For heaven’s sake, not cricket again!

Sorry, but this is all just too exciting to resist. Trying to explain to non-cricket fans why this England-Australia series is so exciting is pretty tough, but Steve Ross, the eminent sports law professor, lifelong Dodgers fan and recent convert to cricket has been attempting to do this for his colleagues at the University of Illinois. In the last three games of the series, the result has been in doubt to within the last five minutes of the game, even though the entire game takes four to five days to finish; imagine, he says, the World Series were played over 45 innings, and every game was evenly balanced until the bottom of the 45th- that’s how close it has been. Unfortunately, he says, his colleagues just can’t get beyond the pointlessness of a game lasting five days… (incidentally, he watches it on satellite, and you can get all of world cricket for $200 a year, assuming you wanted to).

Still, there remains plenty of economics. The most interesting point is the TV coverage. The EU has an anti-siphoning regime that allows member states to keep certain events on free-to-air. Top of the list is the World Cup and the Olympics, but the lists vary between member states and can be very long. In the UK, international cricket matches played in the UK were on the first list produced at the beginning of the 1990s, but were recently dropped following the lobbying of the cricket authorities. Their argument was that to reverse the falling popularity of the game a major investment programme was needed and that this would only be achievable through funds generated from pay TV rights. Effectively, their plan was to abandon the mass market and squeeze the diehards, in the hope that this might eventually lead to a renaissance (this was definitely not a story about rapacious owners because (a) there are no profits and (b) there are no owners- all clubs are run on a not for profit basis. But, surprise, surprise, not that cricket seems popular again, a number of the big clubs are talking about tapping the stock market). Their wish was granted, and they then did a deal with Sky so that these international matches would only be available on satellite from next year. The current series is the last scheduled to be shown free-to-air. However, now that it has turned in to the biggest TV draw of the summer , there has some lobbying to get cricket “listed” again, so far to no avail.

However, many people question whether the cricket authorities are doing the right thing, it seems to me this is not unlike the argument about scheduling the World Series in the evening.

The other question this currently raises in my mind is one about the effect of dynasties. Many economists have argued that dynasties can be good for attendance, creating a standard of excellence. This Australian team has been one of the greatest in history, but the current series suggests that the dynasty is coming to an end- many of the players are aging and there seem relatively few youngsters coming through- much of the hullaballoo in England has been caused by the feeling that this may be the end of an era. I wonder if there are similar “end of dynasty” demand effects in other sports?

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Author: Stefan Szymanski

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