Let me first make it clear that I hate cricket. It is something
that I studiously avoid, whether it’s being broadcast or written about
in the paper. For the first time in my life, I read an article last week
which captured my attention and whose content was partly to do with
What got my attention was the pains that the BBC and its head honcho,
Greg Dyke, were going to in order to capture the sport of flannelled
It is a lesson in how seriously Dyke takes sport and a sign of the
lengths that the public broadcaster will go to in order to capture its
Dyke rolled out the big swinging dicks recently in front of the England
and Wales Cricket Board to argue that the BBC should retain the rights
to air live test matches on Radio 4 for the next five years. While
Kelvin MacKenzie of TalkSPORT offered the ECB pounds 7.5 million to
replenish its funds, the BBC is thought to have pushed forward
substantially less in monetary terms but plugged its abil-ity to reach
mass audiences as the key to securing the deal.
It sounds like Dyke did a first-class marketing job, arguing that the
corporation had years of expertise in broadcasting the sport and was
committed to spreading the cult of cricket through its national and
Vintage commentary was dug out from the BBC’s library, and examples of
its coverage during last year’s Cricket World Cup were paraded in front
of the board.
Needless to say, the decision has driven MacKenzie to apoplexy. He
issued a statement shortly afterwards, denouncing the move as ’a
disgrace’ and declaring that it will be used as further evidence of why
the Competition Commission should see the BBC broken up.
Unfortunately, his reference to ’Lord McLaurin, who earned his peerage
by selling brussels sprouts’ and decided against giving the rights to
TalkSPORT undermined a potentially serious argument.
While the industry is looking with increasing unease at the way in which
the BBC aggressively pursues audiences and has called for a
re-evaluation of its public sector broadcast responsibilities, Dyke is
aware of the crucial role sporting events play in the programming
line-up. So much so, that there was talk he was looking to appoint a
whizz to help win back lost sporting rights.
It will be fascinating to see how the BBC tries to hold on to Match of
the Day when the Premier League television rights battle begins. But if
this cricket business is anything to go by, the public broadcaster will
do anything it can to hold on to a valuable audience tool and schmooze
the army of potential commercial bidders.
The marketing spin that the BBC put forward for cricket denotes a
broadcaster becoming increasingly slick in its efforts to consolidate
its position in the TV marketplace.