Analysis: Who watches domestic T20 cricket in SA?

By Ant Sims 9 April 2013

The domestic T20 cricket competition showed a rather massive increase in average audience this season, and while the percentage of available audience actually tuning in is still rather small, there certainly is an interest. But can those numbers be converted into bums on seats? By ANT SIMS.

With South Africa’s cricket season now well and truly over and the Lions ending a seven-year wait for silverware on Sunday, a review of the season is in order. This includes, of course, performance reviews of the players, strategic reviews of the various sides, and – perhaps surprisingly – a review of those audiences who tuned in to watch.

Domestically, it’s an intriguing question. As cricket continues to grow into a product rather than just a game, marketers and sponsors alike want to take stock of who actually watches the game in South Africa. Twenty20 cricket is a money spinner, and while Test cricket does generate income too, it is the T20 format that is fast becoming the lifeblood of so many franchises and teams.

The average audience number is up 48% for those watching the T20 tournament, and the highest average audience also received a boost. According to statistics from REPUCOM, the average audience locked into this year’s T20 tournament was 73,595, up from 49,605 last year. Those figures are out of an average available audience of over 5 million. It’s still a very small group of those with subscriptions tuning in, but the increased interest is a positive sign for the sport. The most logical conclusion is that the increased interest is as a direct result of South Africa’s growing dominance in cricket.

The Titans were the most watched team, featuring six out of 14 times in the list, with the Knights coming in second with five out of 14. The Lions and the Cobras, in contrast, only featured thrice. The Cape franchise performed well in the other two domestic formats, but had a poor run in the T20 competition, so the lack of interest in their campaign is perhaps not surprising. However, the lack of interest in the Lions is somewhat confusing, especially with the much-talked about Quinton de Kock in their arsenal.

The most watched game was a clash between the Corbas and the Titans on 12 March – a Tuesday smack bang in the middle of the one-day series against Pakistan – with an average audience of 110,708 tuned in, spending an average time of 30 minutes and 46 seconds watching.  There was no international cricket on this day, though, and no other sport of any sort, perhaps proving that if there is nothing else to watch, the audience will flock to cricket if it’s there.

The match with the lowest viewer stats – just over 28,000 people, with an average watching time of just over nine minutes – was played between the Warriors and the Dolphins on 2 March – a day after the first T20 between South Africa was abandoned and a day before the final T20 was due to be played. The match between the two domestic sides was not interrupted by rain, but was of somewhat poor quality, with the Dolphins managing a dismal 136 in their 20 overs.

A number of games which crossed with the South Africa and Pakistan Test series, however, had poor viewership. Two of the bottom-figure games were played at the same time as the third Test between two sides. On 22 February, the start day of the third Test, the Cobras and the Knights had just over 50,000 people tune in for just over 20 minutes. On 24 February, the Cobras and the Knights had just over 55, 000 people tune in for just over 20 minutes, on the final day of South Africa’s Test summer.

This by no means proves that people are unlikely to tune in when there is international cricket on, but it does show that there is a decrease in support for domestic cricket when South Africa is involved in a Test series.

There is a down side, of course, and the most alarming statistic is the drop in percentage audience loyalty. This is measured against the number of people who watched at least 75% of the broadcasts. The average for this cluster was 5.2%, massively decreased from last year’s 22.1%.

There could be a number of reasons for this. With a whole host of other sporting clashes being aired, ranking from a couple of Test series (South Africa vs Pakistan, as well as India vs. Australia) to Super Rugby and domestic and international soccer, domestic T20 cricket was quite low on the pecking order. It could also mean that somebody tuned in and felt so overwhelmed by the constant punting of the sponsor that they simply couldn’t be bothered to watch further, or that people felt the quality of cricket was poor.

Equally alarming was the average time spent watching. This was determined by the total sum of all recorded time spent viewing across a given period (i.e., day, week) divided by the number of individuals in the universe/population being measured.

Some of these matches saw figures as low as nine minutes, while only four of the 14 games broadcast indicated a ATS of over 30 minutes. For all the games grouped together, the average dropped down from over 30 minutes last year to just over 26 minutes this year.

Once again, there could be various reasons for this. Rain might have intervened, the winner of the match might have been clear and viewers might have switched over to watch something else instead, or viewers might be following the match on a different platform, via online scorecards or through social networks.

There certainly is an interest in domestic cricket, even if it’s a passive one, but the trick for everyone involved is to capitalise on that interest and get people into the stadiums. Cynically, one might say those numbers won’t convert. Australia has taken the approach, for Tests anyway, to not broadcast the game within a 50km radius of the stadium, and while it’s worked well for them, it’s unlikely that such a strategy will work in South Africa. In such a sports-mad country, people will never be starved for choice, and they certainly won’t feel such a strong affiliation with their domestic team that they would travel to the outskirts to go them.

There is the idea that bums on seats is the only way to judge interest, and empty stadiums across the world have been taken as proof that this or that format is dying. However, if a little-advertised tournament with very few international superstars can generate a healthy amount of viewership – a viewership which has grown exponentially in a year, in a country where cricket isn’t even the number one sport – surely the game is still doing all right? DM

Photo: Fans supporting South Africa yell during the ICC World Twenty20 Super 8 cricket match between South Africa and Pakistan at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo September 28, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown


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