A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the negative effect live cricket being exclusively on Sky and BT was having on the the game more broadly and on the younger generation’s (now often non-existent) relationship with cricket. There are a lot of leisure activities competing for children’s attention, the one which they can’t actually watch is unlikely to be highest on that list.
I think we can agree that all things being equal, it is far from ideal that live cricket is behind a paywall. Disenfranchising children and adults in this way only makes it harder for the sport to thrive. With an average of 550,000 watching the World Cup cricket, I think we can agree that is hardly spectacular. That cricket still has an audience is a testament to its eternal pleasures, but imagine how much more popular it could be if it wasn’t being shown to a few hundred thousand but to a few million.
I don’t have Sky any more but I saw enough cricket on it before I binned it off to know it is a brilliant product. If you like cricket there is no way you wouldn’t like Sky’s offering. Much like football, it transformed how the sport was done on TV and the cricket is, if anything, even better with a plethora of interesting and articulate and entertaining contributors. I’d wager nobody is not buying cricket on Sky because they think it’s no good. No. It is the cost and the practicalities of doing it that stops more people watching. A few maybe object on principle too, of course.
We know how to fix this: put it on free-to-air TV. But why hasn’t this happened? Even the most rabid anti-Sky critics can’t blame them for hiving off the sport. And their investment in it – around £2billion – has kept it alive in a time of financial paucity. One can argue about how well that money has been spent, but the fact remains, without that money, cricket would’ve been in the clarts.
Does the blame for the current state of affairs lie at the feet of the terrestrial broadcasters? Live cricket will return to the BBC in 2020 – 2024 but they’ve not been interested since 1999. Channel 4’s Ashes coverage in 2005 with 8 million audiences caught them by surprise but the fact the rights bidding for coming seasons was done and dusted before a ball was bowled in the series meant C4 bid too low. Had it happened after and they’d seen the numbers they could pull, they’d surely have found the funds.
What about ITV? The collapse of advertising income as companies jumped ship to Facebook and Google has made money tight for them and they have no tradition of showing the game since the 70s when you could watch the Roses game or the Scarborough Cricket Festival.
BBC TV basically abandoned the sport and didn’t even bother bidding for it. Now, you can argue they should’ve dropped all the expensive crud and spent the money on cricket, but the expensive crud is popular. You and I may dread being forced to watch Call The Midwife or any amount of talent shows full of people singing overwrought ballads slightly flat, but the BBC has to cater for all and every taste. Since 2010 they’ve also had to contend with a government that has elements within it that loathes the BBC in every way and have been keen to cut the income that goes to them. So it is not hard to see why putting on eight hours of cricket for four or five days, or a month-long tournament wouldn’t be scheduling priority, though of course, they could’ve tried harder.
No, the blame for the whole sorry mess actually lies with government. We have never had a government of any shade that has considered sport important or worth funding properly.
We’ve never had a government that has had the vision and strength of purpose to take a holistic approach to sport and see why an active, sporty nation isn’t just a happier nation, it is a healthier nation. Given that we are currently facing an annual bill of £14 billion to treat Type 2 diabetes and rising ever higher, given we are munching down 71.5 million prescriptions for antidepressants at a cost of half a billion, you’d think, just once in the last 40 years someone in parliament might think that a more active, less indolent population inspired to participate in sport would be a fitter, healthier and happier one.
You’d think they’d realise that investing in all kids having access to sports equipment, and fields to play on, not one child left behind, would save the state money through better health outcomes in the fullness of time. You’d think that cutting funding to schools and councils forcing them to sell their playing fields would have been an obviously stupid thing to do .
You’d think they might realise that a country which all watches big sporting occasions at the same time in large numbers, is a nation with something in common with each other, with something to connect us all, rather than being shut off in our own paywall niches. And that in turn creates a country that values commonality and rejects isolation.
Basically, too many politicians lack vision either through lack of intelligence, fear of the right-wing tabloid press, or belief in a cruel economic dogma which wants the people weak, divided, pliant and easy to oppress for the profit of a small elite.
If Sky has put £2billion into cricket over the years, and the current shower of sh*te that isn’t even a government worth the name have recently given the DUP £1billion (where did that go?) just to cling onto power, I think we can be sure there absolutely is the money to invest in sport. It is now and always has been a lack of political will to do it, even though the healthcare savings over time would outweigh any amount of money spent acquiring rights for the state broadcaster.
I think when we see the heinous babbling gargoyles currently pitching to be our Prime Minister on the back of the votes of 150,000 people drawn largely from a narrow section of society, I think we can see the problem.
These people are the people’s enemies and it is they we need to put in chokehold and demand they do what is best for us and not what is best for them. Until we do that en masse, until we pressure them in any and every way, they won’t and they won’t because they’re too blinkered and intellectually barren. It all comes down to us. Do we want what is best for ourselves and shall demand it, or can’t we be arsed? The ball is in our court.
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