England cricket’s greatest ever day eclipsed by a Serb and a Swiss…
The peak TV audience it achieved of 8.3 million has rightly been celebrated.
However, to provide perspective, this was 16% lower than the 9.6 million for the Wimbledon men’s final – an annual event with no British involvement, being contested by stars from Serbia and Switzerland. It was also 41% lower than the 11.7 million for the recent semi-final of the women’s football World Cup between England and the USA.
Another interesting comparison is that the 8.3 million TV audience was also lower than the last time English men’s cricket was viewable on terrestrial TV – 14 years ago. In August 2005, Channel 4’s coverage of the fourth “Ashes” Test Match between England and Australia hit a TV audience peak of 8.4 million people. This wasn’t even the climax of that series (there was one more match to go), a series that happens every two years, not like the four-year hiatus of a World Cup.
The point is that in terms of an English men’s team sporting occasion – in both achievement level and rarity – this was the third greatest moment in history after the 1966 football and 2003 rugby World Cup finals.
Thus, it was far more significant and momentous than all these recent events and, so, should also have beaten them all in terms of TV viewers.
The reason it did not can be conveyed in one simple phrase: sustained exposure.
These other events achieved higher audiences because their sports had consistently been on terrestrial TV for decades. Thus, people were exposed to them, were used to watching them and knew what channel to go to.
A habit had been formed.
In contrast, no form of men’s professional cricket has been on terrestrial TV in this country for 14 years. Despite the England team’s wonderful achievement, the reality is that this home World Cup was simply not part of the national conversation. The New Statesman said that England’s matches generally only hovered between the 500,000 to 1 million mark.
The rugby World Cup final, for example, attracted a peak TV audience of 14.5 million for a game that kicked off at 9am on a Saturday morning – 75% more than the Sunday afternoon/evening’s cricket final.
And this perfectly highlights the eternal dilemma sports rights holders face: take the riches on offer from the pay TV broadcasters that benefit in the short-to-medium term but suffer in the long-term from falling public interest and participation levels.
This then has the the knock-on effect of making it harder to attract sponsors if fewer people are interested. Yes, the England team will probably always be OK but what about the county teams who are the lifeblood of the professional game and rely so heavily on sponsorship revenue? It’s a completely different story for them.
It’s a decline which simply can’t be overcome by the occasional moment in the terrestrial TV sun – despite how brilliant, golden, exciting and epic that moment might be.
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