismissed for 283 and dead in the water. Of course, this ignores the fact that India were 204 for 6 in reply and were totally let off the hook, as the tail wagged. A 124 run lead for India was enough. England never got back into the game.

At this point Haseeb Hameed had sustained a broken finger and was out of the rest of the tour, which meant his almost legendary start could benefit more from not playing in the final two test matches. Hameed is a talent, for sure, but I do like to see my talents make massive scores before anointing them as the heir apparent to Kumar Sangakkara, even if that means I’m bloody unreasonable in so doing. English sport is littered with kids built up before they are due, and cast aside when they don’t live up to the hype. Let’s hope HH is an exception to the rule.

The last two test matches followed similar patterns. England won the toss, thus gaining an advantage, but still found themselves batting last as they made on the face of it decent totals, but totally inadequate when you neither appeared to have the clue or the sticky hands to constrain Indian batsmen. Are you really telling me that Mumbai was a 631 wicket? I’ve just heard Mark Butcher call England’s second innings as being inevitably below 200, because the deck was doing everything. Yet we couldn’t get shot of the Indian lower order? They were 34 runs behind us when the 7th wicket went down and walked away with a 231 lead! As for Chennai, that was a road. A road we couldn’t be arsed to stick it out on to get a draw.

Look, I recognise, as someone who has watched the game enough that winning in India is tough. I am not bloody stupid. What got me with this is the almost reticent attitude of those following, who seemed to take more time explaining away our failures rather than getting stuck into players who underperformed, unless their name was Adil Rashid. It was quite strange, having lived through some disastrous tours where the press declared open season, even at times when we were expected to be thrashed (every overseas Ashes series it seemed). Now everyone wanted to be ever so reasonable about it. As the beloved says “beware a change of behaviour”.

The year ends with England, touted as possible world number 1s after their win in South Africa in a state of flux. I think most people, in their hearts, know Cook should go. Some have known it a lot longer than others. There is almost ludicrous expectations on Hameed, while Keaton Jennings may have a debut test ton under his belt, but still appears to have a bit to prove. The batting order is a mess, we are playing a wicket keeper batsman as a batsman, and a batsman wicketkeeper as the keeper. Moeen Ali doesn’t know whether he is coming or going. Adil is on the one hand a fragile, catch dropping liability, and within a fortnight our number one spinner. The seam bowling looked worryingly ineffective once the wickets got flat, and James Anderson appears to be an injury prone, too many miles on the clock, up and down bowler (has he lost that nip) on wickets that don’t help him. That doesn’t even mention the coaching staff. Trevor Bayliss got too much praise when things were going well, and pushed off a day early when they weren’t. He’s either managed the press well, or there is something going on. There are a number of grumblings about his test coaching ability, but nothing serious yet. Maybe there’s a nice herbaceous border around him with lots of pretty flowers? As for Paul Farbrace, who knows? Everyone still seems to be in Camp Farby. Nothing to seems to stick to him. If we are doing well, he gets lots and lots of praise. When they go badly, he gets lots and lots of praise. I’m not entirely sure why! Maybe it’s because he’s a cheeky chappy, chirpy and upbeat, a lovely assistant, creating a good environment. 2017 has many many tests – the Champions Trophy had better go well. South Africa won’t be pushovers, and we might freeze West Indies to death by the end of September, while our players will be on their knees. And then….The Ashes!

So to the media. We’ve seen the loss of some of the behemoths of the reporting game. Stephen Brenkley was dispensed with when the Independent went online only, and now is the home of any jobbing freelancer wanting to sell copy. There’s the case of spreading yourself too thinly as a couple of the hardy perennials of the up and coming crew are doing. While Brenkley wasn’t my cup of tea, and to be fair, I’m not really sure who is, I found him more the unthreatening scribe, clearly in love with what he was doing because of the sport and less because he appeared in love with himself. In some ways I miss Bunkers.

Then there was the well trailed removal of Mike Selvey from the Guardian. It is never nice to see a man lose his job, and it is important that this isn’t jumping on his misfortune, but he needed to read the runes and he didn’t. Like Pringle before he gave off the impression the game owed him a living, and the reverence he received BTL in The Guardian often enforced that. The lachrymose tributes on his demise were OTT. His view of embracing social media was to put what he thought out there and slag off anyone who disagreed. As a newspaper man, you can’t do that. Engage, debate, even try to get to know your accusers. Some have done it and found it, I think, of mutual benefit. For Phil Walker to almost cuddle him on Cricket Writers was the last straw for me with AOC. Selvey had no truck with the likes of us, independent of mind, as acerbic in print as he could be. He didn’t want to read views contrary to his, or at least, he might if you’d played the game at the highest level. But he might ask himself why we have a decent relationship with certain journalists and not him while he sups his pint and pines, of course, for a job lost. There were a lot on here who really liked you Mike. Maybe ask why they ended up being on the other side of that line at the end.

Meanwhile the same old correspondents plod along, touring the world, filing copy, being read by fewer people as the game gradually disappears. It’s a bloody shame. Again, to those who block me, namely Paul Newman and Simon Wilde, ask yourselves why we got so damned angry at some of your copy – well that’s Newman, I don’t have the first clue why Wilde blocked me, I quite liked him – because a number of your colleagues did. Think about how the fans are consuming their cricket writing these days. Think beyond scoring a few cheap hits and stupid BTL twaddle, and more about the sport itself. Try not to use your columns to settle other people’s scores.

On TV the new kid on the block, BT Sport, has made a middling start to its coverage. Speaking for myself I think it has a decent panel, even with the odious Lovejoy on it, and it made a splash with the early prominent names of Ponting and KP, knowing these were for a short period of time. This is a practice run for their Ashes coverage next year. Let me give you a number of pieces of advice based on what I have seen of their test and ODI coverage.

  • A highlights show is to watch cricket first, hear you lot jabbering on later. The amount of actual play shown is laughable. When the Ashes are played next year, more cricket and a lot less bunny.
  • Greg James is a promising host but he appears to be limited in what he knows. Now either he is being constrained by the format and the talking heads, or he is limited in what he knows.
  • As for the live coverage, please stop the silly little inserts during the coverage. It’s bad enough with Channel 9 cramming in their imbeciles, without adding to the number of voices. Let it breathe.
  • Separate the action and the chat as much as possible.
  • If you want any more advice, dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk

I have the week off to follow the Sydney test next week, and might provide some more views. It’s good that there are different avenues to watch, but not so good when you have to pay more. The world will, must, have a dedicated cricket viewing source soon, or else it is going to lose revenue and customers.

There’s a bigger piece on domestic cricket to write, and how it interacts with TV. At the moment we have an almighty mess with the ECB and the counties being accused of all sorts by everyone. Until something truly crystallises – ha ha, playing in Beckenham – it’s all heat and light. And dull to watch.

So a year that began with a bang, ended with a dud. There’s too much here already to give a world view of the game, so maybe that’s something I can look into in the New Year. I’ll also be encompassing another aspect in another of the Dmitris, but for now, with cricket, media and blogging in here, it should be enough to be going on.

Happy New Year. One more piece to come.

 

Eoin, T20, ECB, ICC, Tired….

As Chris is off around the other side of the world, and my job has gone absolutely hyper, the time to consider and even react to games, news, events is so totally limited. Coming home has been like wandering into a gently soothing cool shower, draining away the aches and pains, but leaving you still tired and needing rest. Such feelings don’t correlate with writing passionate blog materials. Twitter is easier, but also lazier.

Carrying out the duties of a blog like this means a lot of spare time is taken in reading and listening to what is going on. Today is a good example. I bought the Cricket Paper this morning. The only time I’ve even thought about reading it was when Tregaskis asked me if he could see a copy of the front page. I get home and the first time I actually catch up with the Surrey and Middlesex scores is on the bus to my house. I’ve listened to George’s podcast while having one eye on the unbelievable opportunity I have in 9 days time to fulfill one of my dreams.

I sit and read the stuff on Eoin Morgan. My job entails me going around the world, infrequently, and seeing some extraordinary places – I’ve been to Almaty in Kazakhstan, a brilliant experience, and down a coal mine in Illinois. I’ve been to Istanbul a number of times, and even the amazing city of Moscow. I’ve been nervous about many of them. But I went, because I believe I can look after myself, have a huge sense of danger, and feel as though my wits are about me. I don’t guarantee safety, but then again life is too short to worry about everything. I’m sure something will happen some day, but it is as likely to be in Paris as it is in Istanbul, for example.

But I have turned down visits that don’t suit my personal circumstances, or where being a chunky could get me into trouble (i.e. being able to run decent distances). Or, importantly, where they make me nervous. You see, I may have to make the choice of going to Bangladesh soon, and I’m not that keen, but would probably, on balance go. But I am not a high profile international cricket team. I have every sympathy for Eoin Morgan, who has damn good reasons for not going. His own. You don’t walk a mile in his shoes, so don’t you dare judge him for making that decision. It is all perfectly well people saying “he’s the leader, he should show some courage”. Bollocks. There’s too much of this judgmental crap these days, and I’ve had enough of it. I’m sure many of you have too.

Those who like that sort of thing are pointing out Eoin Morgan’s “lack of form”. The irony of that smacks me in the face. Two years ago lack of form was nothing when the other England captain was playing test cricket, and his lack of form at ODI level took more than a few months bad trot to get him out of the team. Morgan will know how much he lost if he is not selected for India. If he isn’t selected in the squad, then I know that this is personal. Morgan is a very good white ball captain. Jos Buttler will not surprise us that much in three games to persuade us that Morgan still isn’t the best white ball captain.

Then there is the T20 stuff. Look, sorry people, but I really haven’t been following it as much as I know you might like me to. Part of me is past caring. The ECB know what they want. They want an 8 team tournament, in prime summer, with international superstars, and it live and exclusive on Sky TV. Yes, you read the last bit. If it ain’t them, it will be BT Sport. That the counties want little to do with it, is not a surprise, but they’ll be told “no nice payouts to keep you going if there isn’t what we want” and we’ll melt down into civil war over cucumber sandwiches. Unlike Australia, on which we are basing our T20 envy, the game has lost its grip on the social fabric of the country because it banned itself from free TV. Australia still reveres it cricket and there is still an audience for it. It also, as I read from someone today, the perfect set up with large urban centres limited in number. What would we do?  Graves seems to have all the negotiating skills of a Sandstone cliff, and Tom Harrison couldn’t persuade me to put the heat on in winter, so what chance do we have? I don’t think the other side of the debate has been all that crash hot either. Why do we need to save the counties? If they didn’t “need” saving we wouldn’t have to help them out. The game is not viable even in the current “massively successful” T20 Blast era. You know my view – players are getting paid above their market value, and unless there’s some damn realism in this sphere, we are going to be in real trouble ad infinitum. There is not a single current non-international cricketer who should be on more than £2k a week in county cricket. There used to be a few at Surrey. I’ll bet they weren’t the only ones.

And as for the ICC. May god have mercy on the souls of the cricket boards of this world. We truly are in the hands of men with little imagination, other than how to try to make money. I’m done with it. What is there left for us to say? What more could Death of a Gentleman do to say, sort this mess out? I’m not sure two divisions would have saved test cricket, nor do I believe it is in as dire a state as some say it is. It most certainly is in certain countries, but that isn’t new. We have the wonderful success story of Pakistan, the world #1 that never plays at home. England are up and down. Australia too. India look to be getting some consistency. Sri Lanka can pull magic out of a hat. South Africa may still have it. The ICC don’t give a shit. Not really. The BCCI run the game and we all know it. It may have sounded like they were moving towards consensus, but that was always transient in my eyes.

So tiredness and weariness, despair and demoralised, we move on to the end of a season where the premier long-form competition is coming down to a thrilling conclusion with the top two meeting in the last fixture and our host broadcaster, with five or six sports channels to fill in midweek, cannot be arsed to cover it. And that’s the broadcaster who #39 put their head chap at #6 in his power list. He should be #1 because if the exclusive broadcaster can’t be bothered to do this and that company is very likely to keep all cricket in the future, then this sport has the wrong priorities. But we knew that.

UPDATE – Paul Newman has written a truly appalling piece on Morgan’s decision. I’m not linking it. If you want to read it, then go ahead. But there is no room in his ivory tower for a shade of grey. The sort of article that plays the man, and not the issue. An issue so serious that the ECB Head of Security went out there for a week and still the ECB said there would be nothing held against anyone who did not travel. I ribbed an Aussie about their non-tour last year, I know. But there’s been some naughtiness since (I’ve learned a hell of a lot about Bangladesh since then) and it’s a judgment call. No more no less. But there isn’t empathy in Newman. Certainly not in his writing. I don’t know if I could be more angry with him.

You Too Can Pay Per View Two

Off again….a follow up to yesterday!

I saw a lot of interesting stuff revolving around yesterday’s post. AB is quite right to suggest that I am “despondent” about the future, and the reasons are there to see when looking at the Nick Hoult article in the Telegraph. The sheer level of fright the ECB are showing at their county clubs showing real-time fixed camera action and the impact it has on Sky is remarkable. Once again, the ECB are much more concerned about keeping a broadcaster sweet rather than those who actually want to watch their sport. If this is their attitude, we have no chance.

I find Sky’s attitude to this rather predictable. I take, for example, my visit to the States coming up. I would quite like to watch the cricket easily and accessibly from my tablet/laptop. I don’t want to use any proxy hosting software or illegal streams blighted by poor pictures, spamware, pop-ups et al. I’ve paid for the service, I should be able to use it where I like. When I was with Sky, you could watch Sky Go quite easily. I had two or three attempts to get it to work through Virgin Media and nothing worked on my mobile platforms. So stuff it. They’ve lost a willing consumer for a few weeks, and I get more angry at their intransigence. That’s a perfect model for sustainability, right there. However, even if I got it to work, I’d need to go through a proxy server abroad. Why? To protect US cricket broadcasting rights? What broadcasting rights? If I were the ECB I’d be screaming blue murder at this inconvenience and stupidity that a person wanting to consume their “product” has to go through. So, folks, I won’t be seeing a ball of the second and third tests against Sri Lanka, despite paying for Sky Sports. What a f*cking joke.

There is a way for the ECB to change this, but they won’t. They are now the addict to the Sky “pusher”, needing their fix of Sky cash, bowing to all their demands, just to keep going. Without Sky money, they have a cricketing model that is now knackered. They have seen salaries inflate for the top players, they’ve increased the ticket prices, and now we see the northern heartlands turning away from test cricket. The ECB needs to start thinking more creatively. The fixed camera coverage belongs in the Stone Age. I have watched Minor League Baseball online – it was given away for $10 on top of the MLB Premium package a few years ago – and it was better than that. The ECB need to invest in a proper digital streaming platform to allow people to watch cricket on their TVs and other platforms at home or on the move. So when there are 9 games scheduled on the Friday special T20 nights, the other 8 not covered by Sky do not disappear into the ether. Pitch it at a reasonable price – £50 a season – and try it. I hear the powers say that the youth consume their experiences differently now (a bit patronising. I’m not a youth, and so do I) and yet they stick with the arcane TV model that stifles digital content. They’ve made some steps on the ICC tournament front, but everything else is done to protect the big deal. Because without the big deal, they are royally f*cked.

I saw a Tweet earlier to say that the BCCI had taken down AlternativeCricket. The authorities treat bloggers and cricket nuts, who want to share their love of the game, 99 times out of 100 for absolutely no commercial gain like criminals. Get some enlightenment. Every single one of those people who click on here, other blogs, youtube channels, Facebook pages, twitter feeds is a customer. Each one of those people is getting engrossed in cricket and wants to find out more. They want to read about it. They want to watch the highlights. They want to damn well love the game. What do these short-sighted f*ckwits do? And they are f*ckwits. Go after them. Why? Why the hell pursue Robelinda for his brilliant video clips? Why get Facebook to delete Alternative Cricket? Because there might be a couple of quid you are missing out on? As Mark and others say, this isn’t a free market at all, it’s straight up protectionism. I’ve always said, if I felt like, today, I wanted to see a clip of Brian Lara’s 277 at the SCG, I should be able to find it somewhere and watch it. If Channel 9, the rights holders want to charge a nominal fee, so be it. I might pay it. But you can’t and they won’t. So Rob puts a clip up online, a service the rightsholder doesn’t want to provide and has shown that to be the case, and he is potentially threatened with a copyright suit by some organisations? Where is the sense in that? Really. Where is the sense….

Let’s go back to domestic cricket and the County Championship. There is a latent audience out there. Some people would quite like to be able to watch their county on the way home from work, or in their breaks, and a basic (above fixed camera) feed with commentary would be a really good way to go about this. Others displaced, retired or unable to attend could watch an hour or two as they pleased. When something magnificent is happening, people can dip in and watch it. I don’t know the expense, but let’s say it is plausible. A web platform on the Smart TVs, via digital TV platforms (a la Netflix and Youtube on Virgin or Xbox) and mobile hardware would be a terrific innovation. There’s a chance this might just work.

Rather than try silly, costless innovations like the points system, try something that might last. That might be a trend setter. Have confidence in your ability to connect the sport with people. You hide the whole thing behind a paywall, then you are shutting off a massive potential customer base. I’m despondent because I’ve seen little innovative that is going to address the key problem with the sport. Visibility. Cricket is not football, which still has a major footprint on terrestrial TV as next month’s Euros will show. It is not rugby that has its marquee international tournaments on free-to-air. It is totally hidden.

I believe all the ECB are doing is catering to its existing customer base, and being dictated to by a broadcaster which holds all the cards. Tom Harrison has a mighty job to do. Cutting players salaries is not going to be an option – it never is – and ticket prices are exorbitant for international cricket as it is (given you take much of the weather risk, and all of the overs short risk).  It may be too late to find alternative income streams, and yet you hamstring yourself with a TV contract that means innovative counties can’t even get their token highlights shown to make it even harder. It’s a bind of their own making, only cricket lovers are the losers.

That’s right David Collier (referring to the quote I highlighted yesterday). Some of us are emotive over it. Because we think not only that you and your kindred spirits at the ECB are snobs, we also think you aren’t up to it too. In fact, we know you aren’t. Call Stanford…quick.

Pay Per Viewer

Television rights. The debate continues. Money or exposure. Visibility instead of viability? It’s a distance from the days BBC ruled the roost. You knew where you stood, you knew the players. But change was coming…

It was an October day in 1998, I think. October 17. Location…Ataturk Airport, Istanbul. I was boarding the Saturday morning 9am flight to London, having forced my boss to get up early so that I could get back to London in time for Millwall v Fulham (we lost 1-0, last minute goal, the ref was a bastard). So what, Dmitri? Stop rambling…

I picked up one of the daily papers on the flight and saw the news.

“BBC to lose cricket contract to Channel 4. Shock as live coverage moves to commercial channel.”

This was a seismic moment in TV coverage. BBC had held the rights since I was a child, and now, after all those years, it was moving to a commercial channel? How could they? I do remember the late Trevor Bailey getting very irate about it (he said something along the lines of people having no sense of history and being obsessed by money). There was a sense that the BBC had got very lazy, but what was to become of Richie Benaud?

Now a lot of old bollocks has been spoken about BBC coverage. About it being interrupted by the racing, or by kids programmes, or on Saturdays by every other sport. But this is of course pre-digital television for the vast majority, and the digital platforms then were in their evolutionary stage. Sky might have had three sports channels at the time, and were struggling to fill them! There wasn’t even a thought that cricket would follow football and rugby league by handing over their bread and butter exclusively live to the pay TV market.

Sky got their toe in the water  with their one exclusive test per year. This would normally be the non-Lord’s test played by the first tourists of the summer. It wasn’t a great game to get, but Sky, as is their wont, went full in and did their usual high-standard production. As we know, when the contracts for the post-2005 cricket were being awarded, Sky Sports won the bid and got the whole of the sport exclusively live in this country.

If Giles Clarke was the man to which the focus of the ire was focused post-2005, it seems the man that Trevor Bailey had in his cross-hairs was Lord McLaurin. Remember also that test matches were part of the “Crown Jewlels” of sporting rights that had to be on terrestrial TV and that the ECB, or whatever it might have been called then, were having severe constraints placed on their revenue by being forced to, in effect, deal with one partner. But McLaurin was vocal when the Sky exclusive deal was announced. Even he wasn’t thinking that far ahead.

Fast forward to now, and the one partner is Sky. We have no idea if BT Sport bid for the last round (might have been too soon), but one effect of their arrival on the sporting scene of BT was for Sky to exercise their two year option in the 2013 deal very quickly. Sky play an effective long game as the key sports rights holders in the UK, and their thinking may well be that come the new contract discussions, their inside track will be a key selling point to the ECB, and that BT Sport will really be encountering choppy waters. They’ve seen off Setanta and ESPN in the UK, and while BT have deep pockets, they might well see them off to.

The press are remarkably Sky-friendly too. Note how BT Sport, trying to bust its way into a major industry, are criticised by papers like the Daily Mail for the lack of audience for Champions League matches. What Charlie Sale and his kith and kin should be looking at is how an audience of millions for the 2005 Ashes, an outlier, but also an indication of how the sport can grip the nation, has turned into a fraction of that despite the quality production values and dedication to international cricket that Sky has shown. For Champions League football, read Sky Sports and cricket. But Sky always gets a free pass.

Looking back to the announcement in 2004, the thing that strikes me is that English cricket sold wholesale access for a 10% rise. The contract was for £220m for four years – so my maths says that is £55m per year. Even then, the ECB’s spin was appalling….

“We understand that the decision to place all live cricket coverage on satellite and cable television is an emotive issue for some people,” he continued.

“We have made an agreement that will offer the highlights package to a peaktime audience.

“Five will broadcast highlights from 7.15-8.00pm, a time which is the most popular slot for TV viewing for children and a time when an average of 21m people watch television.”

“Emotive issue for some people”. How charming. It’s sneering at you….”You get over yourself if you actually care about the long-term visibility of the sport, and if you were a non-Sky consumer, the fact you would be paying a huge amount to get to watch it”.

Stop those emotions, you people… Those “some people” getting emotive were key consumers of your sport, and yet the insults flew. Now, in hindsight, we recognise that contempt for the supporters. “Watch it on Channel 5” is the equivalent of saying “let them eat cake”. Don’t think I’ve ever watched those highlights, actually. Are they any good?

Alec Stewart sounded a warning at the time…

Former England captain Alec Stewart, speaking on Tuesday, said: “Young girls and boys should be able to see cricket without having to pay for it.

“The ECB have to look at the whole picture. They may be getting a big cheque but, long-term, English cricket will suffer.”

But it isn’t, is it? We were world number 1 test nation in 2011-12, we haven’t lost an Ashes at home. Our ODI cricket was always crap, and T20 was just a flicker at this point. Collier’s view at the time was that take the money now, and see where we go…

“The bids we accepted allow us to invest even more in the development of the England team and grass roots cricket.

“Other proposals included live coverage of some international cricket on terrestrial TV but, if accepted, they would have resulted in a significant financial shortfall for the game and it was decided that this was not in the best interest of the sport,” explained Morgan.

“This is a very good deal for cricket as it guarantees wide accessibility to watch or listen to the action and secures the future development of the game from playground to Test arena.”

We can fertilise the lawn with this.

The suspicion is that the money received from Sky didn’t filter to the grass roots as we see them. The club game is on its arse. My club was showing distress signals in 2005, with us all getting old at the same time, a couple of youngsters coming through but not prepared to commit every weekend, and clubs all around our area merging or folding. I didn’t see any of this investment come down to us. And the recreational game is important. It hands down the love of the game to people like me. I loved my club cricket. If I had kids I would have taken them with me, got them into the game, and hoped they’d be a lot better than me. At worst they’d be able to watch the sport, perhaps pay the ticket money and help fund it that way. Now my nephew will not see it on the TV, will not encounter the game in any way, and if was interested, it’s a struggle to find a way in. He’s very young, but I’d picked up a cricket bat at that age.

The money has funded better facilities and rewards for the top players. Of that there is no doubt. I’m not sure how the wages of county cricketers were affected, and I’m not about to go on a raid on Google to find out how they might have, but when I was talking with a fellow member of Surrey a few years back, the salaries I was hearing were astounding. Over £100k for a county player while the attendance at the fixtures wouldn’t cover the costs (because there was  more than one of those paid players on the staff). So I’m assuming the funds from the Sky contract paid for that (and thus the counties supported the moves to exclusivity). There really didn’t appear to be much long-term about it. It was to trouser more cash to pay everyone involved in the game. Once hooked on the drug of money, it’s pretty tough to get off. Anyone want a precedent in history for this, look at what happened to football below the Premier League when ON Digital went bust. Ask our current Premier League champions what happened to them?

A clue in the raising of the wages of cricketers in the last few years can be gleaned, very roughly, from the cost of sales/ other operating expenses part of the ECB accounts. In 2006, cost of sales was £6.2m and operating expenses were £64.7m. In 2014 those numbers increased to £18.9m cost of sales and £128m operating expenses. Now, this period covers the global economic downturn and the lack of pay rises for many people out there. I can’t delve deeper into those figures because the accounts are pretty opaque, but there is always a spike in years with the Indians touring England (2011 and 2014 in particular) but the trend is up across the piece. There seems little doubt that the players share of the pot has increased. As with football, your subs fund their wages. It’s little wonder that they took the largest pot. Wouldn’t you? You’d really turn down large sums of cash for the future of the game? Bet you wouldn’t.

Now, don’t get me started on Giles Clarke and his vision for the sport. The vision was to increase salaries. The vision was to get money for counties to pay more salaries and perhaps make them sustainable. The counties are the lifeblood of players coming through the ranks as well as, in a number of cases, the parasites sucking the coffers dry. Where you stand on that is your own choice, your own evaluation. I don’t know enough about how this works, and I’m damn well sure we’re not told enough either.

So you have a number of important issues to consider. If you do offer cricket “free-to-air” (and as AB points out, correctly, it isn’t. You still pay a licence fee) then Sky may well drop the value of their bid based on their exclusivity premium. The BT Sport angle is interesting, but we are still a year away from the bidding and while they’ve snatched the overseas Ashes from Sky, it’s probably not going to be followed up by a bid for home international cricket, which is hardly value for money. BT still come across as cheap and cheerful.  If I were them I would not be bidding the current levels that Sky do.

If Sky bid against themselves, then why up the ante too much?. Here’s where Harrison has to earn his corn. Mr TV Rights has to persuade a sole bidder that someone else is interested, while also trying to hawk a T20 match or ten to a free-to-air channel (so far unknown) for a competition that hasn’t been created yet (a franchise one) while keeping the players in the manner to which they have become accustomed, and justify what looks like his £300k plus salary. Good luck Tom.

Commentators protest that the lack of free to air access has meant stars like Joe Root don’t get the recognition they deserve. Great. No argument there. So what are you thinking is the solution? All I’ve seen is a franchise competition with a few games of T20 cricket on free-to-air. Is that really going to work? I’d say the most famous cricketer who has played in England this decade remains Kevin Pietersen. I’d wager Andrew Flintoff gets recognised more than Joe Root. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t secrete a sport on pay per view, that isn’t football, and then expect it to grow. It has to have terrestrial presence (for want of a better word) but that comes at a cost. A cost this short-sighted generation of administration will not countenance.  Joe Root may not get a SPOTY nomination but he’s getting double the salary he would have done without Sky money. Which would you prefer?

Comparisons with other sports are not helpful. AB and I have been having a discussion regarding baseball. One would think it’s a good thing to compare with, but is it really? The focus on cricket for revenue purposes is international fixtures. They get all the good players, they get the crowds, they get the interest. MLB doesn’t have that. The World Baseball Classic isn’t taken seriously in the US. The turnover figures do not compare. AB cited $9bn for a season. A team plays 81 home games, minimum, will have a local TV station rights award (some even own those channels and coin all the revenues for themselves) for the vast majority of all their games, and there is some national coverage on Fox (on Saturdays) and ESPN (a couple of nights in the week and Sunday Night Baseball). A Superstation (TBS) which is available on cable packages throughout the US also has a live game on Sunday afternoons. Then you have the play-offs (postseason) and the World Series. The ballparks vary in size, with some over 50000 in capacity. Revenue from executive boxes and prime location seats are enormous. For a county membership of £150, I’d be hard pressed to sit behind home plate in many ballparks, and certainly the top teams, for one game! Attendances are not even comparable with our international fixtures! Sure, a lot of games don’t get a lot in, but at home to the Red Sox, the Yankees et al on a Friday night? Good luck! I went to see Boston play Pittsburgh a few years ago in PNC Park. It was their record attendance at the time. Two middling teams on a Sunday afternoon.

Cricket in England isn’t in baseball’s league. But the principles are. The sport is cared for like cricket – an anachronism in a fast moving world. It needs the older generation to nurture it for the young. There are concerns that the black community, the US black community, is decreasing in its representation. The World Series doesn’t have the buzz it used to. It does make sure its stars are known. It does show them on major networks, accessible by very many people. It doesn’t just resort to a Twitter feed or a silly #propercricket hashtag. It has a savvy social media platform. It has a wonderful website allowing you to stream nearly every game. We have a couple of counties with fixed cameras showing some action and Sky/ECB start whingeing that it’s scaring the horses. What the serious fuck is going on here? Do they want to stop any innovation?

In my opinion Sky Sports cricket coverage is brilliant from a production perspective and borderline awful on a commentary one. Atherton is fine, but I’m not as high on him as many. Hussain has gone to pot. Lloyd is the court jester, but that act is wearing on me. Shane Warne needs to do one. Michael Holding has been there too long, and I’m not too sure he should be sticking around long, and then there is Ian Botham. You know what I think. Gower as link man is a travesty – Ian Ward should be suing for some sort of age discrimination on grounds of relative youth. Nick Knight in the wings fills no-one with pleasure. This isn’t a national treasure needing saving. It’s sporting coverage needing some bloody new faces. Good ones. Robert Key. Mark Butcher.

But none of that really matters. What matters is growing the sport the decision to take the money and cut the exposure damaged. Perhaps permanently. I don’t see any solution. Who is going to watch a franchise T20 competition if there are many who don’t know the players? Who is going to bid for this for decent sums of money? How will they cope with Sky’s need for exclusivity? Will they even get the same money next time around?

Loads of questions, nearly 3000 words, and no answers. That’s blogging.

Update – As if on cue, check out this load of old absolute stupidity, and the senselessness of having no digital foresight, as explained by Nick Hoult in the Telegraph…

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2016/04/29/ecb-tells-counties-to-stop-twitter-broadcasts-to-avoid-sky-sport/

Several counties have been circulating footage of championship action on their social media pages and Nottinghamshire even streamed a match live on their club website when they played Surrey at the start of the season, although this is permitted under the ECB deal with Sky.

Many clubs see it as a vital way of marketing the county championship which struggles to attract crowds and has proved popular. 

But the ECB this week emailed all the counties reminding them they are not allowed to stream “as live” content online because it contravenes their exclusive broadcast deal with Sky Sports which is in place until 2019.

Talks are ongoing with Sky to try and hammer out a deal which will allow the counties more freedom to show county action online but until then they have asked the clubs to stop breaking the contract.

An email from Rob Calder, the ECB’s head of marketing, was sent to county chief executives this week outlining the rules agreed with Sky, which will show its first county action of the summer next week when it screens live coverage of the match between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire at Trent Bridge from Saturday.

Under the current deal counties are allowed to show highlights lasting five minutes filmed two fixed cameras at either end of the ground. If Sky are covering that match counties are allowed not allowed to screen highlights until 12 noon the following day. If Sky are covering a different match a county is allowed to put highlights of their game up online an hour after play.

But sharing on social media is not allowed until Sky and the ECB come to a compromise although counties sources have told Telegraph Sport they will defy the ban. 

Honestly. I’ll let you comment. You know what I think.

South Africa vs England: 3rd Test 1st day. Not a match report

One of the issues with a blog such as this, is that it’s written by people who have jobs, and jobs that aren’t in (and definitely not Inside) cricket.  That means that any post when a match is ongoing is dependent on being able to have the television or at worst the radio on during play.  In my own case I am fortunate enough to be self-employed with an office at home, and doubly fortunate that having it on in the background doesn’t distract me in the slightest when I’m concentrating on work.  Cricket is like that, it exists but it isn’t necessarily something where full on focus is possible or even desirable all the time.  The same applies when going to a match of course, where much of the time can be spent chatting to others; queuing for the bar (which at Lords can take up to a session of play, so inept are they at looking after their customers); queuing for food (because you don’t want to do that during that portion of the day usually referred to as lunchtime, unless you want to miss even more of the play); or nipping off to the usually vile loo.  Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to stretch the legs that have indentations from the seat in front and where you try to recover some kind of blood flow in a backside numb from a plastic seat presumably bought in a sale at B & Q.

It’s a routine that cricket fans tend to be familiar with, and regular supporters take account of it.  As an aside, a picnic at the cricket is often viewed by the media as being somehow charming, as opposed to the reality of it as being a necessity when faced with outrageously priced, virtually inedible tat you’ve waited an hour to receive – at which point imminent starvation tends to win out over revulsion.

All of which is the background to explaining that with meetings all day, I haven’t seen a ball of the match, and haven’t heard a ball either.  But then you see, as I work for a living, I don’t get paid to watch cricket.  On the contrary, cricket costs me, and costs me a lot of money.  It’s not just tickets of course – for some on here go to far more matches than I do –  or indeed for some like Dmitri, flights, hotels and tickets.  It is also television subscriptions and the TV Licence fee.

This could be viewed as something of a disadvantage on a cricket blog, and indeed in terms of providing brilliant insights on a day’s play, it unquestionably is.  I mean, I could start talking about how late the fonts moved off  the seam on Cricinfo’s ball by ball text, but it’s probably not going to make anyone sit up and ponder.  But here’s the thing, this isn’t a newspaper, and it isn’t written by journalists.  We don’t get paid for this, and more to the point we don’t want to be paid for it.  In fact, let’s go further than that on the point about us not getting paid.  We don’t monetise this site through advertising either.  The odd advert does come up, but that’s a WordPress thing, it’s nothing to do with us.  The option to get banner advertising here is in the settings, it hasn’t been done, and it won’t be done either – neither of us are remotely interested in ever doing that.

And yet the idea that we are frustrated or failed journalists because we pen our thoughts here doesn’t seem to go away.  Let’s be clear about this, neither Dmitri nor myself have the slightest aspiration to join the ranks of the paid hack, to have to pay attention to the possibility of upsetting someone at the ECB, to worry about “access” to players or officials or to  have to write “Sponsored by Waitrose” at the bottom of a puff piece about Stuart Broad’s latest hairstyle (receding by the way, poor lad).  Why would we?  We have our careers and we’re both pretty happy with them.  More to the point, if journalists as a body were doing their jobs properly, then blogs like this would barely exist, for few if any would read them, let alone take the time to make comments which repeatedly teach me new things and find out contradictions and hypocrisies of which I’d otherwise be unaware.  Why unaware?  Well, you see it tends not to be in the papers.  Written by…oh yes.

What is puzzling is quite why some journalists find the blogs to be such a threat.  If they are so irrelevant, inane or downright mad, what’s the problem?  Clearly no one will pay them any attention and readers will instead genuflect to the great correspondents who nobly dispense wisdom on a daily basis.  So why even mention them, why make a pointed comment about the difference between a journalist and a blogger as if one is somehow inherently superior?  Because they get paid for it?  Some people get paid for having sex, we don’t tend to consider it a plus point.

We do get the occasional journalist talking to us directly on here or on Twitter.  It’s quite striking the difference in approach.  The ones utterly unconcerned about blogs tend to be friendly, inquisitive and (he’ll hate me for saying this) full of praise for my partner in crime’s writing.  The ones who are tend to make public comments at odds with what they say directly.  There’s a word for that kind of behaviour, although “insecure” fits, it’s not the one I was thinking of.

The first paragraph of this post detailed some of the joys of going to cricket when you’ve actually paid for a ticket.  How many journalists are in any way aware of any of it?  How many have paid to get in to a Test match and sat in the normal seats?  There’s a TMS commentator who played the game at the highest level and thought tickets were about £20; there is a total disconnect between those who report on the game and those who pay to watch.  It’s a delightful little club, where they really are Inside Cricket, and the rest of us are Outside.  Obvious it may be, and it’s all too often regarded as a trite point by those on the receiving end, but without people going to matches, they truly wouldn’t have a job.  In my line of business I’m acutely aware that without customers I don’t have a job, not least because it’s happened.   And yet there is very little evidence whatever that the media appreciate that most fundamental of points.  The various ECB disasters over the last couple of years were dissected repeatedly from the perspective of those on the inside of the special club.  The wider question of why people should pay a fortune to be treated like dirt at the ground while at the same time being dismissed as irrelevancies never occurred to many of them, because they don’t even realise that’s how it is.

It isn’t all of them of course, no one would claim that.  And yet those this isn’t directed at would know that perfectly well from reading it.  They know who they are, and they do good work.

Here’s the rub, great journalism does what a place like this could never do, and wouldn’t even try to do.  It can be majestic, and it can change the world (FIFA, IAAF).  You want to know the difference between a journalist and a blogger?  It’s that you can.  You want to know why there isn’t one?  It’s because you don’t.

Oh yes, the Test match.   Looks pretty even to me.  Here’s a match report:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/south-africa-v-england-2015-16/content/story/961977.html

Discussion on day two below!

 

 

Guest Post – Free To Air – The Silver Bullet?

While your friendly blog administator has been lording it up in the bars of Central London, having a whale of a time, Sean B has been working on a guest post for us…..

Fire away Sean…. and many thanks!

FTA – The Silver Bullet?

Much as been made recently of the BBC’s decision to omit any of the Ashes winning England cricket team from Sport Personality of the Year this year, and whilst most are in agreement that SPOTY is but a relic, designed to carry favour with the few sports that the BBC still has left, there has also been general consent that this is a worry for the future of the game. There have been a number of excellent articles written about this, George Dobbell’s piece being the best in my opinion – http://www.espncricinfo.com/england/content/story/947713.html, and hence I don’t want to cover old ground by focusing too much on this. However I do feel there is more of a piece that needs to be covered around what and if we can possibly do to try and breathe live back into a sport, which for all intensive purposes is struggling to win both the hearts and minds of the British public.

 

A sensible and much heralded opinion is that the sport has declined in popularity since the end of FTA coverage and the move to Sky, where only those with deep pockets have been able to watch both domestic and international cricket for the past decade. Don’t get me wrong, as much as I think Sky’s coverage of cricket on the whole is excellent (if you take out Nick Knight and Dominic Cork it would be so much better); however their viewing figures compared to the last major series on FTA speak for themselves – In 2005 an average of 2.5m watched the Ashes series on a daily basis with FTA access on Channel 4, with 8.4m people transfixed by the climax of the fourth Test compared to just over 460,000 who watched the final day of the first (and only vaguely competitive) Test of the 2015 series. That is not just a big drop off, that is a complete haemorrhage of cricket viewers.

 

This has cascaded down further, there are plenty of figures that show the popularity of the sport has also been in sharp decline for the past few years now, with The ECB participation survey highlighting that 844,000 participated in the game in 2014 compared to the 908,000 in 2013 and by Sport England’s own figures that show a decline of just over a third from 2006-2014. I, like most others would welcome the return of some cricket to FTA, even if I think the possibility of this ever happening is incredibly remote (Rupert Murdoch is not renowned for his corporate social responsibility and Sky’s model has always been around locking in big sporting events); however I’m not overly convinced by those arguments that make this the one silver bullet, that will return cricket to it’s heyday of 2005, it seems to be a far too simplistic argument to me. I believe there are a number of factors in place here, some fairly obvious, some far more nuanced, that need to take place before we can see both viewing and participation figures start to head in the opposite direction.

 

I will happily concede the FTA coverage of the England cricket team, was probably the main reason why I came in contact and started to love the sport. I had no real reason to come into contact with cricket whilst I was growing up, my family are Irish (before cricket got popular over there) and had no interest in the sport. My old man loved football and hence I was taken to football to play in a team at an early age. I also went to a primary school with a small concrete playground and no playing fields, so really the signs weren’t promising that I would ever come in contact with cricket as a sport. This is where FTA coverage was great for me. The summer used to be a barren time with no football, wet summer holidays spent in the UK (certainly in my younger years) and an inordinate amount of boredom if I was stuck inside. I would literally watch any sport – cricket, tennis and sometimes even golf (though that was pushing it a bit) to keep me pre-occupied until the football season started again. As with anything, the more I watched cricket, the more I got to understand it and the more I got to enjoy it, even if watching the England team throughout the 90’s was viewed by many as sheer masochism. This was how I got into the sport and I was absolutely delighted when my old man caved in and bought Sky in 1993 as he missed the Premiership too much (we had spent a couple of years pretending Italian football on Channel 4 was the best league in the world), which meant that I could also start to watch some of the Away tests that Sky was showing as well as feeding my own love of English football.

 

However, one of my main complaints about the FTA argument is that we’re basing the argument on our own experiences of coming into contact with the game, which in my case is around 25 years ago and certainly not how today’s generation Y or Z (or whatever generation the children of today are, I’ve lost count) would consume content. If I use an example of my Niece and Nephew, who don’t even watch the TV anymore unless there is a film on or they have been told to leave their iPad’s at home. The generation of today can pretty much download any content at any time they want to and hence as a result, attention spans I would guess are shorter than they once were. If they start watching something or playing a game and get bored, then they can switch to watching something else whereas I had 4 channels and snoopy tennis to keep me amused as a child, so you generally stuck with things more, even the slightly more tedious passages of play when Australia were thumping our bowlers to all parts.

 

The major challenge with all sport, but cricket even more so, is that the cricket players and fans of the future don’t consume information the same way we did at their age, nor looking at Sport England’s figures, do they participate in as much sporting activity as we did 10-20 years ago. I strongly believe you could have shown all of the Ashes tests on BBC One throughout the summer and the demographics of those watching wouldn’t have particularly changed (yes you would get greater numbers with an influx of non-Sky subscribers, but I doubt you would have got too many new fans). I totally agree that we need to open up the sport so more can actively watch games and hopefully look to emulate those at the top of the game (and I believe Sky could help by potentially selling 5 day tickets for £20 on their On Demand Access service) but feel that FTA is but a part of the solution and there needs more focus to stream both live games and comprehensive highlights, especially of T20 games, through the web as it will likely to garner more interest with those who have yet to come in contact with the game. Access is king here and FTA, whilst something I would very much welcome, is only part of the solution.

 

Another major aspect (and in my opinion of far greater consideration) is how do we get people playing the game again. Football has the monopoly here. It is a sport that is supported across the world and on the whole easier and cheaper to get kids playing it, even with sport participation dwindling massively over the past few years. I started playing football when I was 6, partly because my parents enjoyed the sport and partly because it was a lot cheaper to buy me a football and some football boots and to let me run off some of my youthful energy. You can also play football pretty much anywhere and me and my friends did as kids.

 

Cricket is more difficult, it is more expensive to buy equipment, less prominent in the majority of schools and has less of a fan base to operate with than say football, as most children will take up the sport of their parent preference. Again, If I go back to my own experiences as a child, I had never really had that much urge to play the game despite enjoying watching it on FTA. We never had a cricket games at primary and secondary school and my only real experience was playing it in the large garden of mutual friend, whose father was passionate about the game. In the end, I was lucky enough to befriend the captain of the town’s under 12 cricket team, who were always on the look out for more players and was invited down to see if I could play (thankfully I had pretty good hand-eye co-ordination and was lively in the field, which meant I got in the team fairly quickly, although my dream of being the next Shane Warne never really made it past first base). I played cricket all the way through my teens and then in various 2nd XI’s into my late twenties, as although, I wasn’t actually that good but could bowl and bat a bit, I still really enjoyed playing the game and was happy to give up parts of my weekend to play.

 

My point here is that I wouldn’t have had the exposure or chance to play if I hadn’t made friends with the captain of the local team as the access to the sport, especially at state school level where most don’t have a chance to play cricket, is incredibly poor. The crux of the matter is that we will continue to see participation drop, if we do not give more opportunities to those not from the previous hotbeds of cricket (i.e. those that might not have been traditionally viewed as prime cricket material) and this in turn will result in fewer people taking up the game, more cricket clubs closing because they can’t field an XI and eventually a mighty old headache for the ECB, when people stop paying top dollar to attend England test matches as people lose interest.

 

As much as I find the ECB an insipid and quite frankly an out of touch organization, even they are beginning to wake up to this fact. David Hopps’ article on the appointment of Matt Dwyer, the ECB’s director of participation and growth is an interesting piece –http://www.espncricinfo.com/england/content/story/950475.html, and highlights some of the real challenges that the sport is currently facing. Cricket more than ever, is the preserve of the wealthy and those that can afford to send their children to Private School. Without doing any particular research, I would guess that most of those currently playing in the England cricket team went to Private School and thereby had access to the facilities that those of us who didn’t, would only dream about (I remember as a kid, my team managed to negotiate 2 winter net sessions a season at the local private school and we felt lucky that we were able to do so.) The Chance to Shine programme, though laudable, has yet to really take off and has only really scratched the surface in engaging children to start playing the sport and needs to be ramped up significantly. We need somehow to get this on the national curriculum otherwise cricket will continue to be a sport of the elitist and local facilities and clubs will continue to be ripped up and shut as many local authorities and schools look to cut their cloth in a world of continued financial hardships. This is both the biggest challenge and opportunity for the ECB, although whether Matt Dwyer and the ECB are up to the challenge is a question in itself, I do wish them good luck though.

 

The final piece of the puzzle in getting more people engaged in the sport is also by having the opportunity to watch it live. I went to my first test match in 1999, when I was studying at University (or supposed to have been and was lucky my next door neighbor suddenly found himself with a spare ticket) and have attended at least 2 games per year for the last 16 years since. I’ve also been out to watch England tour a couple of times, which I’m sure the ECB are grateful to me in help swelling their coiffures during this time, even if there gratitude normally extends to raising the price of tickets for the following summer. My main observation though is that now it is pretty much impossible to take a family to a Test Match these days unless you have a lot of money to burn (circa £250 for a family of four is mind wateringly expensive). It is getting rarer and rarer to see a parent and their children at one of the test games these days and unfortunately I really can’t see this changing in the short term. The ECB, like myself, understands the metrics of supply and demand and in the majority, though perhaps not this year, the demand has outstripped the supply, hence the ability to charge obscene prices for both tickets and refreshments in the ground. This is where I feel county cricket can come in and help fill the void. As my article earlier in the year suggested, I don’t feel that county cricket is in the rudest of health and I certainly don’t think it helps itself in many cases. That said, I do think that this is the easiest, cheapest and most accessible place to get more people involved with the game (and not just those that turn up on a Friday night at the T20’s to try and shove as much beer down their throats as humanly possible) with a few changes to the schedule and structuring.

 

Now I hadn’t planned when I was first thinking about writing this article about wading into the T20 debate, but the more I think about it, the more essential I feel that this is to the health of the game. As I mentioned in my last paragraph, the T20 blast, which should be the easiest way of getting kids into watching the game, is now largely a no go because of the scheduling of all games on a Friday night. I went to 5 T20 Blast games last year and many of them (especially those at the Oval) would be the last place where I would want to take young children as half of the crowd have decided that it’s a prelude for heavy drinking and as a result, increasingly we are starting to seeing more drink induced episodes of violence, which has no place at the cricket, or anywhere else in my mind. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a number of games that I attended in my twenties where some of the action after tea was a bit of a blur, but it was all pretty good humored and very different to the atmosphere at some T20 games (interestingly, I found the out-grounds to be far more welcoming with a nice mix of young and old, make of that what you will). Nor do I blame the Counties in driving through their desire to have all of the T20 blast games on a Friday, as it’s a great money spinner and indeed essential to some for their continued survival; however the current format of the tournament is a logistical nightmare for Players and Broadcasters alike and in my opinion is of a lower quality to those T20 leagues player around the world (and judging from the comments of the England ODI captain, it looks like the players are in agreement). The more I think about it, the more I feel that we need to embrace a franchise league played in 5/6 weeks over the Summer holidays. Now I understand that this might be seen as heresy in some quarters, but my the two main reasons underpinning my thoughts on this are that:

 

  • Firstly every game can be aired on TV including some kind of FTA/streaming capacity to be able to better reach the masses so that we don’t get the farcical situation of only a couple of thousand people being able to see Chris Gayle smash the ball around at Taunton or watch Glen Maxwell, Brendon McCullum and other world class T20 players that could inspire a generation.
  • Secondly, by basing this tournament around the Summer holidays and with games scheduled at different times of the day with a sensible pricing policy, then there will be opportunities for all types of cricket fans to attend the games, not just those who see it as a chance to drink a lot of beer on a Friday night.

 

This I believe would help open up the sport to a whole different range of supporters especially with the carrot of being able to watch and hopefully then try to emulate more world class superstars who I feel, would be far more attracted to come over and play in a shortened tournament as well as likely increasingly the skill level of the competition – a win-win for both fans and players alike.

 

I also believe the four day game has a part to play in this too, although the scheduling and cost doesn’t help at all at the moment. There has to be a movement by the counties for getting the majority of the games back to starting on a Saturday, when they are most accessible for both those that work and those that have families. The move to Sunday or even Monday starts has meant that it is increasingly difficult to view county cricket, whether you are sold on it’s merits or not, and seems to me to be completely at odds with trying to attract a new audience to the game (as well as increasing attendances for the most difficult format “to sell” to the public.) It’s all very well pointing to increased attendances in cricket http://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12123/10076035/cricket-attracts-record-crowds-for-domestic-and-international-games, although I think there are many factors here with these statistics (and some that aren’t as perhaps as wholesome as we would like), I’d be very surprised if the demographics of those attending those games, especially the county games, have changed at all. I also believe that the pricing for the games is wrong, with it being relatively expensive for a family to come down and watch a day of county fair (£20 for adults and £12 for children, I believe at Lords). Why not introduce a family ticket for £30 whereby 2 adults and up to 2 children can come and watch the cricket for a day? This would surely make more sense as it will firstly mean a fairly inexpensive day out for a family, build more atmosphere inside the ground and most importantly, provide access to live cricket of a decent quality for a broader audience.

 

In summary, there are a few fundamental changes that need to be made in my opinion, some of which can be done in the short term and some that will take longer, mainly due to contractual obligations:

 

  • A franchise T20 competition to take place over 5/6 weeks during the Summer holidays with fair ticket pricing and ability to watch free of charge over YouTube or another similar site
  • Most county games to start on a Saturday with a fairer pricing policy including family tickets
  • The ECB to commit to double it’s spend on grass routes cricket inclusive of investing in pitches and equipment to both cricket clubs and also to show a commitment to invest in cricket at state school level
  • FTA access to at least 1 ODI and 1 T20 International per series – this can be done via one of Sky’s intermediary channels such as Pick TV
  • £20 Sky Access TV tickets to watch a test match in its’ entirety, £10-£15 tickets for ODI’s and T20 Internationals

 

Now these are simply my opinions and many may will disagree with them, but one thing is for certain is that we can’t simply sit back and hope the current status quo magically produces a new wave of cricket fans, it simply isn’t going to happen, even in Colin Grave’s wildest dreams. The foundations of the ivory towers in which the ECB currently presides are starting to look as unstable as they have ever been and one only needs to look at the current state of West Indies cricket as a reminder that blind faith counts for very little when you ignore the most pressing of problems. Now I do hasten to add, that I’m not trying to directly compare the current situation of West Indies cricket with that of English cricket, the WICB has the unenviable position of making the ECB look like a bastion of a sensibility and a well run cricket board in the extreme, an unenviable achievement in itself; however both have had the same problem, albeit the West Indies on a far quicker scale than in England, in that they are governing a sport that has experienced a serious decline in popularity. The ECB aren’t staring at the precipice just yet, but the cliff is beginning to crumble beneath their feet.

 

Giles Clarke may have blustered “that Test cricket was in rude health” in the film Death of a Gentleman, but it was just that, desperate bluster. I believe that his decision to sell most of the other cricket nations down the river in his support of creating the big three is almost a “King Canute” situation, desperate to repel the tied, but who’s only answer is play against Australia and India more and in the hope that it might buy him a few more years and boost the coiffures. It indeed might, but I’m not sure it will, it seems like a desperate attempt by a desperate board to make as much money as they can whilst the sun shines; Very soon, the cricketing public will become blasé about another Ashes series or another series against an uncompetitive Indian team (I think it’s closer than anyone at the ECB actually thinks) and will vote with their feet. As I mentioned earlier on in the piece, the ECB has a rudimentary grasp on supply and demand and this may well spring them into some much needed action, after all, no punters, no queue of companies offering to sponsor “Hydration breaks” and a big hit in the ECB’s pocket. The strong ivory tower that the ECB thought they constructed might well have foundations made out of sand after all.

 

Cricket in England is in decline unfortunately and whilst not in a death spiral just yet, there are plenty of reasons to be very concerned. Unless there is radical and fundamental change in the way cricket is administered in England and in the way that new fans are brought into the game, then cricket risks becoming a relic, mourned by the traditionalists, but largely irrelevant to the rest of modern society. Over to you Colin and Tom, no pressure chaps…

 

@thegreatbucko

 

My thanks to Sean – I’ve not edited the piece as I want to encourage people to take these things on themselves. I’m sure he’d be happy to hear comments from you, so fire away!

 

Just a couple more parties for me. Will be back soon.

Dmitri