County news 2013 March 21, 2013

Online coverage lifts county game

The ECB has announced an official tie-up with the BBC to secure commentary on county cricket as online coverage becomes ever more important to the survival of the professional game

A few days ago, the Times decided to cut back its coverage of county cricket. The usual blandishments were offered to those most affected: it was all highly regrettable, a decision made for reasons of space not because of declining interest, and one which might only be temporary. But for a county game which is struggling to gain attention, to begin to doubt the affections of the broadsheet newspaper that in recent years has provided the most committed coverage of all was another disturbing development in an unsympathetic world.

For the county cricket writers trying to scrape an increasingly parlous living, and now reassessing their likely income with only a few weeks to go before the season, it also brought a deepening pessimism about the future.

Regional papers have slashed county cricket coverage as circulations have fallen and employees have been laid off. The last person to remember meaningful county coverage in a tabloid is now middle-aged and even a publication as traditional and upstanding as The Cricketer magazine has gone cold on a professional county circuit that is the lifeblood of the England side, a financial miracle that for half a century has defied the voices of doom.

For a website like ESPNcricinfo, which remains committed this summer to another expansion of our county coverage, a lack of serious competitors in this field would be nothing to get excited about. To become stronger in a declining part of the market would be to decline all the same. A vibrant county circuit, recognised as newsworthy, is vital. And that is why, above all, we are celebrating the official announcement of a new broadcast partnership for county cricket between the ECB and the BBC. We are happy to say, along with David Collier, the ECB's chief executive, that it is a "fantastic boost" for county cricket. Together, we are stronger.

Live ball-by-ball commentary of every match in the LV= County Championship, Yorkshire Bank 40 and Friends Life t20 matches via BBC online streams is quite a deal for a county game which struggles to make itself heard.

At ESPNcricinfo, we cover the county game somewhat differently from the way proposed in the new BBC/ECB tie-up: by assembling the finest county cricket writers in the country to complement our much-heralded live scorecard service, and by enhancing that with improved live blogs, exclusive news stories, strong opinions and (when we get the hang of it) Google hangouts.

This season we will also be introducing the first Supporters' Network, with a fan providing a passionate take on each of the 18 first-class counties. While the BBC is now the establishment option, with its coverage promoted on all county websites and the ECB website, we will be offering our own independent take - qualities recognised by the ECB's 2012 award for online coverage of county cricket. We can't wait for the season to start.

Even though the BBC deal might sound too cosy for some tastes, it is offering a vital public service, a shot in the arm for a county game struggling for attention. At ESPNcricinfo we have all loved county cricket since we first swung a bat and are convinced that even in the supposed soundbite-afflicted generation, the interest is out there. That interest is increasingly served on the internet.

All it needs is for the media to pay the county game the attention it deserves and the ECB to devise a first-class programme that connects with the public and recognises that by swamping county cricket with a non-stop England programme to maximise revenue - and so help keep the county game alive - it may also be killing it with kindness.

It is not often that ESPNcricinfo quotes the BBC Head of Radio Sport and Sports News. But we will quote Richard Burgess when he says: "There is a big appetite for county cricket coverage." The appreciation of our expanded county coverage last season suggests as much as does a welter of small, independent websites, bloggers and tweeters, some more reliable and worthwhile than others, but all of them trying to communicate in their own way a belief that the county game has a role in the great scheme of things.

In county cricket, you can be the first to spot an emerging talent, or to revel in the game through the highs and lows of more than just the same 20-or-so players who represent England, and to join a cricket community which, no matter how much it may be overlooked, values the pleasures it finds on a daily basis.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Edward on March 23, 2013, 17:11 GMT

    It's surprising why the BBC, in the age of the red button and Freeview programming, haven't tried to acquire any televised county cricket rights. I wouldn't imagine that covering LV:CC matches - or even some FLT20 or CB40 - would command the fees demanded by their F1 coverage, or even the MOTD highlights at the weekend. Moreover, the BBC would be able to hoover up those cricket fans who refuse to subscribe to Sky on account of their dislike of Murdoch and his company's shady practices...

  • Viqar on March 23, 2013, 10:49 GMT

    Excellent! This proves that only the BBC is committed to county cricket and the non-international game in a way that centrally owned corporate media is not. The Times, we have to be reminded, is part of the same stable of operations as Sky. And the ECB's deal with Sky has only helped draw the non-international game in the UK into long-term decline. Sky also says it cannot use its online resources to show or broadcast matches that are not part of their official TV package. Despite growing online operations, the national newspapers - where I have spent most of my working life - do not have resources to send reporters away for coverage. So, only the BBC can help to provide a counterweight to Cricinfo. Even sports coverage needs competition to improve.

  • Dummy4 on March 23, 2013, 7:29 GMT

    It makes no sense that the draw card for the sport remains the test match - where do the press think test match players come from? How can that not be important. The lack of media coverage only fuels the lack of interest!

  • Dummy4 on March 23, 2013, 1:02 GMT

    Mr. David Hopps might know his cricket , my English Master also did . Additionally , he implored us not to start sentences with conjunctions - a 'crime 'that your Editor has committed at least three times .

  • anton on March 22, 2013, 21:18 GMT

    "With commentary now being broadcast from every match, and the introduction last year of highlights from every match, could the pictures not be broadcast live with the commentary, at least when Sky are not showing a county match? Sheffield Shield matches are available with pictures from a single camera and commentary; could the ECB not follow CA's lead?"

    I agree. Its not that expensive to provide a single (or two cameras at matches) along with amateur cricket commentators who want to gain experience, to cover those matches. Some of them will even do it free to gain that experience.

    But in any case, I think its paramount for ECB, if they want to save the game that is, to sell rights to at least one weekly T20 match on terrestrial TV. It could be on BBC 3 even. Doesn't matter. Highlights of England's matches on Channel 5 is all well and good, there is nothing like live action because of the unexpected.

  • anton on March 22, 2013, 21:07 GMT

    Not many people buy newspapers anymore anyway. People get their news online. And if you are going to get cricket news online you might as well get it on Cricinfo and cricket portals of major services like the BBC. Other than odd analytical piece, who wants to read cricket on the Times or Guardian? The best cricket links from those sites are made available on Cricinfo anyway.

    But overall, I must admit that I get the feeling that cricket is a dying sport, but then again, with so many non-sporting distractions, particularly the internet and video games, sports following, other than major events, have been dwindling. In the 1990s the Champions League football matches on ITV use to get 13-14 million for the biggest clashes, but those marquee matches attract around 8 million now. Then again, you can follow sports so many ways these days, so perhaps the cumulative number is still similar. It could be for cricket as well.

  • David on March 22, 2013, 18:31 GMT

    With commentary now being broadcast from every match, and the introduction last year of highlights from every match, could the pictures not be broadcast live with the commentary, at least when Sky are not showing a county match? Sheffield Shield matches are available with pictures from a single camera and commentary; could the ECB not follow CA's lead?

  • David on March 22, 2013, 18:19 GMT

    Excellent news on the enhanced coverage. I agree it's a shame we can't have some TV coverage but until part of the game can be prised from Sky's grip that won't be happening. Personally I would be happy for Sky to keep all the international and limited overs cricket if the county championship were free to air. It is their almost (IPL excluded) total monopoly of the game that angers me. For what it's worth they're welcome to the IPL too!

  • Will on March 22, 2013, 17:36 GMT

    Having listened to some ball by ball commentaries on local BBC radio I would have to say that more listeners will only come if the broadcasts are improved in terms of personnel and the between ball/over/session discussions. Long silences during tea for example will be a big turn-off.