Saturday, November 3, 2012

Video killed the radio star

Or was it the collective greed, and financial disparity, of international cricket boards?

The last week has seen an informed and unbiased debate on the merits of England’s two divergent cricket commentaries – BBC’s Test Match Special and the internet hit, Test Match Sofa – if only…

Instead, Test Match Special stalwarts Jonathan Agnew and Christopher Martin-Jenkins have done little more than throw barbs at their more irreverent couch-bound contemporaries. Their views have come across as sanctimonious, nasty and arrogant – akin to an entitled bully taking pot shots at the quiet kid in the corner minding their business – David is never going to topple cricket’s Goliath. Those who take the views of two seemingly bitter old men to heart would firmly believe that “the Sofa” is destroying the very essence of our great game and putting the financial stability of the ECB at risk.

Cricket’s commentary debate came to the fore due to rights issues between British broadcasters and the BCCI over exorbitant fees to broadcast from India’s test venues. The BBC have since resolved their stand-off but Sky appears set to present their coverage  a la “the Sofa” – watching television coverage in a London studio, commentating away from the live atmosphere of an Indian test venue.

One would have thought the significance of the situation would be lost in New Zealand, but the decision of Radio Sport and New Zealand Cricket not to provide radio coverage on the Sri Lankan test series has brought it quickly to the fore. Before we all start shooting arrows in their direction, do we also need to aim squarely at another sub-continent cricketing nation whose sphere of concern stops at their wallet?

I don’t recall the last test series that wasn’t broadcast over the New Zealand airwaves – thankfully it’s a rarity. Yes, the number of households with SkyTV is steadily growing but there are countless that don’t – either through choice or a financial decision, and many rely on radio commentaries to keep them connected to cricket while they go about their daily lives.  It is sad that for some the only option will be live scoring via the internet or Twitter – those who have watched our game for decades may not even have those choices.

On the back of the BCCI debacle, it is concerning that the Sri Lankan board has increased their fees to such a level that means the broadcast isn’t commercially viable, though until the extent of the increase is made public we can only take the word of a commercial radio station. It’s time for national boards to think wider than their own backyard – cricket’s top tier nations (I don’t include Sri Lanka in that) are rapidly creating a sizeable buffer to the second tier, but it is imperative that all look to promote the game globally or the gap will become a canyon. New Zealand is already touring during the monsoon season, to now not cover the test matches leaves an uncomfortable void.

Radio Sport contend that the rights have been priced at unrealistic levels, but that the issue has received minimal online coverage shows the apathy of the New Zealand cricketing media and public – conversely, Jesse Ryder being cited over disputing an umpiring decision has been reported ad nauseum. The cost may make the deal fiscally unviable from a commercial viewpoint, but it’s arguable cricket seldom is in this country. Given that the matches aren’t due to start until 5:30pm NZDT and day one falls during the weekend, the coverage would not cut across Radio Sports’ high profile money-earning slots – at worst punters would miss a recap of the day’s best interviews, a show simulcast on Newstalk ZB and a late night slot that has little commercial or sporting value. On weekend evenings cricket would be an improvement at a time of year when sporting activity in this country is at a lull.

But doesn’t the onus then fall on David White and New Zealand Cricket? While financial restraints are an increasingly prominent concern for every organisation, NZC needs to step in and ensure that the rights deal is signed – the game gains no promotion or goodwill when so many are excluded from following it. Test cricket cannot be allowed to follow the same route as the Plunket Shield – our summer game deserves better. Tasked with cricket’s growth and development, NZC need to involve themselves more than simply raising it at an ICC board meeting – their influence at the top table will require others to support them – that would appear unlikely. An absence of test coverage should not be acceptable, to anyone.

If nothing else, maybe it’s a shot in the arm to set up a New Zealand arm of “the Sofa”? Sky will always provide television coverage and a Kiwi Cricket Couch has a nice ring to it – who’s with me?


Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. Will a lack of radio coverage impact on your ability to follow the cricket? Would you listen to a Kiwi version of Test Match Sofa? Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.

If you haven’t had a read, check out my piece on the lack of Plunket Shield coverage – Second rate coverage of a first class game.

5 comments:

  1. As regards the point about national boards needing to think wider than their own backyard, it seems like there's an unimaginative streak running through most of their decision-making in recent times. To their mind, it appears, the only way to keep the cricket-following public interested is to heavily promote a local T20 league, whether it is the BPL, SLPL or Big Bash. I can't comment on how successful these have been, and it is quite possible they are bringing new fans into the game and keeping the boards solvent; but sadly, this seems to be the extent of administrative priorities.

    Believe it or not, there is (arguably) better coverage of the NZ first-class game online than the Indian one. Although the odd Ranji Trophy game is being televised, there are no live or ball-by-ball updates available to anyone. This at a time when most of the test stars are on an international break and turning out for their states. There's plenty of interest (as evidenced on Cricinfo's Ranji Trophy Blog) but the board isn't prepared to take the extra minor step because it isn't getting anything tangible in return.

    The Lankan Board seems to be in a bad place atthe moment, given they are struggling to settle player fees and are calling off test series against WI and SAF next year, so the broadcast issue isn't surprising. It looks as if there won't be any such trouble in S.Africa or England, so hopefully this is just a one-off and NZers will get their radio fix regularly going forward.

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    1. You make a valid point about the lack of out of the box thinking of some boards but to be fair they are simply catering to the masses and it's hard to find fault with that. I doubt it is unsustainable in it's current format and all involved see the need to cash in while they have the opportunity. I'm a traditionalist but I like the idea of the odd D/N test if the ICC can figure out the ball - it may give test cricket a shot in the arm that it really needs. Seeing test cricket being broadcast in primetime would make it harder to ignore...

      India seems to be putting all their eggs in one basket, which is a pity given some of the scores I've seen out of the current Ranji round. As an aside, do they still publish the cricketing annual? I have a lot of older orange covered ones which were interesting reading. I'd be grateful also if you could let me know when Wisden India is released, I'd be keen for the first one at least to sit alongisde the original Wisdens and the 8 Ozdens that were released - I think Wisden India will be a good way to document the rise and rise (or fall) of the T20 games and the way it affects the rest of the Indian game.

      The Sri lankan rights issue should simply be overcome by the NZ board stepping in but paying on a per day basis - no play, no pay!

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  2. Also, totally agree with your stand on the TMS vs Sofa debate. I think Kiwi Cricket Couch is a fantastic idea, and much needed. I would love to be involved in any capacity, though living in India I'm not sure how far that would be possible. Even so, would certainly tune in (or tweet in) and participate!

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    1. Thanks, Suhas. There have been a lot of positive comments about a Couch and it would be good fun though likely a step too far I think. That said, it may be a case of needing to do something in the future if the current stance continues...

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  3. If nothing else, maybe it’s a shot in the arm to set up a New Zealand arm of “the Sofa”? Sky will always provide television coverage and a Kiwi Cricket Couch has a nice ring to it – who’s with me?
    Cricket

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