Cricket is dead. Again.
The game that’s been on life support a dozen times is at death’s door once more: ratings are down, ticket sales are down, and the Aussies are so bad that pulling the plug seems the most humane thing to do.
But whilst nobody wants a bar of cricket at the moment, give it a month and that’ll all change. The Big Bash will be back in town.
Think what you like about the Twenty20 hit ’n’ giggle, there can be no doubting it’s hit the spot. It’s relaunched cricket back into the public’s consciousness in a way that seemed impossible not so long ago.
An average of 1.1 million people tuned into BBL matches last season. Games on nearly every night. 46,000 people went along one night in Adelaide. 81,000 in Melbourne.
It was all unthinkable a few years ago.
Soccer picked up and moved to summer so that the A League could dominate the public’s attention. Those numbers would have brought on tears at FFA headquarters.
Anyway, who cares?
Probably few people in racing, if the state of the game is anything to go by.
But what the Twenty20 experience shows is what can be achieved when you take a sport with latent popularity and actually make an effort to put it in front of people.
Traditional cricket was being played on weekdays – when people are working, not watching – and over a prohibitively long day.
For whatever reason racing seems to see itself apart from other sports and doesn’t take into account the lessons.
So what did cricket do?
Probably the most important factor: racing needs to be on when people are at home and will watch it.
Of course Big Bash games are on at night. People don’t watch cricket during weekdays and they don’t watch racing either.
Victoria has experimented with Thursday night racing at Pakenham and the odd Saturday night at Cranbourne. It’s a good start, but it should be taken further regarding the quality of product.
Midweek metro racing is the obvious candidate. People can’t watch it. Why not take that city-standard meeting and put it on a Wednesday night instead? It’s a no-brainer. Pakenham, Cranbourne, Moonee Valley and Canterbury are capable already without a cent more to be spent, so the infrastructure is there.
It’s not going to turn into Happy Valley overnight, but it’d be an immediate improvement on Wednesday afternoon.
Saturday is obviously racing’s traditional timeslot, and that will remain. But as any TV exec will tell you, the later something is on, the more people are home to watch it. We should take full advantage of daylight savings and run Saturday meetings as late as possible. There’s nothing wrong with a late twilight finish.
Friday nights are huge in footy season, and racing has a good crack at them in summer. This is the timeslot that really needs to be developed however: the highest quality racing possible. It’s prime time and should be treated as such.
Racing.com is great. No other sport can boast a free-to-air TV station all of its own. It’s a huge asset yet unfortunately, the content is a sad reflection of the inability of racing to get itself in order.
Australian racing’s state-based governance model is utterly archaic, and the sport will never truly thrive in this country until it’s replaced by a national approach.
Take the Friday nights mentioned above: we’re sometimes fortunate enough to have two metro meetings of a Friday night, at Moonee Valley and Canterbury. Yet anyone wanting to watch both sets of races need to be flicking between Racing.com and Sky Thoroughbred Central, whilst both channels struggle to fill the dead time between their own races.
Fixing this would also address time issues. Twenty20 cricket has thrived in an age where we’re said to have short attention spans and less time on our hands.
So? Get as much into the time that you have!
Gaps between races at each track have been reduced as much as can be expected. But having 30 – 40 minutes between races at a track isn’t necessary when it comes to TV. Broadcasting multiple meetings – quality meetings – allows for a race every 15 minutes or so.
Producing an offer for customers means working out what’s best for them and working backwards from there. Racing does it in reverse.
We’ve spoken at length about how racing can improve it’s broadcasts (here, and here). There’s plenty of ways to make it more appealing for newcomers without sacrificing the quality of the product or dumbing it down.
It’s a time of some change in the leadership of racing, with both Racing Victoria and Racing NSW in the process of finding and appointing new leaders. The word in Victoria is the new CEO will likely be somebody from another sporting code.
Let’s hope that leads to some genuine outside-the-square thinking, and some genuine collaboration. We all love racing, and simply want it to be the best it can be.