It was interesting to read today that the local broadcaster of cricket in Australia, Channel 9, has suffered a 40% drop in viewers in their first week of ratings, primarily due to their coverage of the current ODI series. The report indicated that viewers were largely staying away from the series, though large numbers had tuned in to the recent T20 between Australia and Pakistan.
There could be many reasons for this, but the current hot topic in Australia is the apparent death of the ODI format. Crowd numbers have been very low to ODI’s this summer, and now the television ratings are also reflecting this trend. Last week, Shane Warne again called for the end of the ODI format, and reports also suggest that TV executives may want a say in what games are played.
Now, there is no doubt that there is a shift in interest in the three forms of the game, which is inevitable with the introduction of a brand new form. But I think that it’s important to analyse the various factors at play here.
Firstly I want to deal with Warney. What must be taken into consideration is that Shane made these comments at a press conference that was giving publicity to a tour of his Rajasthan Royals T20 side. Warne has part ownership of this franchise, and also plays and coaches the team, so he clearly has a vested interest in the T20 format becoming the premier cricket form in the world. His comments therefore cannot be completely written off, but he is obviously going to try and make sure his business interests are assured.
The second issue I would like to raise is about the crowd numbers during this Australian summer. Much has been written about the success of the local T20 competition this year, the Big Bash. Crowd numbers to this event were enormous for domestic cricket, but for me there was one main reason; ticket prices. My buddies and I went along to one of the Victorian games at the MCG, and as a student, I was let in for no more than 5 dollars, my full fare mates paid ten bucks. Now, compare this to going to an ODI or test day, where each ticket, depending on where you sit, may cost over $40, and you start to get the idea. Cheaper tickets area must, particularly when the low quality food and beverages are so ridiculously over-priced, and also when cricket makes so much money from sponsors and TV that they don’t really need to charge this much! The recent ODI World Cup in the Caribbean was perfect evidence of the effect of over-pricing, as an area that is so cricket mad, was unable to afford to attend the biggest ODI spectacle of all.
Finally I’d like to address the TV ratings issue. Now there is no doubt that the fragility of the current West Indian and Pakistani teams, and the almost inevitable nature of Australia winning, means that viewers are less likely to tune in. It is also true that viewers are more attracted to T20 at the moment, as it is the ‘hot new thing’. But I also think that Channel 9 has something to answer for. As David Green suggests, their coverage of the cricket is nothing short of awful. They have had the same stale commentary team for way too long, and have ‘injected life’ into it in the form of some of the more boring commentators known to man (ie: Ian Healy). They also give no perspective from the other side in their team, and the coverage really lacks a Pakistani or West Indian voice, such as Michael Holding.
Furthermore, the coverage is continually bombarded by inane and embarrassing cross-promotional plugs for network shows, which cricket commentators must pretend to be interested in. Then there is also the age-old Channel 9 tactic of cutting away from games to show an hour of news and current affairs. Surely in this age of multi-casting, the station can manage to broadcast two different things at once! These are but some of the awful traits of the Channel 9 coverage and I firmly believe that they should have a hard look at themselves before they start trying to influence cricket scheduling.
I certainly don’t want to come across as someone who thinks T20 is just a ‘flash in the pan’ and will die off…I don’t. I merely think that, if handled well, the three forms of the game can live in unison, and can actually help cricket grow and grow. But, that’s just my opinion; please do let me know what you think by posting a comment below.
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