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Why the Cricket World Cup final will come with a warning for the Welsh regions and Guinness PRO14; One vital aspect connects these two - and it cannot be ignored.

Byline: Delme Parfitt

Anyone who cares about Welsh regional rugby and the Guinness PRO14 cannot possibly watch Sunday's Cricket World Cup final without connecting both the sports and the competitions.

It could be viewed as bizarre that from the moment England beat Australia to book a showdown with New Zealand at Lords which will decide the best 50-over team on the planet, the decision to show the occasion on free-to-air television - specifically Channel 4 - has been so central to the narrative.

Then again, is it not a reminder of the power of TV when it comes to embedding specific sports in the cultural consciousness of a nation?

England v New Zealand will now enjoy the same potential visibility as the Wimbledon men's final (BBC) and the British Grand Prix (Channel 4), the other major events that will compete for attention on the same day.

Which of those will attract the largest audience? We'll see, but surely England - and a swaggering, innovative England at that - in a first World Cup final for 27 years will trump Federer-Djokovic at SW19 and Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone.

The Channel 4 move is unlikely to make cricket the main topic of conversation that it was during and after England's 2005 Ashes win against the Aussies (the last time terrestrial TV had the rights).

Yet by becoming watchable for millions more people, the boost even this one-off event will provide to cricket across the whole of the UK will be immeasurably significant.

Cricket, a decade and a half ago, opted to take the money on offer from Sky. The sport's administrators argued that it would be ploughed into the grassroots of the game and thus ensure its future ongoing health.

But however many bats, pads and helmets have been provided for budding Joe Roots up and down the land, there is increasing evidence that the game has lost contact with the public psyche.

Regional rugby in Wales, since its transferral to paid-for broadcaster Premier Sports, is in grave danger of going the same way.

And the prospect was brought into sharper focus just this week when it emerged that Six Nations bosses have decided the tournament must remain on BBC and ITV.

It's understood that one of the major influences on the decision was the superior viewing figures commanded by the women's football World Cup compared to the Cricket World Cup on Sky.

Retaining the Six Nations' grip on public attention was, it is said, seen as far more important than hiding it behind a TV paywall - even if it meant not trousering a short-term wad of cash.

Given the apparent prevalence of this attitude, you wonder why other parts of the rugby power spectrum have been so willing to sign up with the satellite boys.

Yes, yes. The money. Nobody needs reminding of media market forces and their manifold pros and cons.

But in the case of the regions and the Guinness PRO14, other considerations have to be seen as, if not paramount, then certainly worthy of the deep analysis.

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The Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets have been in existence for 16 years and are still engaged in an ongoing battle for more hearts and minds in their own respective backyards.

As for the Pro14, it too has a serious image problem. Its protagonists like to point to the records of the Irish teams in the Champions Cup and the fact that so many Welsh and Irish players become Lions every four years as evidence of its strength.

It's a flawed outlook because the credibility of the competition hinges only on what unfolds week in, week out in terms of who plays and the quality and intensity of the matches we see.

Putting sport on subscription channels forces enthusiasts to ask themselves one question: do I want to watch this enough to pay monthly for it?

The answer, in the case of the PRO14, and especially in Wales where the indifference has more than one source, is too often a resounding no.

So the tournament is less visible than ever. It's in less living rooms, less pubs (if any), seen by less kids and talked about less than it has ever been. This is a tournament, remember, that still has a job on its hands persuading people it's worth investing in. The same problem the regions face. The problem that never seems to go away.

Welsh regions to play against each other in rare pre-season clash

The summer of 2019 couldn't offer us a major men's football tournament. It couldn't offer us a Lions tour. But it's on its way to being more memorable than many would have imagined.

And, with the Women's World Cup to the fore, it has reminded us that free-to-air television remains an extraordinarily powerful tool.

Unlike the pounds satellite broadcasters feed into bank accounts, it is a power that cannot be quantified. Yet you underestimate it at your peril.

The penny (no pun intended) needs to drop among Guinness PRO14 power-brokers.

Sure, having more TV money to dole out is important. Some may argue vital. But not when viewing figures for the semi-professional game in Wales are trouncing what is on offer on Premier Sports.

Because without visibility, without accessibility, without a profile that actually gets you talked about in pubs and offices, you have nothing.

And, in its own way, the consumption of the Cricket World Cup final will be the proof.

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Credit: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Eoin Morgan of England embraces Joe Root of England after scoring the winning runs to secure victory and send England to the final

Credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency

Departing Ospreys hooker Scott Baldwin is held in the tackle
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales Online (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 13, 2019
Words:962
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