Valentine’s Day 2015
Australia are playing England.
85,000 fans pack the MCG. They have come to watch the World Cup.
However, only 41,000 people turn up to Adelaide a few days later to watch India destroy Pakistan. That ground holds 53,000.
This is meant to be the most watched cricket game in the history of everything.
But all’s ok. Don’t panic.
6,000 seats were lost to the sight screens and it is a 38 degree day. It makes sense that some people would rather watch it in the air conditioned comfort of their homes.
Another 85,000 came to watch India destroy South Africa at the MCG a week later.
The ICC have nailed it. Everyone is excited. The build up has been amazing. The marketing plan is clearly working.
Or is it?
This week has seen the quarter finals being played.
Almost no one turned up for South Africa versus Sri Lanka. This is despite it having the potential to be an absolute belter of a match. This is despite Sangakkara and Mahela playing their last ODI game. This is despite the quality of the Protea team on show.
The next quarter final was India versus Bangladesh. It was loud. I was there. But again, the MCG was just over half full. 55,000 people. How does that even make sense?
At the Adelaide Oval, host Australia is playing Pakistan in a knock out match. It may be Misbah and Afridi’s final game. Australia is only 1 wicket away from being undefeated in this tournament to date. It’s a Friday. Australians love sporting events on a Friday.
Yet, too many punters turn up dressed as empty seats.
This is a country that has a public holiday for a horse race. We’ll come out and support any world class sport. So why are the stadiums not bursting at the seams?
I have my theories, but essentially, it is clear that the ICC have prioritised cash revenues over making the game as accessible as possible.
That’s probably no surprise to most.
The Television and Media Distribution Scenario
Pay TV has less than a 30% penetration rate in Australia. It is one of the lowest rates in the developed world.
For context, India is closer to 60%, with many western countries more like 90%.
Therefore, 70% of Australians don’t consume our sport on Star Sports, ESPN, Sky or Super Sports. Instead, we rely on free to air coverage.
Some of this can be accredited to the Australian Anti-Siphoning laws. These dictate what events per sport must be available on free to air television.
For cricket, the list is extensive:
- Each test match involving the Australian men’s team played in Australia.
- Each Ashes Test
- Each one day cricket match involving Australia in Australia.
- Each T20 cricket match involving Australia played in Australia.
- Each match in the semi‑finals and the final of the ICC One Day International World Cup.
- Each match of the ICC One Day International World Cup involving Australia .
- The final of the ICC T20 World Cup.
- Each match of the ICC T20 World Cup involving Australia.
With that legislative guarantee, most cricket fans don’t need pay television to consume the game they love. Granted, you don’t get the overseas tours (except for the Ashes), but the reality is that unless you are a hardcore supporter of the sport, you can live without them.
However, the World Cup is a 14 team tournament. To get the proper flavour of it, you need to have access to more than just the matches involving Australia. Again, less than 30% of the local population have that access to pay TV.
Therefore, the momentum that a tournament like the World Cup needs has not been there.
To illustrate the point, look at how the Big Bash is faring. Channel Ten (free to air) showed every match live for a month. Everyone in Australia knew it was on. They knew what it was. Cricket fan or not, you were aware. That drew curiosity, grew a fan base and ultimately saw people turn up to matches.
It’s not that this fact is unknown. In the 80’s, basketball was a huge sport in Australia due to its free to air coverage. Stadiums were packed. When it lost that exposure, the sport died.
10 years ago, the Australian Football League saw ‘live TV against the gate’ as a no no. Australian Rules football now has a free to air game live on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at a minimum. Crowds continue to grow.
The A-League soccer also now has some free to air coverage. Its crowds are growing.
The World Cup hasn’t been able to replicate that. The fact that non Australian matches are only available on pay TV must be playing a part.
Unlike our overseas friends, it has not been easy for us to watch England’s disaster, New Zealand’s heroics, India’s bowlers over-perform or marvel at Sangakkara making 4 centuries in a row.
Without the full picture, the World Cup story has become somewhat boring and drab for many Australians.
We can’t even stream it. The best video highlights are geo-blocked.
I paid $30 for a Cricket Australia 12 month video streaming pass. It doesn’t include the World Cup.
In fact, the digital rights issue is summed up by this Cricket Australia media release. In it, they brag about streaming ABC radio on their website and app for the Australian matches, the semi finals and the final. There is one sentence about matches that don’t feature Australia.
If I want to watch a non Australian match, I need Pay TV. To listen to it, I need a digital radio with access to ABC. Digital radio in Australia is only available in 5 cities. Australia is a bigger place than just 5 cities.
It’s as if cricket administrators truly believe that in a World Cup, the local supporters only care about the host nation. Ridiculous.
So, who wants to go and watch something with limited context?
Australians love sporting finals, but we need to know the story behind it as well.
If the ICC were fair dinkum, they would have worked with Cricket Australia and Channel Nine to ensure a fair price for free to air coverage of every game.
Channel Nine have their main channel, plus three other digital channels. There is plenty of space to fit this product in. We know this, because viewers in NSW had to switch over to GEM half way through the Australia quarter final. The main channel wanted to show the Rugby League instead.
Every TV set in Australia is digital. Everyone who has a TV could watch the cricket on these.
However, the ICC have chosen an alternate route.
The ICC have sold the rights to Start Sports in India and the Middle East. They now hold them for all ICC tournaments until 2023.
Star, as a commercially driven entity, have on-sold them to the highest bidders in every country. This model has no regard to increasing exposure numbers.
It is flawed.
Australians haven’t connected with the tournament because they can’t easily consume it.
This strategy has helped the stadiums remain empty.
Ticket and Food Pricing
Australian’s are lucky when it comes to sport. We are a wealthy nation with high disposable income. Our ticket prices are generally kept low in an effort to encourage families to come.
Our sporting events are inclusive. We don’t have metal detectors at the entrance. We don’t have segregated areas. There are no barbed wire fences around the boundary.
Many of us buy sporting memberships.
In fact, 800,000 bought an Australian Football League one in 2014.
Add 400,000 golf club members, 200,00 National Rugby League club members and 100,000 for A-League Soccer.
Even the Melbourne Cricket Club has 100,000 members.
Then there’s the Big Bash, a national netball league, hockey teams, etc, etc
That all equates to over 5% of the Australian population being members of a sporting club.
Huge numbers. REALLY HUGE NUMBERS!
Fact: Australians will hand over cash for sport.
But, Australians will not pay over inflated prices for an under performing product.
Given the lack of availability to the product as highlighted above, many Australians believe that the World Cup is an underwhelming event.
So, given that, would you spend anywhere from $70 – $150 for a quarter final ticket?
I did. But I’m a cricket tragic and have followed the World Cup closer than the majority of my countrymen.
Would you spend $300 to take your family?
Of course not. Why would you?
You have probably already taken them to the Tri Series or a Test match. Those tickets were reasonably priced.
You went to the Big Bash too, but a family ticket to that is only $45. It didn’t hurt your pocket too much.
To spend something like $300, the event needs to be special.
The World Cup is in name. It isn’t in vibe. We haven’t had access to the build up. It’s hidden behind the digital media paywall.
The inflated food and beverage prices also need to be called out.
A bucket of chips and a bottle of water should never cost $11.50. Not even in Zimbabwean dollars.
A mid strength beer in a plastic cup is $7.90.
If I went to a pool game and experienced these food and beverage prices, I would be reluctant to come back for a final. It’s just too expensive.
The message to the ICC is clear.
If you want the game to look great on television, you need full stadiums.
If you want full stadiums, ensure the locals have been invited along for the journey.
Flood them with content. Make it accessible. Make it affordable. Make them want more.
You haven’t done that this time. In fact, you have done the opposite.
For your crimes, Australians have deserted your event.
That is quite an achievement given our natural disposition to be part of sport.
So ICC, I leave you with this thought.
My kids could have been lifetime converts to your game if exposed properly to this World Cup.
But they will not be. Not this time.
They haven’t seen much of it on TV. I haven’t been able to afford to take them all.
You may have got a few million dollars more for the media rights. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
Unfortunately, that has cost you a few million potential converts to cricket.