Cricket lovers both domestically and across the world will be shocked and disappointed that coverage of county cricket by BBC local radio stations is set for a major reduction from the 2013 season.
Sport is currently covered seven days a week by many of the larger BBC local radio stations but it is now proposed to reduce this to just four hours on a Saturday afternoon from 2-6pm. This simply means the death-knell for domestic ball-by-ball cricket coverage on local stations.
The cost to the BBC of providing ball-by-ball coverage is approximately only £15-20K per county for the entire season. Currently, 11 county clubs have ball-by-ball coverage for all matches providing approximately 80 days per year, while the remaining seven first-class counties broadcast limited-overs games amounting to approximately 34 matches per season.
The majority of coverage is via the BBC website, but limited-over matches are transmitted by the normal FM/MW frequency. The audience has a very similar breakdown to that of Test Match Special – expats, students, retired people, those working from home and those that can listen in at the office or in their cars. The advance in mobile technology means that coverage is starting to reach new audiences, too.
Additionally, local radio broadcasts are opening new boundaries as e-mailers from around the world – some who have never seen a cricket match – log in to BBC Sport website commentaries.
One of the counties who enjoy full coverage on a daily basis during the season is Essex, whose audience extends to thousands of listeners during the season – virtually as many as would attend all matches across the season and certainly more on a daily basis than attend the LV= County Championship.
BBC Essex cricket commentator Dick Davies said: “It will obviously be a great shame if the county cricket commentary service is terminated as we know how much it is appreciated by many thousands of listeners worldwide.
“I’ve been commentating on the highs and lows of Essex for sixteen seasons and, from the e-mail response, it would appear that it is becoming increasingly popular with every season that passes. We try very hard to aim the style of commentary not just at cricket aficionados but also towards the casual listener who may have found us accidentally. In some respects we have become evangelists for the game as well as commentators!
“We are very much at the sharp but unglamorous end of sports broadcasting, following our teams wherever they go. It is a labour of love. Sometimes the long journeys home can be late into the evening when we’re tired, hungry and, if Essex have had a bad day, somewhat dispirited. But it’s worth it all because we love what we do and I think that comes across in the commentaries.
“Via their e-mail comments, the appreciative response from listeners is overwhelming and, on occasions, quite humbling: we know that we are conveying the atmosphere of a match, as well as the basic score information, to enthusiasts in every corner of the globe. It’s the e-mails from servicemen and women in areas of conflict abroad which probably give us the most satisfaction and the greatest sense of achievement.”
The existing radio/internet coverage of county cricket will continue next year, but is due to end after the 2012 season is completed in September. Under the current proposals there will no audio coverage of domestic cricket in the 2013 season and beyond.
Now, therefore, is the time for cricket fans to lobby the BBC for a drastic reconsideration of these plans.