It’s not the participation of the pigeons or the passing public transport. It’s not the regularly-described colourful clothing worn in the commentary box. It’s not the novel nicknames of the team. And it’s not the instantly recognisable and timeless theme music. My dear old thing, it’s not any of these things.
It is because it still respects its audience, treats them like grown ups and hasn’t caved in to the temptation to dumb down its coverage to appeal to the lowest common denominator or tried to “reach out to a new audience”. What am I talking about? I’m explaining why BBC Radio 4’s Test Match Special is the best sports coverage. Bar none. Absolutely none.
TMS is a national treasure. Yes, even more so than Judi Dench. It has been the soundtrack to our sporting lives for more years than most of its audience have been born. It is there all day during the English summer and helps us off to sleep or to get our breakfast off to a perfect start when England are down under. It is tempting to think it’s place in our hearts is down to its longevity. That familiarity has created this affection. This would be too easy and so wrong.
TMS is a beacon of light in an ever-darkening sky of tedious, cliche-ridden, lazy and painting by numbers sports coverage on TV and radio. Broadcasters are so obsessed with bringing a new audience to their sport – and often keeping its commercial revenue – that they think the way to do this is to treat their listeners/viewers like fools who will be impressed by pointless new technology and even higher profile (and higher paid) past players offering their boring asides as if they were brilliant analysis. They treat their audience like people walking through a soulless shopping centre and so produce the shiniest windows dressing to draw them in. What TMS does is focus on the most important thing – the audience.
There is a lesson here for all broadcasters and anyone interested in communication; as an audience member I feel every day that the coverage is for me; that I am special; that the team feel its a pleasure to work for me. That without me it wouldn’t be worth it for them.This is golden. Priceless. It is an incredible thing to achieve in an ever-crowed sports broadcasting market. Others come close – at times – but never consistently and never without falling into the trap of treating the viewer or listener like its their first day at school. TMS always keeps its eyes on the prize; it’s audience.
How do TMS do it? Four ways.
Simplicity – the format is sensationally simple – they do the cricket. Yes, they talk about busses, Blowers trousers and last night’s dinner but they do the cricket. They never forget that although the audience wants to be entertained they are tuning in predominately for the score, the action, the cricket.
Professionalism – they entertain but their focus is on providing the audience with the clearest and most professional reporting on the game, the big moments, the analysis. They enjoy it and as a result we enjoy listening but they cover the action with the seriousness and thoroughness that top level international sport deserves.
People – they have the best team of commentators and summarisers. The best. Aggers is just one in a long list of magnificent commentators in the current team and beyond. He is a fitting heir to the legacy of the great CMJ, Johners, and John Arlott. Geoffrey Boycott is equalled only by John McEnroe in tennis for his analysis and insight on his sport – and for the humour and personality he brings to the microphone. The rest of the team is top, top notch, including Michael Vaughan, who I declare a particular northerner soft spot for – he was an elegant player and now is an equally compelling summariser.
Passion – they love the cricket. They love everything about it and this love is infectious. I love the cricket a little bit more because they love it so much.
The greatest compliment I can pay TMS is that I have Sky and can access the live cricket in my living room; my office; on my phone, my iPad and in my kitchen on our Mac but I don’t. I would rather listen to TMS all day and not see a ball bowled. They paint the richest picture for me. They take me to the heart of the action. They make me feel special. Like being part of a FDR fireside chat; it’s just me and the President.
Other sports broadcasters take note. TMS is the best – the best by some distance – because it is made for the audience, not made to get an audience. And after a word from anyone else, it will always be TMS for me.