Is it all it’s cracked up to be?
Yesterday – and indeed the day before – effectively confined to barracks because of stormy inclement weather, I spent most of my time with the Sky Sports coverage of the Women’s Ashes Series test match playing on the television in the corner of the room.
[For those of a nervous disposition, let me summarise what happened yesterday. Australia first declared, leaving England to make a potential world record 263 in the fourth innings of a women’s Test to win, and then – shortly after lunch – England slumped to 29 for 5 on their way to being all out for 101 and losing by the margin of 161 runs.]
As it happens, the experience made for some interesting viewing.
Firstly, because yesterday where I was staying – probably no more than eighty miles westwards from Canterbury where said test match was taking place – we were subjected to rain most of the day in varying degrees of intensity whilst the ladies were playing in bright sunshine. How does that work?
Secondly, because the commentators (who featured amongst their number the former England test player Mark Butcher) had their work cut out to keep the impression going that what we were witnessing was elite sport at its finest. Comments normally applicable to test-level standard cricket were being routinely offered to the viewer despite the fare on the screen rarely rising above average club cricket quality. This may sound like I have it in for female sport, which I don’t particularly, but exactly the same happened with the Women’s football Word Cup that took place recently in Canada.
I know where those involved in female sport are coming from. Their thrust is that a large part of the reason that female sport has historically lagged behind men’s is the simple fact that broadcasters have held it back by refusing to give it air-time. If they gave us the same sort of coverage that they give men’s sport you’d watch us fly, etc.
I’m sure there’s a degree of truth in that, simply because familiarity breeds … er … familiarity.
However, in my view the idea that, if only sports channels would give equal time to female sports then the viewing figures (and thence a pattern of greater female participation in sport, which must by definition, in this era of increased concerns over obesity, diabetes and the depressing effects of a sedentary lifestyle, be a ‘good thing’ in principle) would spiral ever-upwards is actually a non-sequitur.
At the moment Sky is doing its best to raise interest in women’s cricket. I’m sure the women’s cricketing authorities, and indeed all those involved in the women’s game, are delighted by the extra exposure and publicity. Elsewhere Radio Five Live is if anything, going even further. Their sports bulletins these days are littered with references to women’s soccer Super League scores, contract signing, team announcements, track and field performances, the latest netball Word Cup results from Australia (and so on) alongside similar reports upon the men’s equivalents – these presumably designed to give the impression that female sport is just as important and relevant as its male counterpart.
Maybe it is, or should be. But the trouble is – in the harsh world of sport and commercialism – things are a bit tougher and perhaps less palatable than that. Sports broadcasting production is not cheap.
Let’s just see what happens when the viewing figures start coming in over the course of time.
I’d love to be proved wrong, as I have been over darts coverage on television. Nothing is less attractive to me in prospect that a load of fat blokes throwing spears at a dart-board from about eight feet away in front of a couple of thousand spectators in a community centre somewhere, but plainly hundreds of thousand adore it, which is why it still features regularly on Sky Sports.
However, I suspect that, however good the ratings for women’s cricket become, they’re still going to be totally unprofitable (i.e. when then costs of mounting the coverage is taken into account) and therefore unjustifiable from a commercial point of view. Sports like women’s cricket are classic ‘public service broadcasting’ fodder, i.e. the kind of thing that governments should subsidise organisations like the BBC to cover because no commercial organisation worth its salt would ever do so on account of lack of economic viability.
The irony, of course, is that, left to its own devices, neither would the BBC.
This because of its fixation that, in order to justify its funding (whether that be via the licence fee or simply a sum allocated to it from general taxation) it feels it must compete with commercial television by trying to produce popular peak-time programming that scores highly in the ratings charts.
Here’s a link to a report by Amy Lofthouse upon the final day of the Women’s Test Match, as featured on the website of – THE GUARDIAN