TV contracts row September 3, 2005

MacLaurin: 'New deal is wrong for cricket'

Cricinfo staff

Lord MacLaurin: 'I think the new deal is wrong for cricket' © Getty Images
The deal to sign over live cricket coverage to BSkyB might be done and dusted, but to the increasing frustration of the ECB, the debate just won't go away.

After a couple of swipes from Channel 4 executives, now it is Lord MacLaurin, the former chairman of the ECB, who has stoked the controversy by telling the Daily Telegraph that the negotiations should be reopened.

It was in 1998 as chairman that MacLaurin made a deal with the government which resulted in home Test cricket being removed from the list of sports which had to be available on free-to-air channels. MacLaurin says that agreement was reached on the understanding that major series - of which the Ashes tops the list - would remain on free-to-air terrestrial channels.

"Those negotiations went on for a very, very long time," MacLaurin told the Telegraph. "Chris [Smith, the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport] came to the Lord's Test in 1998 against South Africa and he said, 'OK, provided you keep the majority of Test matches on free-to-air television I will allow you to move from the A to B list'. He was very concerned about the Test matches."

Smith told parliament that he expected the freedom resulting from his decision to be used sensibly. "If these expectations are not fulfilled," he added, "then I may of course need to review the listed criteria again."

MacLaurin said that his understanding was that BSkyB would have the right to take minor series, ODIs and all domestic cricket. "I feel quite strongly about this," he explained. "I think the new deal is wrong for cricket. There are millions of people who share my view."

He went on to say that he believed the government should intervene, and added that David Morgan, his successor at the ECB, was aware of the detail of the agreement he made with Smith.

Morgan has a different recollection, and insisted that the terms of the deal were not as limited as MacLaurin maintained. "This deal is very good for cricket. The next best deal would have been a disaster. It would have been £24 million a year less and it would have meant massive cuts."

The chances of the government getting involved are non existent and the deal will stand. MacLaurin's comments, however, will cause more anxiety inside the ECB as it continues to attract considerable flack for its decision.