The raging COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of financial hardships across various industries, with sports being one of the most severely affected. Biggest sporting clubs in the world, including football clubs, basketball teams, and numerous others have been forced to lay off employees and support staff. Unfortunately, cricket wasn’t spared from this either, when England Cricket Board and a few other cricketing bodies were forced to reduce their staff. ECB had earlier announced 60 redundancies caused by the pandemic and recently decided to cut costs at the county level.
This means that the coverage of the esteemed county matches will be limited, and more focus will be given to the creation of digital content, instead of old-school paperback journalism. Up to this point, ECB hired and paid for journalists to come to the county matches and produce in-depth and impartial match reports. Around 20 journalists are hired for this purpose and form a collective called the Reporters Network. Their match analysis and reports are sent to other media outlets like ESPNcricinfo, BBC, among many others, completely free-of-cost.
However, this network is set to be severely impacted, due to ECB’s cost-cutting at the domestic level. In an email to the personnel involved with Reporters Network, ECB’s Director of Communication, Kate Miller said, “It has been clear through this process that the consumption of domestic cricket content is changing, especially following the advent of live streaming and video highlights, and that a necessary evolution is required for our written content.”
The Director of Communication went on to add, “The financial situation has demanded that the service must be leaner and more efficient but also, following feedback from those who use the service, it is apparent that we need to change the way our service operates.”
It is widely believed by the cricketing fraternity that the availability of live streams and online match scores and reports have replaced the need for old-school journalism. ECB seems to be taking this a step further, as they will hire just 6 journalists to cover the upcoming county season. It is speculated that the journalists will not be present at every match, and will be expected to take assistance from the live match feed provided by ECB, instead. Lesser number of journalists would mean that outlets like ESPNcricinfo and BBC would not be able to provide detailed reports and scores of live county matches, which is currently available at the click of a finger.
However, the coverage of ECB’s newest competition, The Hundred, will not be affected by any means. Although it is a domestic competition, the budget for The Hundred is made separately and isn’t connected to the reduced funding of English domestic cricket.
In response to this move, the chair of Cricket Writers’ Club, Alison Mitchell said, “We intend to remain in contact with the ECB over the coverage of the domestic game and will urge that the number of journalists is grown in future whenever feasible against this backdrop, or that other solutions are considered, to enable eye-witness integrity in the reportage of the domestic game and those playing it.”
According to estimates made by the ECB, the pandemic has cost them £106m in 2020, and further losses are expected if the crowd cannot return to stadiums by 2021.