The first part of this article looked at how county cricket is followed in the internet age. Let’s now consider the consequences.
Pay to view
People watch football. That is the main way in which the sport is ‘consumed’. The column inches and phone-ins are also part of the way people enjoy it, but they are essentially add-ons. They can be tolerated because they serve as advertisements for the main money-making focal point, which is the match itself.
People may pay for tickets or for TV subscriptions or by watching ads during a broadcast, but in one way or another the matches generate revenue and the clubs profit. This doesn’t apply in county cricket. Put simply, there is no real reason to watch a game.
Information is free
It’s not that people aren’t interested. It’s just that there’s no real need to actually witness the events to follow the story of that season’s County Championship. If the scorecard says the batsman edged a seam bowler to the wicketkeeper, that’s as much as we really need to know. The problem for county cricket is that this information is free.
Scorecards are free, match reports are free, opinion columns are free, YouTube clips are free. All this engagement with the competition and not one penny to show for it. We can follow the entire season and enjoy it immensely without ever once attending a match. Shouldn’t the clubs be able to profit from us all somehow?
If people are so engaged, maybe they’ll buy stuff, eh?
Not really. Replica shirts fail because cricket isn’t tribal in the same way as football. County cricket fans follow the story as much as they follow the club and they’re also less likely to be the kinds of people who think replica shirts look good.
The problem here is that the clubs don’t control the means by which the story is conveyed. They can’t plant sponsors’ names in match reports, forum threads and the like. They can ask that anyone publishing scorecards uses the official name of the tournament, including the sponsor’s name, but that is just a fragment of the conversation. You can’t accurately measure the level of interest in the County Championship by scorecard views alone and much else is out of their control.
Web pages and newspapers feature advertising, but they fund the publication, not the sport and there is rarely sufficient income to achieve even that.
As has been established, people don’t really watch the County Championship, so the TV rights have reduced value. Broadcasters can add value and attract interest by repackaging the action into highlights programmes, but even then people can live without them and that’s the nub of the problem.
It seems to us that the only thing county cricket followers actually need is information and unfortunately for county cricket clubs, information is free. Arguably, the scorecards are the most valuable commodity, but the fact that they are freely available is the means by which the game draws interest in the first place.
It seems bizarre that a sporting competition could make such a dent in people’s lives and yet have such little financial value. However, that seems to be the lot of county cricket in the internet age.
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