When the batsman’s off the pitch, maybe it’s worth having a crack at the stumps?
While the expansion of the Big Bash League and increased coverage of women’s cricket mean that mathematically the new broadcast deal sees more free-to-air cricket than ever before, that is nowhere near the complete story. It could even be described as an ‘alternative fact’.
16 BBL games will be exclusively broadcast on Fox Sports, with the season expanded to 59 matches. While previously Network Ten broadcast 100 per cent of the tournament, Channel Seven will now broadcast 73 per cent of matches.
The percentages, and not the total number of matches broadcast, tells the real story.
Women’s cricket is the big winner, and Cricket Australia should be commended for their dedication. The problem is that the broadcast deal uses increased women’s coverage as a mechanism to put men’s limited overs internationals behind a pay-wall. CA can still claim a net increase in free-to-air cricket coverage, while putting men’s ODIs and international T20s on Fox Sports.
The deal is a step forward for women’s cricket, and a step back for men’s. It is important not to jumble the two genders together in assessing the changes, as that paints a misleadingly positive picture.
Despite the generation of significant revenue, the deal could spell the beginning of the end for ODI cricket, considered by many to hold the least relevance of the three formats.
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Only around a quarter of Australians have Foxtel, which leaves the rest unable to watch ODI cricket from the comfort of their lounge room. While Fox Sports are rumoured to be launching a streaming service, it is hardly likely to be free.
The ODI format is already suffering from dwindling crowds, and a lack of TV exposure will only exacerbate this problem. In fact, only one of the last 50 ODIs in Australia (excluding World Cup matches) has had over 50,000 in attendance. That match happened to be the opening of Optus Stadium, and therefore attracted an unusually high attendance.
Putting cricket behind a pay-wall is detrimental to the health of the game. Viewership and public interest will significantly decrease. England’s move from Channel 4 to Sky Sports surmises as much.
While 1.92 million Sky Sports viewers watched England claim the 2009 Ashes, this figure was a small fraction of the 7.4 million peak viewership achieved by Channel 4 in the 2005 series.
Despite the excitement at the fresh voices on next summer’s coverage, the broadcast deal is in many ways a backward step for Australian cricket. It is not only unjust to those unable to afford pay TV, but also detrimental to the development of some areas the sport.
One can only hope that Friday 13th of April doesn’t prove to be a fatal day, on which CA signed off on the demise of the ODI game.