Are The Internet And TV To Blame For Dwindling Crowd Numbers?

Having seen the final part of today’s thrilling Test match play out on the internet and through Twitter, it is quite clear that Test cricket is not dying and is very much alive and well. It received a fanatical following through websites providing live text commentary and on Twitter, from which it is not difficult to see that claims of its untimely, and seemingly unwelcome, death are overestimated.

However, TV pictures of the ground, along with images posted on those very same text commentary streams and social media websites, appeared to suggest otherwise. The New Wanderers Stadium was deserted. All that could be seen was a militant army of grey plastic seats, upturned in their disgust at what was on offer and apparently painting an entirely different picture.

So which tells the truth about the health of the of the purest form of our summer game?

Well in my view the answer to this conundrum is simply that the way we view cricket is changing. Gone are the days when passionate fans would flock to watch matches and huddle under the umbrellas that would have been necessary in Johannesburg today. Instead, today’s fans dip in and out of the action, perhaps while at work, or on their smartphones while out and about, and soak up the action that way. These modern day fans are no less passionate, it is just that, unlike our predecessors, we are in the fortunate position of being able to follow the action in whatever way we choose.

This is where the similarities with English county cricket are startling. It has never had particularly big crowds and those that it did have have dwindled over the past decade or so. However, I would suggest that it has more fans than ever, especially if we are to believe the web traffic data that leading cricket websites routinely espouse. These show that the figures are steadily increasing year on year and prove those luddites that scoff of ‘one man and a dog’ every April to be palpably wrong.

Can the current lack of ground-going fans be altered?

Perhaps, if administrators were to make attending a Test match itself a more convenient and enjoyable experience (day/night cricket anyone?) then things would improve slightly, but it is unlikely to make too much of a difference as it is impossible to stand in the way of a market-led change that sees people power dictate how cricket is ‘consumed’ to an ever greater extent.

6 Responses to “Are The Internet And TV To Blame For Dwindling Crowd Numbers?”

  • As someone who works to promote cricket in America, I have been unsettled by the great test matches that are being played out in front of near empty stadiums across the world. The image projected through television is that test cricket is unpopular and not worth watching. The danger, of course, is that perceptions can become reality if not addressed quickly, and the importance of having fans in the stands shouldn’t be underestimated.

    I agree with the idea of day/night matches (especially during the week). I would add to that a new ticketing scheme (for matches that are not likely to be sold out) designed to get fans into the seats and keep them there for all five days.

    What if, rather than tickets, transferrable “seat licenses” were sold? These seat licenses would come with a lanyard pass, and whoever possessed the lanyard pass could occupy the seat. This would enable many people to watch all or parts of a day’s play, as fits their schedules. A group of friends could buy a couple of seat licenses and pass them back and forth over the course of five days, and the seats would be mostly occupied during the whole match.

    I would also price the licenses attractively so that they were considered a bargain by fans of ordinary means, as it is the fans of ordinary means that most enliven the cricket grounds.

    I anticipate that some might point out that there would be a loss of revenue due to fewer fans buying seat licenses than had previously bought tickets, because of the sharing aspect.

    However, if we pay attention to what the oceans of empty seats are telling us, then we know that at many matches there’s not much revenue that could possibly be lost to begin with.

    Second, I truly believe that attendance is contagious, and the fact that more people will be able to attend at least part of a match will cause others to opt in and add to a “party” environment.

    Third, larger crowds, with more disposable income in their pockets, will create a better live atmosphere that will not only make more people want to be there (thus more sales) but will also create a better TV atmosphere, leading to larger viewing audiences which will in time lead to more lucrative television rights deals (more money again). Right now TV rights deals (which dwarf all other sport funding components combined) for test cricket are probably undervalued partly because of the empty, emotionless venues.

    In short, whatever can be done to put fans in the seats, even if it were a short-term revenue loser, would be a long-term benefit to test cricket, and would eventually increase the real and perceived value of the game.

    It’s been a long journey for cricket, but in professional sport it’s always been about the fans, and if we want to promote our sport we need to look after them first.