Well, who woulda thunk it? After all the years of recriminations, finger pointing and endless inquiries overseen by sombre old men, the cause for Australia’s cricketing decline has been found. And it was right under our noses all along. In retrospect it seems obvious that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) was behind it all. The arch-communists that run the joint have probably been plotting against the game from the very beginning, the idea of competitive sports having no place in the socialist utopia that they hope Australia will one day become. They have only been pretending to support the game all this while, whilst secretly kicking out the rungs from beneath. Sort of like a frozen horse. Now that Cricket Australia have rightfully identified these transgressors, the sport can once again rise to the heights where it so rightfully belongs. Up yours rest of the world, there is no stopping the Aussies now.
Australians had their first glimpse of this wonderful new world this past week when the Sheffield Shield season kicked off with gusto. In Sydney, Michael Clarke and his heir apparent, Steven Peter Devereux Smith, were mixing it with has-beens like Ed Cowan, and Ben Hilfenhaus, and probably-never-will-bes like David Warner and Nathan Lyon. In Melbourne Peter Siddle, Shaun Marsh, Chris Rogers and Fawad Ahmed were on show, whilst over in Adelaide you had Ryan Harris and er, Usman Khawaja. And finally in Perth there was the fine sight of an English touring team rolling their wheel chairs out onto the park as they embark on a desperate attempt to defy father time for at least another four months or so. Except for Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad, all of whom couldn’t quite make it down the ramp from the dressing room. Oh and Steve Finn, who did make it onto the park, but couldn’t defy anyone if his life depended on it.
Accompanying these festivities was the sound of silence. Not one game was broadcast on ABC Radio. Nothing. The head honchos at Cricket Australia must have been absolutely loving the fact that the launch of the Australian domestic and international season was viewed and listened to by absolutely nobody except for the few hundred in total who bothered turning up to the games, and probably the couple of dozen who were bored enough to watch the live streams hosted on Cricket Australia’s own website (where they would have been treated to the greatest camera work ever seen at the England tour game – who would have thought watching someone fiddle with the settings on a Sony Handycam for hours on end could be so engrossing?).
Of course, this turn of events wasn’t Cricket Australia’s fault. They would have loved for all the games to be covered by ABC Radio. It would have helped to build anticipation ahead of the looming Ashes and given cricket followers the opportunity to see some of the established Test players mix it with those on the fringe. It would also have provided another chance to laugh at David Warner, as he failed twice against a pop-gun Tasmanian attack. ABC Cricket, however, decided against broadcasting any of the games, and so the season began in the midst of a media vacuum. Even a last ditch effort by Cricket Australia CEO, James Sutherland, failed to convince them to change their stance. And why would they? The ABC has been effectively sidelined by the sport’s authorities. It now has no interest in the development of the sport, and will gain precisely nothing from its growth. Indeed any future growth will probably only hurt the ABC, rather than help it.
The decision by Cricket Australia to strip the ABC of the right to exclusively cover international cricket in Australia means that any potential growth in the sport will benefit CA’s new commercial radio partners. Cut out entirely from covering the Big Bash, which will exclusively be on commercial radio now, the ABC has been effectively shunted aside as Cricket Australia goes chasing the cash. Sure, the ABC will still be allowed to cover cricket in this country, but with its audience now split amongst competing radio stations, and with CA refusing to allow them to stream their own content on their website, the corporation that has championed the sport in this country since 1924, is now effectively a bit player. The loss of exclusivity means a necessary decline in revenues, will which subsequently only make it harder to for the ABC to keep hold of the commentators it already has. The exodus is already well established. The commercial coverage of cricket will be headed by two former ABC commentators, Tim Lane and Damien Fleming. Thank god that Jim Maxwell is seemingly welded to his commentary chair in the ABC studio.
The ABC reacted quickly to Cricket Australia’s blatant cash grab, deciding that to secure its future it needed to look further afield. So it came as no surprise that a few days after the announcement, the ABC revealed it had entered an arrangement with the Football Federation of Australia, whereby all domestic football (i.e. the round ball version) games in the country will, for the next four years, be covered by the ABC. In their attempt to chase more money, Cricket Australia effectively drove their longest supporter into the hands of their biggest enemy. And if you don’t believe that the rise of football represents perhaps the greatest challenge Cricket Australia has ever had to face, just remember: Emile Heskey plays in the A-League. Oh, and that the Big Bash averages crowds barely over 14,000 despite massive marketing campaigns over the past two years. So far this season the A-League averages a little under 18,000 despite being largely ignored by the mainstream media.
At a time when Cricket Australia needs all the support they can get, they have effectively ostracized their most committed backer for the sake of a few extra dollars. CA might believe that by opening up cricket broadcasting to new audiences they are helping to secure their future, but all they are really likely to achieve is the effective crippling of a broadcaster which will, along with many of its listeners, look for greener pastures elsewhere. The whole episode is emblematic of CA’s heavy handed approach to affairs; waiting too long to change, then overacting and ultimately causing more even more trouble. The ABC has every right to feel aggrieved at how it has been treated.