Kass Naidoo

RIP: Here lies four-day cricket

2007-10-12 08:40

Kass Naidoo

It's been satisfying to watch the Proteas continue to dominate the second Test against Pakistan in Lahore, but sadly back home, interest in the domestic four-day game, the pipeline of future Test stars, is diminishing by the day.

The SuperSport Series, South Africa's premier four-day game, got underway almost unnoticed on Thursday, and for the first time, none of this season's matches will be televised.

I was curious to find out why, so I gave Cricket South Africa's Commercial manager, Steve Elworthy, a call.

He told me CSA was negotiating with league sponsors SuperSport to provide some coverage towards the end of the series, which concludes at the end of January next year, but he didn't sound too optimistic.

Looking for some more info I called Dr Ali Bacher, who was instrumental in concluding the deal with SuperSport when he was Managing Director of the then United Cricket Board (UCB) and it was interesting to hear his thoughts.

Dr Bacher reminded me that prior to our readmission to international cricket, SABC held the exclusive rights to broadcast all cricket played in South Africa, to ensure that the masses had access to the game.

Significant deal

The national broadcaster brought domestic cricket into our homes until SA returned to international cricket in 1991, and when the SABC' s interest shifted to the higher-profile international arena, the door opened for SuperSport to get involved.

Shortly after SABC's pullout of domestic cricket, Dr Bacher struck a significant R59.5m five-year deal with former SuperSport chief executive Russell McMillan, which saw the pay channel gain the rights to broadcast domestic limited overs matches for five years.

Dr Bacher told me that because of SuperSport's "incredible generosity", the UCB allowed it to broadcast international tours to South Africa, in addition to the domestic competitions. Then, in 2002, SuperSport offered to sponsor the four-day game for 10 years, and Dr Bacher couldn't resist the opportunity to see the game revived.

Unfortunately, five years into the contract, the pay channel has reached a decision not to broadcast any matches this season, and Dr Bacher says he doesn't blame SuperSport as barely anyone is turning up to watch the games.

And while it's unfortunate but understandable that most other broadcast and media outlets are reluctant to provide a platform for rival SuperSport's profile on their services, the real tragedy is that you will hear very little about this series.

Marketing genius

Is it Kolpak and Twenty20 which heralds the demise of Test cricket, or is it the tightening noose around the neck of the local four day game? With a near-total media black-out on the tournament's progress, who can blame many of these players for seeking better opportunities?

So, how do we turn things around?

According to Dr Bacher, you would need a marketing genius to revive the four day game in South Africa. But what about foreign examples of successful first-class cricket, including England's County Championship, which continues to thrive?

Well, he told me, many grounds in England have up to 10 000 members, most of them pensioners who enjoy nothing better than a tranquil day at their local oval.

His suggestion is to take the four day game to the smaller centres around South Africa like Welkom, Nelspruit, and elsewhere, like Australia did when they moved the game away from major cities like Sydney.

So, if you're an existing or prospective television licensee, or a cash-flush brand looking to build a devoted audience, give Steve Elworthy a shout. If a television channel can be devoted to food, surely there's a business case for a channel devoted to cricket?

  • Kass Naidoo is editor of gsport... for Girls!

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