When we upped sticks at The Full Toss, and kissed Maxie goodbye (metaphorically of course!), I wanted to take this blog in a slightly different direction. I can completely understand why people want to keep talking about the cricket media, but I was personally tired of the whole thing.
However, I occasionally come across an article (and it’s often on Cricinfo) that can’t pass without mention. That’s why I simply must share George Dobell’s piece entitled Cricket Is Losing The Popularity Contest today. It doesn’t just hit the nail on the head; it rams it home with all the force of a Lance Klusener bludgeon over long-on (but with twice the grace).
Dobell has written precisely the piece I wanted to write myself. I couldn’t have gone into as much detail, as I have my ‘proper’ job to do and a baby to entertain, but there’s no point anyway now. I can simply refer you to George’s piece instead.
The article discusses the failure of any cricketers to make the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist – a really sad state of affairs after an Ashes victory – and where English cricket is going wrong. It’s a balanced piece, which quite rightly points out the benefits of the ECB/Sky love-in, but concludes that the domestic T20 tournament (at the very least) should be on free-to-air television. I think most of us would agree with this.
Unless some live cricket returns to FTA – a viewed shared by many counties – the game is going to die. And not like a gentleman either. It will expire like an emaciated goat slowly but painfully wasting away in the corner of a drafty barn. Something has to be done immediately.
There’s no point in me repeating the points Dobell raises, but I can add a little fresh context. Today was the first day that NFL International Series season ticket holders could renew their seats for 2016. This always creates a mad scramble for tickets. Just like in 2014 and 2015, there will be three games in London next year: two games at Wembley and one at Twickenham.
I know that NFL isn’t everybody’s cup of tea – I happen to love it because it’s a strategic and complex game with a level playing field – but the sport is expanding rapidly in the UK. The NFL really knows what it’s doing. They’re not always the most benevolent lot, but they sure know how to ram a product down your throat and make the marketing sing.
There have been 14 games at Wembley since 2007 (I’ve been to every one). All of them have sold out – usually weeks or even months in advance. Last year they sold out Wembley on consecutive weekends. That’s two crowds of 80,ooo plus in the space of eight days. What’s more, the teams playing were two of the least glamorous and least successful franchises. Think Derbyshire versus Leicestershire.
The television audience on Sky during this time has doubled. This coverage is supplemented with highlights on BBC (previously on channel 4), and live coverage of both the Wembley games and the Superbowl on FTA television.
Now there’s no way in the world that American football should become as popular as cricket in the UK, but I fear it could slowly happen. The NFL recently claimed that almost 20% of the UK population (14 million) watched at least 3 minutes of NFL on television last year. That’s only a few percent less than watched the football World Cup final. Meanwhile, an NFL survey recently claimed that almost 3 million Brits describe themselves as ‘very interested’ in American football.
The ECB recently released ‘encouraging’ statistics that 2.3 million people attended cricket matches last year, but the NFL attracted 240,000 in just three matches within one month. What’s more, an increasing number of games have been scheduled for the coming years. By 2020 there could be six games played in London between September and December: two at Wembley, two at Twickenham, and two at Spurs’ new stadium.
I appreciate that this is just anecdotal evidence, but I regularly see young people throwing American footballs to each other in my local park. That would never have happened a few years ago. As someone who likes NFL, but cares deeply about cricket, I find the whole thing rather worrying.
Last year, 1.3 million people watched the Super Bowl on Channel 4 (even though it’s on at an ungodly hour). That’s the same number of people who watched the climax of the famous Nottingham Ashes test of 2013, when Anderson had Haddin caught behind after a DRS review. This game, of course, was during the afternoon at the weekend.
One never knows what the future holds, but one thing’s for certain: more people have access to live NFL in the UK than cricket. Unless something’s done, the gap between the two sports will continue to narrow. Worried? If you’re a cricket fan, you should be.