The old buffers who make up the MCC will be turning the same shade
as their mustard-and-tomato club ties. First their club is opened up to
women and then commercial TV lands the broadcast contract. For pounds
But hold on a minute. What few people seem to realise is how
forward-looking the deal is - for both parties. It makes cricket Channel
4’s signature sport - and sport is an area where it’s been weak of late
- and for the English Cricket Board, the deal means an end to years of
comfy co-habitation with the BBC and a venture into the unknown with,
well, an unknown quantity.
In the end, however, what really matters is whether Channel 4 is good
for cricket and whether cricket is good for Channel 4 and, therefore, by
extension, good for advertisers. I reckon everyone wins.
Pundits are making much of the size of the bid, but this seems to me to
miss the point. Sure, the money’s vital, but it’s only part of what the
game needs - the other part being a commitment to stimulate the widest
possible interest from the public.
This, long term, is essential to cricket’s regeneration and is where
Channel 4, according to insiders, beat the BBC, which would not commit
wholeheartedly either to clearing its schedules for cricket or to
running a highlights package at a consistent peak-time slot: all of
which suggests Channel 4 wanted the deal more than the BBC.
What then does the deal offer the people who’ll pay for the coverage,
ie, the advertisers? The answer is: more than we might think. First,
cricket attracts a high audience, certainly at its peaks. Day four of
the first Test against Australia last year pulled in five million
viewers; nearly 45 per cent of AB males claim to watch cricket on TV;
and, significantly, light viewers (145 on the index) are attracted to
it. In Australia, where TV coverage has moved from the public to the
commercial sector, one-day internationals deliver ABC1 male ratings
between 17 and 22, and Tests between 12 and 15. The problem, however, is
that the average viewing levels are much lower because, by the very
nature of the game, viewing is spread over the day. But ask yourself
this: is it conceivable that the game’s off-air sponsors - Vodafone,
NatWest, Rover, Texaco, Cornhill - would not wish to grab airtime in and
around either the live coverage or the prime-time highlights?
If ratings are one part of the argument, another (equally important) is
reach. To advertisers, cricket could attract a new and hitherto
hard-to-reach audience - one, moreover, which normally might not come
near Channel 4. Conversely, the same reach argument could apply for the
game itself if the ethnic minorities Channel 4 naturally attracts are
exposed to the joys of cricket.