The ‘Man in charge of Cricket’ at the BBC – Stephen Lyle – talks to Cricket World
I managed to catch up with the recently installed ‘man in charge of cricket’ at the BBC – Stephen Lyle - in a revealing interview about the job ahead, with cricket coming back to BBC Television, and his love of the game.
Tell us a little bit about getting your feet under the desk with BBC and the cricket……
“I’ve been back at the BBC for about two months now; I was here before for a few years, then went off to Channel 4 for a few years. It’s been very busy; it’s a very exciting time.
Everyone seems to be very, very excited at the prospect of cricket coming back to BBC television. There is obviously already a very experienced and good sized cricket team here; they’re working very hard at the minute covering the events in the West Indies.
I’ve spent a lot of my time getting to know my colleagues who are working on the radio and online on cricket and tapping into their knowledge, experience and advice as we go about putting together plans and proposals for covering cricket on television as well as those other platforms in 2020.
It’s been very busy, but it’s been good, we’ve got some good relations going with the ECB. I am with the ECB regularly for discussions about the new 100 competition and our cricket coverage in general. It’s been busy but very exciting.
I guess things have changed somewhat since the BBC was involved with television coverage of cricket, in particular the social side -
There are so many platforms now. It’s interesting because one of the things you hear said is ‘cricket is coming back to the BBC’. Obviously as we know cricket has been on the BCC quite extensively for as long as we can remember because TMS remains incredibly strong. Over the last couple of years the clips rights deal that the BBC have has really enhanced how we can cover cricket with online platforms.
The TV coming back into the fold just makes it a really strong offer. I actually worked on cricket on television when it was on the BBC, going back 15 years or so, and I’ve worked on television cricket coverage and I suppose the biggest difference that you notice straight away is everything is multi-platform now.
We’re not just thinking what works on television and how well it works on television then maybe think about coverage elsewhere separately, it’s very much joined up and thinking how it can work across platforms.
We know that’s how audiences consume the game now, they want to watch it on television, read about it online, maybe see some clips and they’re very engaged listening to it on the radio whether that’s updates or ball by ball commentary.
The question mark on the coverage is obviously the new 100 competition, which is obviously quite a big part of the coverage, what is your take on that as a concept.....
Cricket is very adaptable, and better than most sports in terms of adapting and working well with new formats. I’m encouraged by crickets’ track record of adapting to new formats and them doing well.
With regards to the new format I’m excited about it on a personal level, clearly it’s supposed to be a shorter still format of the game and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We know about the habits of audiences these days and there seems to be a feeling people like shorter packages so I don’t think that’s a bad move.
The other big element around this is the different franchises, city based as opposed to counties and so on. Again, I’m excited by that, just the fact it’s something new. As a television producer you’re always excited by new concepts and what they might bring.
I think particularly amongst young people there is a real identity to cities rather than counties. I think that county affiliation is still very strong in this country but it could be the case that city affiliation could be stronger still.
Once you factor in all these new changes and new elements to the format I don’t think they’re massively different to what we have now. I think what we will once it’s all kicked off is basically a game of cricket breaking out, focusing on the players skills and what they bring to the table.
It will be entertaining, it will be fast and it will be slightly shorter but it will still be a game of cricket and recognisable as a game of cricket. I genuinely look at this as a positive step, I want to applaud Cricket (the ECB and administrators) for once again looking at the sport and branching out to find a broader audience without alienating the core fans and I think it’s possible to do that with this tournament.
What about the wider game – women’s and recreational cricket at grass roots...
I’ve actually been quite fortunate in my career over the last few years because I’ve worked on sports that are growing and growing rapidly. I’ve worked on disability sport and seen that grow, but the other area is women’s team sport.
I’ve seen the real scale of growth in women’s team sport and one of those places is cricket. Women’s cricket is in a good place, at the moment ,and year on year you see it grow bigger and bigger, with the standard being raised the whole time.
I watched the recent T20 World Cup, balls are being hit further, balls are being bowled faster. The whole game is on an upwards curve in terms of performances but also in terms of audience appreciation.
It’s exciting to be involved in the coverage of live women’s cricket, but also telling the story of something growing rapidly, again that’s a really exciting element of this piece.
Moving onto the highlights packages…
In terms of where you will be able to see the highlights I think that’s not going to change. Our ambition is to turn around those highlights pretty soon within that hour or two hour window after the last ball has been bowled and get that on BBC2.
Those highlights will also be on our iPlayer platform which is something else I’m over-seeing and I’m looking to grow sport content on. If you’ve missed it on BBC2 that evening there will still be the opportunity to watch it on another platform that the BBC is looking to grow.
We hope the highlights will reach more people they reach at the moment. In terms of the care and attention that goes into those programmes, I don’t want the perception to be BBC is putting all there shoulder behind tour live TV coverage. We will be putting plenty of care, effort and attention into our highlights coverage as well.
Do you think it will be value for money for the licensee….
In terms of value for money there will be extensive coverage of cricket and that coverage is on all platforms. You will go to BBC for your cricket, you can follow the days play, online with clips, TMS, highlights in the evening and the highlights will also be available on the iPlayer.
There will be live cricket to get really excited about, brand new competitions, women’s cricket live and also England T20I live matches - added all together it does feel like value for money.
For cricket fans, BBC is a really full destination.
On a personal level, do you have any background in cricket?
I used to play when I was a teenager, I played every single weekend. I played for a works team, as a youngster, I knew adults who worked at Vauxhall Motors so I played for their team.
I played for my university team a lot, I went to the University of Leicester so represented them the best I could - they were the main ones really.
I loved the game as a youngster; I was a bowler, tried to bowl quickly but ended up spraying it about a lot, little bit too short. But I was quite good with getting wickets with bad balls.
I always loved the game. My parents are both from Jamaica and both big West Indies cricket fans, so myself and three older brothers had to be into cricket. They would take us to games, when the West Indies came over to tour, that would be our big treat.
My dad would scrape the money together somehow and take us all to the Oval and watch the West Indies play. Those are some of my best childhood memories.
I think that anybody who experiences the game, like kids going to the Oval and seeing professionals bowling really fast.... Understanding what it’s like to see someone bowl at upwards of 80MPH and what a batsmen has to do to avoid that, let alone play scoring shots off that - I believe once anybody experiences that with cricket, they will get hooked.
That is always in the back of my mind with TV coverage. In terms of television coverage how can you recreate that, almost that experience going to watch cricket played at the highest level.
Of all the sports I’ve seen, cricket is the one where at the highest level it is almost otherworldly, compared to what most people are able to manage down the park, and it draws you in.
You immediately look at the players and participants in a completely different light. At that top level of the game, the skills and mental agility it’s almost like nothing else really.”
Each summer from 2020 to 2024, the BBC will broadcast live TV coverage of:
Two England men's home T20Is
One England women's home T20I
10 men's matches from the ECB's new domestic city-based 100 competition
Up to eight matches from the women's domestic T20I tournament, including both finals
The BBC will also show:
Highlights of England men's home Tests, ODIs and T20Is
Highlights of England women's home internationals
Digital clips of men and women's internationals, plus County Championship, One-Day Cup and T20 matches
©Cricket World 2019