It is the beginning of the end for cricket in Australia.
Well, at least as we all know and love it.
What is more, crickets’ decline was totally avoidable and can still be avoided. Although in saying this, it is hard to see that Cricket Australia would have any insight into them being the architect of their own demise.
Cricket has not learnt from the train wreck that is Rugby Australia. In fact, cricket has wilfully followed rugby into making the exact same mistakes. The parallels are eerily similar, the consequences will be equally severe.
Cricket’s decision to put its key marketing tools, the Australian one day and T20 cricket teams, behind a paywall will be ridiculed in the years to come. Exactly like Super Rugby has hidden the Waratahs, Reds and Brumbies behind Foxtel’s suite of subscriptions, this is without a doubt, the dumbest, most short-sighted decision that CA has ever made and the sport is already suffering grave consequences after just 12 months from inking their latest deal.
Cricket used to enjoy months of free promotion on free-to-air. Channel Nine would promote the Australian one day and T20 fixtures heavily because there was a symbiotic relationship.
We do not see Channel Seven promote anything about Australian cricket except the Tests series, which in itself is a form of the game appealing only to the increasingly limited market of purists. The impact of this is greater than any of the geniuses at Cricket Australia expected.
Nobody was talking about the Australia versus Pakistan T20 series because any sporting event that is exclusively on Fox Sports and Kayo is invisible on social media.
A lack of visibility on social media happens to also be Super Rugby’s biggest self-imposed problem. It is hard to generate awareness, interest and discussion on forums about something that the majority of the general public cannot see. That problem is now also cricket’s own self-made conundrum.
The T20 series between Australia and Pakistan around Australia last month has to be close to a record for the worst attendances to international cricket in Australia in living memory. The crowd figures were appalling. Nobody in my own social circles even knew that the matches were on.
The lack of engagement by cricket in Western Sydney is also bewildering. Again, another parallel with rugby union’s mistakes. Whilst Cricket persists with Tests and one-day international matches in unimportant backwaters like Hobart and Canberra, the fast-growing and most important market in all of Australia goes virtually snubbed.
Cricket Australia thinks that it can still operate like it is 1995. Spread the Tests between the capitals they say, even though far more people live in the metropolises of Parramatta and the Gold Coast than Hobart or Canberra.
Things have changed and are still changing. Sydney is now a tale of two cities with different demographics.
The people that run cricket and rugby can learn much from how the administration of the A-League and the AFL, to their credit, have been able to see that Australia is changing.
The A-League understands that market concentration in Melbourne and Western Sydney is the key to their first elusive lucrative free-to-air deal. A free-to-air deal will bring free advertising and promotion which subscription services like Kayo and Fox Sports will never be able to offer.
Tasmania is an AFL heartland but it is like holding on to Old Kent Road over going for Mayfair. Western Sydney is the crucial market foothold for future television rights deals, yet cricket still plays Tests and one-day internationals at Bellerive Oval over the Sydney Showground.
Cricket fans should be angry and vocal over the game’s administrators selling out to paywalls for short term gain. Perhaps it is naivety on Cricket Australia’s part, but one thing that has been seen around the world is for sure.
Whenever a sport puts its key content behind paywalls, that sport’s audience shrinks in the long run. Exhibit A, rugby in Australia and New Zealand.
It is impossible for a young person to be inspired by something they have never seen. Cricket Australia should heed this warning if it wants to be relevant ten years from now.