The heart of ‘Professional sport’ is viewership of the sport events. This is what generates money- either by tickets, advertisement, TV rights, sponsorship, etc.
As more money is generated, more sportspeople can afford to make athleticism their primary career, devoting the training time necessary to increase skills, physical condition, etc. This proficiency sustains and boost the popularity of sports.
The viewership of sport is influenced by :
1. Leisure time available to viewers– ie time spent away from business, work, domestic chores, education and necessary activities like eating, sleeping. An US citizen spends on an average 2.8 hours on TV per day.
Now, the average time taken for different sports is as follows:
|1.5 hrs||2-3 hrs||1.2 hrs||3 hrs||.6 hrs||7 hrs * 5 days|
2. The peak leisure time generally available to a working person is- evening/night on a weekday (say 6 PM to 10 PM) and afternoon to night on a weekend (say 2 PM to 10 PM).
All the other sports are generally organised on weekday nights or weekend afternoons/nights. Test cricket is organised during the day time from 10 AM to 5 PM with enough time for Lunch and Tea.
Also certain away test matches are held at absurd times, recent India-NZ series was telecast Live at 3.30am India time, Australia series around 6 AM, West Indies late night. Viewing level at early morning (0.2 TVR) v/s late morning (1.8 TVR).
3. No. of countries following / concentration of audience: Though cricket is second most viewed sport having audience of 650 million viewers, compared to Football which is played in 200 nations, Hockey in 125 countries, Tennis in 25 nations, Test Cricket is played among 8 nations (excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh). Of which Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies have negligible population (which actually reflects in the financial health of their cricket boards), Australia (Rugby) , England (Football) and South Africa(Football and Rugby) have competing sports which are much more popular (atleast 5 times more popular than cricket). Long story short – Cricket is watched only in India and Pakistan.
Though this concentration of audience helps in focused media attention, there are lesser avenues for growth in audiences and more importantly increased risk that competing sports can erode the viewership base cricket has. Soccer already holds 41% and Tennis 17% of Sports viewership (excl Cricket) in India and has equal viewership potential as per TAM people meter system. Just imagine if Indian Football Team wins the Football World Cup or Somdev Varman wins Wimbledon.
4. Quality of game/Player Skills- Since test cricket is mainly concentrated in the sub-continent, diversity in playing skills is reducing as skilled athletes in the other test playing countries are simply choosing other sports over cricket. West Indies in 1970’s had Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Michael Holding now has Tino Best.
5. Further number of forms in which the game is played fragments the viewing audiences and barriers the new fans who need to make sense of differing rules and playing styles. Variations in the rules among different competitions is minimal in case of football, tennis, basketball, etc and the skills required are more or less the same. Whereas a Shiv Chanderpaul can never play in IPL even if he is willing to pay money and Saurabh Tiwary can wear a White Shirt only if he becomes a doctor.
6. Other factors against test cricket include- low “suspense factor” or low unpredictability of results, skew to SEC C, DE segment of viewers unlike Sports like Soccer, Tennis has skew to SEC AB segment of viewers, chance of draw as result, natural factors like rain/bad light affecting play, etc.
Comparison with Golf :The view that Test Cricket can be made more classy akin Golf which is also played over a very long time duration is also bullshit since Golf is supported by upper class people in developed countries and involves a playing, socialising and tourism element in it. Proportion of upper class crowd in India is minimal, you cant socialise when a cork ball is aimed at your chest and cricket is still played everywhere in oval grounds.
Conclusion: However much we adore the classy cover drive, the pacy bouncer, the reverse swinging yorker with the older ball, the ball well left by the knowledgeable opener, the wily spinners deception in flight, the resilience of tail-enders to eke out a draw, the sad truth is there is and will not be enough people to watch the beautiful game.
Despite new innovations, tell tales of past cricketers, it is not a matter of if but when the test cricket breathes its last.