A recent blog from the other side of the world, which takes a balanced look at the opportunities and weaknesses of the new Formula E series, got me thinking about cricket.
Motorsports fans and media have waggled their fingers at several aspects of the new championship. Lack of noise is the most common accusation, but also decried is the compressed schedule, with practicing, qualification and racing all taking place in just one day. And with so many racing events already on the calendar worldwide, will Formula E be able to attract significant sponsorship, audiences and television coverage?
Which brings me to cricket. It was only a decade ago that Twenty20 was introduced. This shortened, sped-up version of the game was introduced to counter falling attendance and threadbare sponsorship deals. It was designed to plug into the new internet generation, to capture short attention spans (actually, it could be argued that TV has done far more to curtail attention spans than the internet, but that’s another story) and revive a golden age of cricket.
On one side of the fence, commentators declared this was the ultimate dumbing-down exercise, that it would kill the traditional five-day test match and that it would fail spectacularly. On the other side, supporters argued that the more exciting game would create new cricket fans, and by bringing in new audiences, boost the popularity of test matches.
The debate surrounding Formula E seems to be taking a similar direction. In many places, Formula 1 is struggling with attendance, with its environmental credentials, with retaining sponsorship, with the costs of operating bespoke race tracks, with its predominantly white and male appearance and in appealing to a generation who, more than ever before, live in cities and do not drive nor aspire to own cars.
Twenty20 is flourishing worldwide. It’s popular. It’s succeeding. And it hasn’t killed test match cricket. The new electric series could be seen as the Twenty20 of motor sports, perhaps leading new fans to the 24 hour endurance race series or the three-day strategy battles of Formula 1.
Whether or not that happens, that Twenty20 has been growing for a decade shows that, despite the horror of some, there is a place for a simpler, more adrenaline-fulled version of the game. The world is a big place with many tastes. Formula E will find a home in much the same way. In time, die-hard petrol heads may even find themselves (grudgingly at first) slowly hooked. Throwing away preconceived ideas and prejudices, the new series sounds like fun. Isn’t that what we all watch sports for?