World Cup 2011 January 29, 2011

How broadcasters can cut costs and keep viewers happy

And why those responsible for Eden Gardens lead thrilling lives

Wednesday, 26th January My South Africa versus India series was splendid. Lots of lovely cricket with only sporadic interruptions from a trio of self-conscious men in dark suits sitting in an arctic blue studio that looked like the penguin enclosure at a downmarket zoo. But Indian viewers had it much worse. Their cricket was squashed into a small window, the rest of the screen being reserved for gaudy ads hawking all manner of worthless tat. Why was this? A prominent man in nice shoes from Ten Cricket explained:

“…there is a significant amount of pressure to monetise Indian cricket events.”

There may well be, but since I don’t speak gibberish, it took me a while to grasp his argument. Like cats, small children and economists, I don’t really understand economics, but I got there in the end. The argument goes like this: It costs a lot of money to put Indian cricket on television, leaving very little for he and his fellow boardroom loiterers to spend on IPL cufflinks, porcelain elephants and diamond-studded ipods. So without adverts, they would have to cut costs.

And then it came to me. Why not decommission the commentary booth? I don’t know what Ravi Shastri or Ian Botham charge per hour, but by definition, it’s too much. Dispense with the men whose job it is to talk about what we’ve already seen and to speculate on our behalf about what we might see next. Imagine a televised match where all you could hear was the roar of the drunken crowd, the thwack of leather on jaw and Peter Siddle cussing. Commentary-free television? I’d pay for that.

Thursday, 27th January Leaving everything to the last minute is dangerous and thrilling. We’ve all been there. A tableful of diners are due any minute and you’ve spent so long straightening your nose hair that you’re way behind schedule. So you dash about like Jonty Rhodes after too many espressos, finally pulling the last tray of sauteed snails out of the oven and sprinkling the cocaine on the trifle just as the first guest arrives. There’s nothing quite like it to get the adrenalin flowing.

Sometimes, however, it goes wrong. Two days ago, the tournament director of the World Cup informed us that even though his kitchen appeared to be on fire, he had it all under control. But sadly, his stadium soufflé failed to rise in time and Eden Gardens, though in many ways ready, turns out to be not quite as ready as all that. In its current state, spectators would be required to perch on scaffolding like pirates clinging to the rigging and third man would have to wear a hard hat.

By contrast, many fans chose not to wait until the last minute and instead had the unbelievable bad manners to plan their visit to Kolkata in advance. Amateurs. Let them go to Bengaluru, as Marie Antoinette almost certainly didn’t say.

Friday 28th, January Step aside Leicestershire, the professionals are here. Yes, when it comes to squandering money they haven’t got, Lancashire are top of the tree, weighing in with a £2m loss, the largest ever recorded by a county and this despite their £1.7m handout from the ECB. How’d they do it? Well, they wanted to tart up their crumbly stadium and so, like any sensible loss-making sporting association, they lashed out £1.5m in fees to get the best planning advice money can buy. The advice was so good that the redevelopment is now stalled at the planning stage and may not be complete on time.

But this whopping loss is just the start. Losing their Test match status and bringing on the inevitable bankruptcy and dissolution of the sporting side of the business will usher in a bright new future for Lancashire CCC. With that tiresome cricket stuff out of the way, the visionary entrepreneurs of Old Trafford can get on with developing their conference, hospitality and supermarket business (ample parking available). And then they can make some real money!

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England