The last year has been an interesting year for English Cricket. An Ashes win, away Test, ODI and T20 series wins, the number one batsman and bowler in the world, a new record runs scorer and wicket taker, a disastrous World Cup, the messy and unnecessary KP business and record breaking County Champions. And how much of it have I watched? Almost none. Now this isn’t because I don’t like cricket, I love it. Its not because I haven’t been in the country either, or that I’ve been abducted by aliens. It’s because I dont have Sky.
Sky Sports has a monopoly on cricket. All England tests, home and away, all England ODI and T20 matches, the World Cup, the T20 World Cup, the IPL and all domestic cricket. What is the non Sky subscribed fan left with? Highlights of England’s home games on Channel 5 and Test Match Special on the wireless. This level of monopoly wouldn’t be tolerated in any other business, or even any other sport. The EU stepped in to force the Premier League to share its Football rights with other broadcasters, and the UK government supposedly safeguards its ‘Crown Jewels’, meaning that events like the Grand National or the Football World Cup must be shown live on terrestrial television. So why not Cricket? I’m not talking about all cricket, but things like Ashes test matches, the World Cups or T20 finals day, this sort of thing should be free to air.
In Australia, the Big Bash League is big business. Great cricket played in front of packed out stadiums with all the big names, and best of all? Its all free to watch, prime time on terrestrial TV. The ECB could learn much. The question the ECB has is does it want cricket in England to be a wealthy, Sky TV dominated minority sport, or a sport that is more accessible to the general public? The main protagonists of the 2005 Ashes series are household names, Kevin Pietersen, Freddy Flintoff, Michael Vaughn etc. and these players have inspired a generation of cricketers, I remember watching that series along with millions of others, some not cricket fans, but people who were drawn in by the drama. My worry is that the current players can’t do that because no one, who isn’t already a fan and can afford Sky subscription, is watching.
The BBC Sports Personality of the Year isn’t the be all and end all in sport, it is largely a popularity contest skewed by block voting, but the shortlist is still a pretty good gauge as to what sporting personalities have captured the imagination of the nation, so with no widespread coverage of cricket is it a surprise that no cricketers made the list? No Joe Root, the number one batsman in the world, who’s had a great year, no James Anderson now England’s leading test wicket taker of all time and no Alistair Cook, England’s record test runs scorer and Ashes Winning Captain, nor is there a place for the record breaking County Champions Yorkshire in the team category. Now all of these you could debate should or shouldn’t be on the list, but if they were shown on the BBC live, I guarantee at least one of them would be. And this is where Cricket is missing out, the exposure gained by terrestrial TV coverage would surely count for much more than the money Sky is strangling the competition with.
I’m not anti Sky. The money that they pay has transformed sports like Football and Darts for example, the problem is the monopoly it has over cricket. The football World Cup, FA Cup and England games are all free to watch, and Premier League and Football League highlights are on every week. Now I don’t expect cricket to challenge football as the number one sport, but why can’t it have a slice of the pie? I don’t want cricket to be a minority sport, I want for people to be excited asking ‘did you watch the cricket today?’ Not ‘is there even any cricket on?’, I want more people to see Ben Stokes smash the ball to all areas and Stuart Broad destroying batting line ups. So come on ECB be brave and make a decision that will widen the appeal of the game we all love.