It’s getting hard to follow our Test team

Date: March 4, 2016 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

australia-cricket-ap-mIf you are a fan of the Australian cricket team life is about to get tough.

As highlighted on The Roar yesterday at this point of time no contract has been inked to telecast in Australia the upcoming T20 World Cup out of India.

Neither a commercial free-to-air network nor Foxtel have agreed to the rights fee being charged by Star Sports, the media outlet that controls the rights for the event.

Hopefully a deal can be reached before the tournament starts next week although time is running out.

TV coverage or not, one thing is guaranteed, there will be no radio coverage of the event broadcast into Australia.

Alas for cricket fans, this will likely be the future with respect to radio coverage of overseas Australian tours.

Sadly given the ABC’s ongoing budget battles it appears that in all likelihood it will only cover ball-by-ball overseas Ashes series in the future.

With all overseas tours now – with the exception of the Ashes – being televised on Foxtel, the lack of ball-by-ball coverage from the ABC means that for all those who do not have pay-TV there is no free-to-air electronic broadcast coverage available to Australian cricket fans.

Last month’s Test tour of New Zealand was the first in decades not to be broadcast on ABC Radio.

CA streamed Radio Sport New Zealand’s commentary on its website which was not ideal given the heavy, and understandable, NZL bias

The ABC broadcast ball-by-ball the 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2008 tours of India but it has not provided commentary of any Indian series in the past eight years.

Having broadcast every Test tour of the West Indies from 1983-84, the ABC has chosen not to cover the last two series.

The ABC covered the 2009 and 2011 Test tours of South Africa but not last year’s.

I was lucky enough to be part of the ABC-BBC broadcast team that commentated the 2009 T20 World Cup from England.

The ABC has not covered the past three tournaments, and as mentioned, will not broadcast this one either.

In light of the ongoing budgetary tightness at the national broadcaster I would think it highly unlikely that any of the tours that have gone by the wayside of late will ever be reinstated.

With that in mind, it is a concern that our highest profile national sporting team will, at best, be largely available only to those with the necessary income to pay for it through subscription television.

Cricket on the radio has long been synonymous with the sport.

I know especially from covering three Test tours for the ABC to India that the audience was enamoured with the sounds that came through the wireless – often produced via a mobile phone when the broadcast lines fell over!

The likes of White Line Radio – which has a strong affiliation with The Roar and with whom I have waxed lyrical on occasions – has called several overseas tours utilising the TV coverage and it is growing an audience (it had over 30,000 listeners during the recent NZL tour).

That alone shows the fact the cricket audience is crying out for some form of free-to-air coverage as the WLR broadcasts carry no sound effects from the ground and are broadcast from the lounge room of one of the participants by a group of volunteer amateur broadcasters doing it largely for fun.

With the ABC now principally out of the equation for overseas series CA needs to consider launching its own dedicated audio coverage for overseas tours, especially the Test component, to allow those that do not have pay-TV to follow the matches.

Like Fairfax’s radio coverage during the Australian summer such a coverage could easily carry advertising and a naming rights sponsor thus greatly reducing the costs to CA, if not in fact, returning a profit.

CA could additionally make it a subscription service with a modest fee vastly less than what it would be to subscribe to Foxtel on a yearly basis.

Given the ABC and Fairfax both cover the domestic summer I would not see it necessarily a need for CA to enter the market there.

With smartphones and tablets the way of the future for a lot of audio content CA could command a significant audience.

For those who wish to follow the game audio streaming is ideal.

I fear that without the ABC’s coverage of key overseas tours, Test cricket and its following in this country will be for many fans, simply a summer event which would be a great shame.

Our highest profile national sporting team deserves to be accessible to the public for all its major series worldwide.

Having had discussions with CA about the future broadcasting of free-to-air Australian tours I am aware it is considering it.

For the good of all us cricket fans it needs to quickly become a reality.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 3 March 2016, soliciting 35 comments