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As Chief Executive of the ECB, David Collier presided over a disastrous and precipitous decline in interest in cricket in England. Yet he defended, to the very end, the selling of rights to Sky, insisting there was no alternative. Now he has gone, it is time for the ECB to seek one, before it is too late. The loss of live free-to-air cricket coverage to Sky in 2006 was a significant moment that changed the game and the impact on British cricket cannot be over-stated: Falling test attendances outside London; counties ever-more dependent upon ECB handouts as memberships decline; a general decline in cricket's profile in our culture and, perhaps most worryingly, falling participation rates.The latest data (2014) published by SportEngland from its survey of active participation in sport shows how sharply cricket as a regularly-played sport has declined since 2006: The number of people playing the game weekly dropped 24% between the surveyed periods covering the summers of 2006 and 2013: in other words, by almost a quarter in just 7 summers! Far worse than the declines in comparable traditional games, this appalling development can only be attributed to the drop in TV coverage and resultant audiences. Undoubtedly the ECB decided to cash in through the best of motives, but it has only succeeded in making cricket totally dependent upon Sky's money and has cut itself off from millions of potential new fans.
This policy is proving to have been massively short-sighted, but now that the counties are dependent upon the cash, how on earth is this ever to change? One way might be through protected rights status being (re-)conferred on home test series by the Dept for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). In fact, the Department said in 2013 that a review of the 'crown jewels' would take place later that year. It didn't and the status quo continues. Presumably the ECB lobbied against this.
But what happens when Sky decides that no-one is interested in cricket any more and cuts or removes its bidding? The game will be left high and dry.
Cricket lost alot of recreational players in the wet summer of 2012, then again in 2013, and it needs a new strategy to get them back. The ECB should change tack and look to get live cricket back on our TV screens.
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