Headingley Diary: Sky's viewing figures: good or bad depending on your viewpoint

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The Independent Online

Sky television spend a fortune advertising their coverage of the Tests, but they are reticent about how many people actually watch it. Nobody doubts that more cricket fans would watch the Tests on terrestrial TV than on satellite. That was why the Sky deal with the England and Wales Cricket Board was so controversial. Yet fans who have access to Sky concede that the commentary team have upped their game.

David Gower et al provide a good package, but the debate has been hobbled by the absence of one essential element - the viewing figures.

They are secret no longer. A mole in those private places in the industry that conduct the surveys reveals that the figures are not quite as bad as Sky's opponents believe, and not as good as Sky would like them to be. Last Saturday at Old Trafford the audience averaged 450,000 and peaked at 600,000. The Friday average was only 10,000 lower. For the first day's play it was 290,000.

It would be unfair to compare these figures with C4's for last summer's absorbing Ashes series, when between three and four million regularly tuned in. If we take the figures for less glamorous series instead, the gap narrows, but it remains very wide. C4's average for matches against teams such as New Zealand and South Africa could reach around 2.5 million, although they tended to bottom out at a little over 1m.

It is more a tale of the lost million rather than the lost millions. At least Sky have been doing a great deal better than at the start of the summer, when the average for some days of the Sri Lanka Tests fell to 120,000.

Incidentally, the inherent advantage of terrestrial over satellite for cricket is clear from Channel 5's highlights, which averaged 785,000 for the Old Trafford Test and rose to 1.2m for much of last Saturday's programme.


Stewart Regan, Yorkshire's chief executive, is anxious that Headingley should be known as "Headingley Carnegie". Carnegie, a former PE college, is a department of Leeds Metropolitan University, who have acquired the naming rights to the old ground.

Why so? "They are using the brand to attract students from overseas who have heard of Headingley, but not of Leeds," says Regan. The university will be contributing to the £20m Regan must raise to finance a new pavilion and media centre at the Kirkstall Lane End, and to rebuild the Rugby Stand. A spanking white new stand in the rugby league ground is called the Carnegie Stand, and will house lecture theatres and student facilities during the week when no one is playing rugby - as will the new cricket pavilion. Regan's idea is to use Headingley 365 days a year. It is so imaginative you are reminded that it's up here they say that there's nowt so queer as folk.

But Regan is nothing if not ambitious. He has come to cricket from the beer business and football's Championship. "I want to make money at the end of the day," he says. That means radical change, but he already knows what's wrong with cricket. There are too many counties after too little cash. His solution? Reduce the number of counties in the Championship, ideally from 18 to 12, and redevelop "prehistoric stadiums" - of which Headingley is a fine example. How to persuade counties to commit hara-kiri? "I haven't worked that one out yet," says Regan. We look forward to hearing from him when he does.


Starting a Test on Friday is designed to reduce the strain on players by guaranteeing a three-day break between back-to-back Tests. A good thing, to be sure.

But playing on a Monday and a Tuesday brings in less revenue than on Thursday and Friday. "Monday is quiet, and there is no doubt that turnover over five days will be down," says Regan.

Conscious of the financial consequences, MCC have already taken the precaution of telling the ECB that they sincerely hope the rule won't apply to Lord's.


Michael Vaughan would do well to check on the possible sale of Jaguar Cars. If the firm are taken over by a car company from a non-cricket-playing country, such as South Korea or France, the new owners might not appreciate what a star they have sponsored. Even on crutches, he can slide into his sleek XK8. He'd hate to lose it.