I recently had the pleasure of writing a research essay on the transformation of the marketability of test cricket. I am pretty pleased with how it turned out so I thought why not post it here for anyone who is interested to give it a read.
Thesis statement: How have the strategies employed by cricket to enhance the marketability of short forms of the game impacted on the marketability of test cricket.
Since 1938 when cricket first became televised, it has needed to advance to match technological and societal needs. The invention of limited overs cricket to more modern phenomena such as Twenty20 cricket and addition of technology, list as the changes cricket has made to remain a successfully marketable television sport. The over arching theme is improvement through shortening test cricket. There would be reasonable belief that the marketability of test cricket would have dropped off dramatically but this is not the case. Citing the recent test match at Eden Park between New Zealand and England, there is definitive proof that test cricket remains a marketable form of the game.
Crickets entry into being a mediated sport was a simple one and very much fits Rob Brookes’ idea that “television coverage of sports events should be as unintrusive as possible” (21). The first televised broadcast was in 1938 at the Lord’s cricket ground between England and Australia (Williamson). This is indicative of cricket’s status as a mediated sport. Cricket’s sportisation globalised it making it possibly for two countries 14,469 kilometres apart to appear on television playing each other. The initial coverage consisted of one camera from one end meaning the only different angles came from when the bowlers bowled from the opposite end. This fixed location made it seem as if the viewer was actually sitting behind the bowler’s arm (or behind the slips during other overs).This is simplicity defined with descriptive rather than analytic commentary accompanying the images. This initial style remained the same for forty years until the first three days of a test between Australia and England was rained off. Instead of abandoning the game, match officials decided to play a condensed version consisting of forty overs per side (Arnold and Wynne-Thomas 28). Australian businessman Kerry Packer saw this event and an opportunity for spectacularisation.
As all cricket has, the limited overs game originated in England but was globalised for success elsewhere. Original limited overs cricket was played between the English county teams over sixty-five overs each and was seen as a way to guarantee a result in a shorter amount of time (Arnold and Wynne-Thomas 27). Even in the 1970s, the desire was to have a game where excitement and a highly competitive nature were ensured. Gradually, the overs were shortened until it was fifty overs aside and taken to an international stage with the inaugural cricket World Cup in 1975. While this product was an extensification of test cricket, it lacked the spectacularisation required to be a greater success as a marketable sport. It was Packer’s World Series Cricket that spectacularised limited overs cricket into the success it would be for decades to come. ”Packer spectacularised the game with innovations such as coloured uniforms, night games, white balls, limited overs, and extra cameras” (Mckay and Rowe 73). This process of sportisation fought against Norbert Elias’ idea of extensive globalised rules for each sport as Packer’s unsanctioned World Series Cricket carried these innovations while sanctioned cricket did not. Yet through these innovations, Packer made cricket a mediated, successfully marketable television sport, which allowed him to purchase the broadcasting and marketing rights to cricket in Australia and apply his innovations (Rowe and McKay 74). These changes made cricket accessible to a wider audience. Instead of a long game over five days, which many people found dull with the excessive lulls and no guarantee of result, there was instead a shorter, more exciting product that could be accessed by more than just cricket experts. This created a wider audience both for the live product and the mediated, televised one. This wider audience that viewed cricket on television gained excitement not only from the changes in playing style but the increased cameras. This is a direct improvement from Brookes’ idea as instead of being rooted to one spot as if actually attending the game, the viewer was afforded angles that were greater than those that could be seen at the ground, creating a better product. The direct result of a wider audience is more money through sponsorship and it was Packer’s innovations that made cricket a desirable sport to sponsor. Packer achieved this as he made cricket a cornerstone for financial success for his Nine Network and set a module for the rest of the world (McKay and Rowe 74). The financial success that these innovations afforded meant that World Series Cricket could offer large contracts to all players, essentially professionalising cricket as a sport (Arnold and Wynne-Thomas 28).. The need to continue this evolution to keep audiences interested meant that change in cricket was inevitable with the processes used by Kerry Packer almost being recreated in the Indian Premier League.
There was a lull in major changes between the 1970s innovations by Packer to the proliferation of the Twenty20 game internationally in 2005. Between these periods further upgrades such as the hawk eye system to judge leg before wicket dismissals, the introduction of fielding restrictions as well as the introduction of a third umpire to adjudicate on run out dismissals were introduced. As well as introducing new technology, during this period there was integration of these new technologies onto the test game to maintain it as a successfully marketable product to a more puritan cricket audience. Despite the aforementioned small changes occurring, there was still a desire to extensify cricket further. Former New Zealand cricketer Martin Crowe offered a prototype into an even more intense version in the form of Cricket Max citing the desire to “provide great entertainment and an exciting result in three hours” (Cricinfo). Cricket Max’s failure is a testament to over-extensifying. Cricket Max changed the rules too dramatically as it altered the scoring to offer a ‘max zone’ which doubled runs scored, as well as removing the leg before wicket rule and adding a fourth stump (Cricinfo). These changes were designed as the next step in adding excitement for the spectators and adding on from the product of the one day international (Garland, Inkson and McDermott 220). The changes for Cricket Max ultimately proved too drastic as it never succeeded internationally or financially meaning it was unable to force itself into the market as Kerry Packer’s one day game did. Despite this relative failure, it is undeniable that Cricket Max had an influence on the next step in development in creating the Twenty20 form.
Twenty20 is extensification defined. It is the even shorter version of one day cricket. Completed in one day with each team having twenty overs each, the game is over in around three hours. Defined by action every ball it fits in with a contemporary society that seems to not have time for a seven hour one day international, with short attention spans making this essentially highlight reel format of the game very successful. Again, the origin of Twenty20 is found in England as the county testing ground was the first place for the format beginning in 2003 (Arnold and Wynne-Thomas 47). Internationally, Twenty20 found its debut in 2005 and was initially treated as a lesser format. The first game was between New Zealand and Australia and was characterised by retro uniforms and wild attempts at fast scoring. The joke did not last long as crowds began to thoroughly engage with the new format as it fit a time frame that was accessible, often played at night and easy to take the whole family to. The appreciation for big hits and spectacular fielding requires little knowledge of the intricacies of the rules of cricket meaning there was an even wider accessibility in the audience. Twenty20s success at attracting new audiences lies in its lack of what Morris and Nydhal label ‘dead space’ (103). This is the time between actions, where analysis from commentators or other attendees of the live event can be implemented. However, with many Twenty20 viewers not understanding this analysis, the less dead space the better, which can be seen as a key reason of success in an entry level viewer market. Due to the initial lesser status of Twenty20 there was great room for spectacularisation. Twenty20’s desire to be far from test cricket is evident in the fact that there must be a winner. Even in the event of a tie, Twenty20 offers a decider in the form of a one over eliminator. Initially the decider was a bowl off where five bowlers were given two balls to try and hit undefended stumps with whichever team hitting the most times winning. This was advanced to the one over eliminator which gives each team one over to get as many runs as possible. This is the antithesis to test cricket where even five days of play can result in a draw. This extensification is designed to guarantee the result that the crowd desires. Minor innovations include the addition of cheerleaders and fireworks, which add to the excitement of the game as a spectacle. It was from this spectacular form of the game that the most spectacularised event in modern cricket has emerged: The Indian Premier League.
The Indian Premier League formed in 2008 is reminiscent of Rupert Murdoch’s World Series Cricket. The premise of the tournament is the best players in world cricket coming together in a franchise style club competition being dubbed a cross between the English Premier League and the National Basketball Association League (Smart 259). The franchise owners are comprised of wealthy Indian people including Bollywood stars such as Shah Rukh Khan. Players were placed into teams through an auction system where the highest bidder received the player. While this is akin to Kerry Packer offering expensive contracts to the best players for World Series Cricket the money offered in the IPL was far greater leading to fears of players rather playing IPL than for their country. Indian wicket keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the most expensive players as he was purchased by the Chennai Super Kings for 1.5 million US dollars. The first IPL season consisted of 59 games and has expanded to the current season containing 76 games. This intensification creates a saturation of cricket in the month and a half that the IPL is played. The expansion can be seen as a way to make further money for the sponsors that paid large amounts for certain aspects of the IPL such as Sony paying USD $1.026 billion for production rights (Smart 259). Audiences across the globe were huge as the best players in the world hit countless sixes, took many wickets and spectacular catches, which is still true even in the most recent season where the first sixteen games recorded a viewership of 140 million (Srivastava). The tournaments huge amounts of money meant there was room for spectacularisation. While Packer was the first to implement the use of more camera angles, the IPL was able to have one camera that Packer never could in the form of the Spider Cam. The Spider Cam operated from directly above the bowler, being able to track in from their run up all the way to the delivery. This shot is one never seen before and speaks credence to the advancements in spectacularisation that cricket has gone through. This is not to say that these advancements are all successful as many players have found the spider cam particularly invasive yet it still receives use, displaying that getting the best shot for the mediated audience can be more important than the game itself (Hindustan Times). The technology afforded through the large sums of money in the IPL has even allowed it to transcend what Rob Brookes thought would be possible. He thought that viewing sport online would never become popular yet the IPL has successfully used Youtube to stream live games to access audiences all across the globe (Brookes 48). The transformation from a time when the use of more than one angle was an advancement in World Series Cricket has been tremendous, however these changes to the very marketable shorter form of the game have not diminished the marketability of test cricket.
There are several reasons that prove the fact that test crickets marketability is not diminishing. In 1999, Ron Garland et al conducted a study into the unpopularity of test cricket. The common results consisted of it being a boring sport, a lack of understanding of the rules, the duration being too long, unruly behaviour in the crowds and a preference for television coverage (227). While this research was completed fourteen years ago, there are still applicable elements to it. There is still an underlying theme of test cricket being overly long and boring, which Sky Sports director of cricket Alex Lewis attributes this to the double edged sword that is Twenty20. He labels Twenty20 a double edged sword as despite conditioning audiences to expect action every ball, it is still an excellent entry level for transforming what Garland et al labelled a new follower to a regular viewer (227). There are facts to display this as a true phenomenon through the rise in television audiences. The television ratings for the week of the Eden Park test showing it as the second most watched sporting event between males 18-64 (Rating Point). This is not to discount the Twenty20 audience being larger as the corresponding Twenty20 match at Eden Park ranked as the highest watched sporting event during its week for males 18-64 (Rating Point). The closeness of the television ratings of the two contrasted forms is not reflected in attendances. For the Twenty20 between England and New Zealand the attendance went as high as 23,000 whereas the test did not feature nearly as many people, as even on the drama filled final day Eden Park was nowhere near capacity (Blackcaps.co.nz). Alex Lewis labels this as more a fact of convenience to home viewing than an idea of television providing a better viewing choice than the live event. Martin Devlin attributed the disparity between attendances and audience ratings to the extremely high price of tickets claiming that just one day could cost as much as between $80 and $100. This shows the easier engagement with Twenty20 as people find it easier to attend a three hour game in the evening rather than an eight hour day of test cricket.
There is also a contrasting atmosphere between the two forms crowds. Crowds during Twenty20 matches produce an animalistic passion through cheering which Gaffney and Bale describe as the audience creating an atmosphere through the noise only achievable with large numbers of fans in attendance (29). Test cricket is the opposite as the tension is created through a lack of noise. As the Eden Park test displayed, cricket puritan groups such as the Barmy Army kept quiet through the run up of the bowler, creating tension with each and every ball. This is indicative of the idea that whileTwenty20 is the feeder form to the purer form in test cricket they offer different experiences show the Garland et al idea that each form of cricket contains differing appeals (226). Not only has it fed audiences to the next level of cricket, Twenty20 has also helped encourage participation. The most recent SPARC participation statistics show 217,000 children between the ages of five and eighteen play cricket (Walker and Haughey 22). The correlation to the prominence of Twenty20 and attractiveness of cricket as a sport can be seen in the participation of younger children who would have been raised in a time where Twenty20 was played regularly. This is displayed by school children between years one and ten, at least half of them had participated in cricket in the last year whereas older students in years eleven to thirteen had less than half participation (Walker and Haughey 24). This speaks credence to Twenty20 attracting a younger audience with its exciting style of play making it more accessible to a youth audience. There have in fact been arguments for the end of One Day Internationals and just keeping the excitement of Twenty20s and the drama of test matches (Premachandran). These examples display that Twenty20 is in fact helping to uphold a greater cricketing following leading to a wider potential fan base for test cricket rather than causing an end to it.
This is not to say that test cricket lacks innovations to create a marketable spectacle. A notable innovation is the Umpire Decision Review System implemented in 2009 and initially only in test cricket making it a notable inversion. The system is designed to review dismissals that the players feel the umpires have got wrong. Not only does the system remove incorrect decisions, it is also a vehicle for battling test cricket as a boring sport as it injects drama into the narrative. The countdown to the decision being made by the third umpire on the big screen at the live event builds particular tension as the live audience does not get to see the video that the televised audience does. At the Eden Park test between England and New Zealand this was particularly dramatic as there were four referrals on the final day as New Zealand searched for the final wickets. On television it provides a greater product as it induces interaction. The conversation produced regarding whether the umpire made the correct decision or if the referral was the correct choice, producing interaction with the product, keeping a greater audience interest. This example displays that test cricket in its own right can create a marketable product upon its own innovation.
In conclusion, cricket has undergone many transformations in its quest to remain a marketable viable sport. It has moved far from the one camera original broadcast in 1938. Kerry Packer innovated the sport hugely in professionalising it through contracts and greater technology through money. This was continued through one day internationals that gradually created a more and more exciting product drawing in a more regular audience and dispelling ideas of cricket being a boring sport. This has ultimately concluded in the spectacularised, intensified version in Twenty20 and the Indian Premier League. This has however not detracted from the longer form of the game. Test cricket has undergone its own spectacularisation in the form of innovations such as the Umpire Decision Review System. As well as this, test cricket has received a push through audiences from Twenty20 displayed in the high television ratings the third test between England and New Zealand received. The extra interest that Twenty20 allows in cricket has also carried over to participation in cricket in school with younger students participating more due to the influence of Twenty20. This overall displays that test cricket does not suffer from the focus onto the shorter forms of the game as it receives a flow through audience from the shorter form and participation increasing, making sure that test cricket will continue to survive the test of time as a marketable sport.
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