Jarrod Kimber, courtesy of ESPNcricinfo
In an Edinburgh hotel room I watched Mohammad Amir make 73 batting at No. 10 to almost defeat New Zealand in an ODI. I watched the match on an illegal stream; Giles Clarke’s archenemy. According to Clarke, cricket fans who watch illegal streams are defrauding their own sport by putting existing huge money TV deals into jeopardy. The very money that funds cricket and its administration.
If you choose to watch cricket on an illegal stream instead of subscribing, then in your own way that is what you are doing. Now maybe you have a valid reason, like having no money. Or you find subscription TV is little more than a stream of reality TV shows where Americans abuse each other while buying things from storage lockers. Having watched a fair bit of cricket on illegal internet streams, I’d doubt there are many people out there who can afford paying a subscription and still watch illegally. Watching illegally is really annoying.
When Sachin Tendulkar made his 100th hundred, it wasn’t shown on TV in the UK. So I went looking for an illegal stream as he got close. The first three websites wouldn’t work at all. The fourth would, but because of the sheer numbers of people watching, kept shutting down. An ad came up in front of the action several times. The sound and vision were never once synched. The screen pixelated for almost the entire time I watched … And more than once it just randomly paused so I was miles behind the live action. Watching illegal streams is never straight forward.
But why did I do it that day, or for Amir and Ajmal’s partnership, and again recently for Kumar Sangakkara’s flirtation with a double hundred? Because none of those matches were shown on TV in the UK. And I wanted to see them. I wasn’t trying to rip off any subscription TV company; it was just the only way for a cricket-obsessed person in the UK to watch these big moments. There is no reason to show them in the UK, unless Sky had a dedicated cricket channel, so I have to find them elsewhere.
These illegal streams might be pure evil for a cricket board trying to earn their bread, but they are sometimes they only way to watch cricket. And they’re not the only ones. The YouTube uploaders, like the phenomenally proficient robelinda2, place illegally recorded TV clips online. TV companies despise them, and see it as stolen content. For cricket fans, people like robelinda2 give them cricket gold only a Google search away. Robelinda seems to spend all his time fighting with Indian fans or uploading classic and obscure cricket moments. Currently he has over 1700 videos on youtube, including Martin Love making 146 against South Australia, Devon Malcolm yorking Viv Richards, and Rohan Kanhai making 118 for the World XI in 1971-72.
How would you see these otherwise?
New fans find these clips and fall in love with the sport. Old fans who have moved on may come across one accidentally and rekindle their love. And for the rest of us who are obsessed it gives us something to watch when there is no live match to watch on TV or illegal streams. Broadcasters could spend hours uploading all the content they own on Vimeo and YouTube, but are often handicapped by rights deals or a lack of vision. Instead they spend a fair bit of their time, and some cricket boards’ time, chasing these people and taking their videos down.
Then there are the internet radio commentary sites like Test Match Sofa and Pitch Invasion, who watch cricket on the TV and commentate on it. It’s not illegal, but certain cricket boards have called it immoral. By that they mean they haven’t found a way to stop it, or make money from it, and that it upsets the radio companies who pay to get into the ground and commentate.
Of course, if you do pay for cricket rights, you also get access to the players and board. Meaning you have to be a bit more safe in what you say and how you say it. Pirate internet commentaries do not. They can be a much more loose, vitriolic and even sweary form of commentary, that attracts a whole new audience who may not like polite talk of cake and pigeons. While the radio stations who own the rights are angry, in real terms this provides them with a competitor for the first time, meaning they have to improve their product. Which is better for the cricket public and the radio station and, most importantly, it gives the cricket fan another way of consuming their favourite sport.
Some of these illegal, or immoral, websites and uploaders are doing this for purely financial gain. They are nothing more than thieves who are stealing content. But others are doing it for the love of cricket. Regardless of the intentions, while they make life hard for cricket boards in certain ways, there is no doubt that they all help promote the game of cricket.
How else would we watch ODIs between New Zealand and Pakistan when staying in foreign hotels, listen to commentators swear at shocking decisions or watch clips of domestic Australian cricket from the 90s?
SEE http://blogs.espncricinfo.com/sadisthour/archives/2012/06/is_it_a_crime_to_love_the_game.php for blog comments on this essay.