Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Test cricket in crisis?

No-one turned up to watch Sri Lanka play New Zealand recently. But then nobody turned up to watch India beat South Africa either. Australia and England might draw record crowds, but that isn't going to last long if England keep losing. Chloe Saltau in Melbourne's Age has taken a look at the state of test cricket around the world and is starting to grow concerned.

I am not so sure we should start worrying just yet. While attendance at test matches is down, I don't think interest is. I have heard more talk about test cricket over the past few weeks than I ever have. And coverage in the media has been almost overwhelming. People still love the game, but I suspect they don't have the time to dedicate an entire day to it. So what is the solution? Well, I am sure New Zealand Cricket must make very little of its money from paying customers. 1000 people paying $15 a head will contribute only a fraction of the income provided by those massive TV rights. So why not charge nothing or only a nominal fee? If people pay $15 then they will want to get their money's worth and will only go if they know they can spend the whole day at the ground. If they were to be charged nothing, they would be much more likely to take a long lunch and pop in for a session, or take the kids down for an hour.

In my opinion, test match cricket isn't dying. But it is losing its atmosphere and has clearly lost its importance to New Zealand Cricket. The priorities are now the money-spinning ODIs and Twenty20s.

In the past I have also advocated for test matches to be taken to the provinces. Martin Snedden said recently that this is not viable because of the contracts New Zealand Cricket has with the major grounds. This is a great pity. But better scheduling might help. Test matches in November and early December are not going to get a crowd anywhere in this country. The Boxing Day test quickly became a wildly popular institution in Wellington and its loss still is a mystery to many.

I can accept that high summer and the holiday season is the time when ODIs can make even more money, but Karl has suggested timing test matches with regional holidays. Staging a test match in Wellington over Wellington Anniversary Weekend seems a very sensible idea and still leaves the Christmas period free for money making.

Test cricket has long been the jewel in cricket's crown and the shabby treatment it has received in New Zealand is to the detriment of the game and its popularity. You do not limit a "series" to two games, shove them into the darkest corner of the season and then complain that the game is losing popularity. The New Zealand public still love the longest form of the game and New Zealand Cricket should acknowledge that. Cheaper (or free) entry, better scheduling and series containing more than two matches will see the crowds return.

The aim of New Zealand Cricket of course is not to draw crowds, but to make money. The ODIs might pay the bills, but even with free entry test cricket can still be a money earner. If it wants to wear its purely financial hat then New Zealand Cricket might considering looking at test cricket fans in a different light. Instead of seeing the people who come to the ground as punters to be exploited, they should look at them as atmosphere generators who will make the TV coverage even more valuable.


Ben said...

"The aim of New Zealand Cricket of course is not to draw crowds, but to make money."

I do hope this isn't the case. Surely the aim of NZ Cricket is to put a successful cricket team on the field and entertain NZ cricket fans. And in terms of entertaining fans, nothing but nothing compares with a day at the cricket surrounded by a crowd.

Ben said...

Without doing any calculations, I suspect NZ Cricket earns less than $15 per day per TV viewer, probably even less than the $5 per adult from the family day at the Basin. So encouraging crowds probably would make money. Also, even if you do manage to get people away from the TV for a day or two of test cricket, they'll still be paying their Sky subscriptions.

Jeff said...

You are rightt hat while crowds may not be there, the interest certainly is and it is lasting interest.

Tests have a really important revenue raising role as well. A Test match can provide TV networks with up to 32.5 hours of live TV content, 4 times what you would get in a ODI.

I think tickets are reasonably priced. $15 for 6.5 hours of entertainment is a nominal fee in my opinion. As I said elsewhere, fixture timing will maximise interest in the game. Test crowds are much more responsive than ODI and Twenty20 crowds when it comes to fixturing. Punters will sacrifice a day off work for a ODI but are less likely to do so for a Test. So play Tests when it suits the punters the most and make it easy for them to attend.

Boxing Day, New Years, Waitangi Day Test, Anniversary Days... there are loads of fixture possibilities.