Do the Right Thing

I wanted to take a minute to further clarify a Tweet of mine from last night:

Here’s the thing: those are agency ads. They rotate in and out based on time of day, location…etc. For instance, a little while later I saw ads for BringMeTheNews.com, a local Minnesota news aggregator. These agencies have a stable of hundreds of clients that pay a dollar or two a click to have their ads put in front of specific demographics. They then contact ESPN or Disney or whatever and negotiate price and impressions and CPM rate…etc, then the agency serves and rotates the banners – so it is all very “set it and forget it” for sites like Cricinfo.

(The above is all an educated guess). *SEE UPDATE #1*

What I am saying is, an Account Executive from ESPN or Disney did not call up bet365 and ask if them if they were interested in learning more about the advertising opportunities on Cricinfo. And I would bet dollars to doughnuts that the suits from Cricinfo, ESPN, and/or Disney really have no idea as to who all is advertising on their various sites.

But they should. And here’s why:

Cricket has a gambling problem. A nasty one. At every level. And in every country where cricket is played. And yet the sport still continues to suck on the big fat green gambling teet like it is going out of style. Just look at the advertising boards at the ground, the sponsors on players’ kits…etc.

It’s a problem. A huge problem. And it is ripping the heart right out of the game, for none of us can completely trust what is happening on the pitch in front of us anymore. The same way every time a cyclist comes out of nowhere to win a stage in the Tour de France, we all assume he is doping. Cycling’s heart and soul are gone, probably forever, and cricket, thanks to gambling, is getting there, too.

And who is supposed to be the watchdog in all of this? The media, journalists, sites like Cricinfo. But yet how can they be impartial in telling spot fixing stories if they are taking money from ad banners that list County Cricket betting lines where they was a spot fixing scandal not two seasons ago?

It is a shame that Cricinfo has decided that money is more important than legitimate journalism; a shame for journalism and a shame for the sport.

And while I am sure the supposed “firewall” between advertising and editorial exists in one way or another at Cricinfo HQ, that separation is slowly but surely ebbing away – until soon enough it will simply no longer exist.

Therefore I call on Cricinfo to cease doing business with betting websites. I know their money is green, and I know that times are hard, and I am sure there is the aforementioned firewall that protects your editors, but for a site that focuses on cricket to do business with a gambling website is quite simply the wrong thing to do.

Do the right thing, ESPN, and stop running betting related advertisements.

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A hypothetical ethics question: if bet365.com approached you and offered you $1 per click to run banners, would you take it?

I like to think I would turn them down, but gosh…I don’t know.

SEE UPDATE #2

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I am not a gambler. I don’t like it and find it a waste of money – but more importantly I think it ruins the game. Fantasy football as one example: I never want to be “kind of happy” that Robin van Persie scored a hat trick against Arsenal simply because he is on my fantasy team. I want to be gutted. Completely gutted.

However, I am also not anti-gambling. If that is how you want to spend your hard earned, then go right ahead. I also have no family members or friends with gambling problems. I have no dog in this hunt, in other words, I just think cricket needs to break up with betting. Now.

UPDATE #1:

A couple things here. Reader Daniel points out that Cricinfo’s agency/network ads in Germany, where he is located, are even more egregious, as they are spam/scam related. He sent a screenshot over:

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Also, a better term for this type of advertising is “network” – not “agency.” Though you probably got my gist.

Finally, regular reader Devanshu points out that the 365bet ads I posted a picture of above are not agency/network ads, but part of a larger partnership where “advertising for betting (is)…embedded as actual Cricinfo content” and linked me to Cricinfo’s site map which includes a link to a betting section.

This story obviously goes far deeper than I first thought.

UPDATE #2:

People from several sites (Alternative Cricket, CricketEurope, and Deep Backward Point) popped up on Twitter and mentioned that they had been approached by betting sites regarding advertising but have turned them down. Andrew Nixon of CricketEurope went on to say that they instruct their networks not to serve betting related ads.

Finally, Alternative Cricket said that while they agree with my sentiment, they disagree with my reasons. They turn down betting related ads (for not a little amount of money) because their core audience is young people in India and they do not want to be responsible for getting a kid hooked.

Are you listening, Cricinfo? There are bloggers out there who do this for free or for very little money and they are turning down betting ads…it’s high time you did so, as well.

Cricket’s Soul

Today Andy Murray became the first Brit to win the Gentlemen’s singles title at Wimbledon since 1936. It was a thrilling match, I must say, from start to finish. Both players ran each other positively ragged. And if it had gone the full five sets I don’t think either player would have ever walked again.

But my favorite part of the entire match was the final game of the match, for two reasons:

1. Djokovicz was down a break, down 40-love, and facing three Championship points. All in front of a decidedly partisan home crowd at Centre Court, with the whole of Great Britain supporting his opponent.

And so most of us would have been okay with him being a bit lazy, rolling over, and just letting Murray have his moment. But he didn’t. He fought back again and again, stretching the game out to its breaking point, before finally losing.

All hope of winning was lost, but he showed a spirit and a fight back that I think we can appreciate. It gave me a very deep respect for the player.

And with the Ashes set to start on Wednesday, I do hope we get the same sort of fight from the 11 men from England and the 11 men from Australia. It will be easy, during the third Test, in the hot sun, or facing another rain delay, to not give 100% of yourself to the game. For the sake of the series, let us all hope the cricketers remember Novak’s spirit this afternoon in London.

2. For the final game of the match, the ESPN commentary team did not utter a single word. They just let the match breathe. It was perfect And something that our friendly cricket commentators could learn from. There are times, of course, when they keep quiet, but most of the time they simply drone on and on and until every space in the match is filled with white noise. And those spaces, those moments of quiet and reflection, of a player leaning on his bat in the sun, as the new bowler marks his run, as the crowd murmurs a long, those are the moments that give cricket its soul.

Now, as someone new to the game, I must say that I learn a great deal from the better commentary teams, but goodness me just shut the hell up once in a while.

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Anyway, congrats to Andy Murray. Very well played and well deserved. I find it silly that it matters so much to people where an athlete is born, but I think I might need to stop fighting that battle sooner rather than later.

Murray was born in Scotland, but he trains in Miami, and his coach is from the Czech Republic. Like all modern athletes, Murray is very much a global brand, a multi-national corporation. He has supporters the world over. Should it really matter so much that he was born in Scotland?

And when the pro-English nationalism works itself into a fervor again starting Wednesday, I hope the home fans remember that Kevin Pietersen and Jonathon Trott are South African, and that it is perfectly okay to stand proudly behind athletes that hail from a different side of a line in the sand than you do.

Okay, I’ll stop. Congrats to Andy, and congrats to Britain. Enjoy this, soak it all in.

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The Ashes

There has been a lot of “meh” on the Internet regarding the upcoming Ashes series – mostly revolving around the fact that Australia are in shambles, while England’s form of late can only be described as “a little better than mediocre.”

But I, for one, am excited.

And not because I am a fan of either side, or because the matches will be on Willow here in the states, but because it is a five-Test series, and we just never get those anymore.

The most recent five-Test series was England in Australia, 2010-2011, two and a half years ago. Before that it was Australia in England, summer of 2009, four years ago; and before that it England in the West Indies in late winter/early spring of 2009, four and a half years ago.

And those are the only five-Test series that have happened since I started following the sport in April of 2007 – three out of a total of 98.

Meanwhile, there have been 37 (!!) two-Test series.

And so I hope my more jaded readers allow me to geek out over the Ashes, because in my time as a cricket follower, the five Test series is a truly rare event, and one that should be paid attention to.

Five tests, 10 innings, 25 days…there is no more interesting or captivating event in sport. There are ebbs, flows, rising actions, falling actions, love stories, heroes, goats, villains…it is five, five-act Shakespearean plays spread out over six weeks, all linked together thematically and lyrically.

I can’t wait.