Dead Air Foreshadows Death of WI Cricket?
Sat, Jan 20, '07
Regional first class and limited overs cricket in the Caribbean appears to be continuing its long slide into oblivion. For the first time in memory, there is no coverage in Jamaica of that country's first class or limited overs matches. In Trinidad, former West Indies paceman Colin Croft commented that he had to search the airwaves to find the cricket, eventually finding coverage only on one weak station with poor reception.
The situation doesn't seem to be much different in Barbados, where commentator Andrew Mason noted that the first round match between Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago came very close to not being broadcast because of a lack of sponsorship.
Even the WICB's WindiesCricket Radio
pay-per-listen service, which proclaims itself to be "your source for live audio commentary", is silent. Visit the page and you get the unhelpful message "There are no scheduled events. Please check back in a few days"
Once it might have been thought that the smaller countries in the region would be the ones without coverage, but in 2007 it is the stations from these small islands which are now providing the best means to get live audio commentary on air on over the Internet.
CaribbeanCricket.com asked the RJR Group's Simon Crosskill why his station, Hitz 92 FM, was no longer carrying the regional cricket. Crosskill was frank in his response, noting that his station in 2006 carried an unprecedented amount of cricket, which was never fully sponsored, resulting in significant losses for them.
He went on to say "we must choose carefully the cricket we cover. Now regional cricket for years has failed to earn us revenue while the costs have gone up alarmingly... ...until the late 90s there was no rights fee paid for regional cricket".
He also offered this chilling insight:
"The final nail in the coffin for regional cricket coverage is the poor standard of cricket, the extremely poor performance of the Jamaican team in the last competition, and the fact that very few listeners under the age of 35 show any interest in cricket let alone regional games."
Meanwhile, the WICB seems to be largely indifferent to what one would think would be a big hole in their business plan. When the question was posed to the board's Corporate Services Manager Tony Deyal, he passed it on to the Commercial Manager, Paul Skinner, and posted the response:
"CMC has contracted stations throughout the region to carry the games live and it has nothing to do with sponsorship of the coverage. This is done, in one part, in exchange for them having the rights to carry the international games live, both through which the stations can sell ad packages. The problem has been that many stations will carry the International games, make money from it and thereafter refuse to carry the regional games."
Simon Crosskill seemed surprised by this pronouncement, stating bluntly that "CMC does not contract stations to cover regional cricket, CMC charges a rights fee for those stations wishing to broadcast cricket". He suggested that Skinner was thinking of the television coverage.
From a business perspective, it is unclear why the board cannot recognise the importance of nurturing what interest there is in the regional tournaments, if they are to have any relevance. Are Carib and KFC getting value for their money when there is limited coverage, and the standard of what coverage there is varies so widely? How can the board seriously expect sponsors to keep injecting millions of dollars when so little is done to promote these events?
Perhaps the WICB needs to take some lessons from the Australian Football League, which manages the thriving "Aussie Rules" football franchise Down Under. On their website, fans can get free audio coverage and video highlights, and overseas users can even sign up to get full streaming video of the games an hour after they finish. It is no coincidence that with the level of investment, Aussie Rules Football is thriving in Australia and spreading around the world.
Of course, you cannot invest if you have no capital, and we are told that the board is flat broke, having sold off most of the rights to everything it could, and praying for a windfall from upcoming World Cup. It's hard to imagine that anyone would want to throw more money at an organisation that manages it so poorly.
Much of this comes back to Simon Crosskill's sombre reflections on the state of the game, and on the lack of interest in the game, which is not just a Jamaican problem. The roots of cricket are dying in the West Indies, and the tree will surely follow if something is not done. If the current structure of the WICB will not allow the necessary changes to be made, then the WICB must reinvent itself into a body that can effectively rebuild and competently manage cricket in the West Indies. If they fail to do this, Allen Stanford has offered a compelling alternative.
Time is running out.