Has Sky TV ruined cricket for the masses?

Sky have put a lot of money into Cricket but is it enough?The broadcasting rights for this year’s Cricket World Cup were sold by the International Cricket Council to ESPN Star Sports, an Indian television company. They purchased the broadcasting rights for a staggering 2 million US Dollars. For the first time, The Cricket World Cup will be shown in high definition and will reach over 200 countries around the world.

The final day of the 2005, 4th Ashes Test, that memorable day in a memorable series: which those of us lucky enough to witness will never forget, reached 8.4 million viewers. The all knowing voice of Richie Benaud, working for Channel 4, sounded out from thousands of television sets all across the country. Ashes fever was at its height, gripping a nation and uniting us together behind our team. Could this really have been achieved if the series had been broadcast on Sky?

By 2005, Sky had the rights to all of England’s overseas cricket but they had yet to wrestle the home test matches off of terrestrial television. This is not to say they had not tried. Sky’s attempts to win the broadcasting rights to home Test matches were met with stiff opposition from the general public. However, in 2006, the ECB sold exclusive rights to Sky, who had made a commitment to broadcast every ball of every Test and One Day International. Sky had also snapped up rights for Domestic cricket. The newly formed Twenty20 cup was sending viewing levels through the roof, and with the help of the 2005 Ashes victory, was revitalising cricket. The ECB issued a statement saying that Channel 5 had been granted a highlights package, keeping cricket on free-to-air television. Since then, Sky has provided ball by ball coverage of every England Test and ODI.

For those of us that enjoy a Sky television package, there is no problem. Sky subscribers enjoy uninterrupted coverage, no more breaks from the cricket for Horse Racing. However, for those that do not, there is only one alternative: Staying up until eleven o’clock in order to watch a 30 minute highlights programme in which very little of the game is seen.

Certainly, this is not ideal. One argument is: How are we supposed to inspire budding young cricketers if their families do not have Sky? Youngsters want to see the likes of Pietersen and Strauss bat, but how many ten year olds are allowed to stay up until 11 to watch the cricket? Not many that is for sure!

There is an argument that development would completely stop without Sky’s money. This, of course, is ECB propaganda and distinctly untrue. How did cricket survive before Sky’s involvement? The answer is that the ECB worked very hard at channelling as much money as possible into the grassroots of the game. They must continue to do this, regardless of who has the rights to screen matches. Hoe funding is controlled by the ECB is the most important factor in affecting cricket across the nation.

However, there is another side to every story. The amount of money Sky puts into the game is huge. Cricketers’ salaries would plummet without the television rights Sky pay for. How many of the players would be happy with a wage cut so cricket can be shown on free-to-air television? The sport is nowhere near at the level of football but it’s on the rise. The popularity of cricket is increasing all the time. Hence why the deal the ECB received from Sky in 2010 was 27% more than the previous one.

Also, to say that the only way kids can develop is by watching the tv is completely contradicting many of the ECB’s other projects. The best way for a youngster to learn is by playing the game, practising the game and developing a deep love for the game. Who could honestly say that sitting inside and watching the cricket is the best form of learning the sport? There’s a whole network of clubs and other opportunities out there. It’s up to the children and their parents to get involved in these. I can certainly say that no matter how many times I watch Michael Vaughan’s 166 at Old Trafford in 2005; simply sitting there isn’t going to make me bat like him!

For years, the BBC had live coverage of the home Test matches each summer. The BBC is partly to blame for losing their rights. Their lack of willingness to even try and bid was disappointing to say the least. Claiming that their bid would never match that of Sky is possibly true but surely it was worth trying, so they’d know for sure. This is also the case with the other terrestrial channels. Admittedly Channel 5 submitted a bid much less than that of Sky, but they tried and in the end secured some form of cricket for free-to-air television.

I can understand why some people are against Sky’s complete control. They don’t want to pay out for Sky subscription just so they can watch the cricket. Although if you are a passionate supporter of a county, or even just England, then isn’t it worth the money? You don’t have to subscribe to the Sky’s whole package. More basic packages which can include sport are of course cheaper.

I find it a very sweeping statement to imply that Sky has ruined watching cricket at home. Thousands of families do have Sky and enjoy a better coverage than any free-to-air channels could provide. I’m sure that if it wasn’t for Sky’s superb coverage of cricket and other sports that my family would never have kept the subscription and we wouldn’t watch anywhere near as much cricket. It’s encouraging to see how much involvement Sky has in grassroots cricket and long may this continue. If people really want to watch some cricket, then get down to your local county and apply for England tickets. There really is nothing that can beat watching live sport.

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