Wednesday, December 15, 2004

It's not cricket

Sports can go down in popularity as well as up. The proof?
  • In 1966 Bobby Moore was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year and Geoff Hurst finished third. Second place was occupied by a speedway rider.
  • Remember how popular show jumping was on television in the 1960s and 1970s? You rarely see it now.
  • Thirty years ago the British heavyweight boxing champion was just about the biggest name in sport - think of Henry Cooper. Can you name the current holder of the title without using Google? I can't.
All this should act as a warning to the cricket authorities who have just agreed to give the rights to broadcast test matches to BSkyB. For the sake of a mere 10 per cent increase in the revenue they have removed all live test cricket from terrestrial television. And even the terrestrial highlights programme will be on Five, which not everyone can receive. Crucially, reception in Market Harborough is poor.

The case against this decision is well made by John Grogan, the Labour MP for Selby, in the Guardian:
"I think it's disastrous for English cricket," said Mr Grogan. "Cricket doesn't enjoy such strong support as football, and there is a real danger that it will disappear from half the public's consciousness and youngsters will take up other sports.
"It is tragic that this should happen at a time when the England cricket team is performing so well. The England cricket board has ignored the advice of numerous former England players and captains.
"They have done this for short term gain, but what they gain in TV money they may stand to lose in sponsorship in the long term."
The article also quotes the Liberal Democrats' own Sue Doughty, who:
said it was "absolutely essential" that the government looked once again at the issue of listed events.
"This affects people who value sport on TV most," she said. "I am thinking of older people who have been cricket supporters all their lives, and who can ill-afford the extra cost of Sky. If you have a pension then you don't want to be spending a large chunk of it on Sky."
Yes, there is a case for saving the cricket authorities from the consequences of their own stupidity, but it would be far better if they were not so stupid in the first place.
Market mechanisms are fine when the outcome does not matter. If everyone stops drinking Coca Cola and drinks Pepsi instead then no one need worry. But you would expect the cricket authorities at least to be concerned at the prospect of people giving up cricket and taking up other sports instead. So they have to have some concern for the long-term health of the game as well as for short-term income.
They should also remember that show jumping lost its popularity when people stopped calling horses things like Penwood Forge Mill and started calling them Sanyo Music Centre instead.
Money isn't everything, as the cricket authorities may soon be reminded.

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