Channel 4 boss hits out August 18, 2005

ECB did 'bad deal for the sport'

Cricinfo staff



Channel 4's Luke Johnson: 'The ECB did a very bad deal for the sport ... they went for the money' © Getty Images
The remarkable surge in public interest resulting from this summer's Ashes series has been a double-edged sword for the ECB. While revenues are up and the public cannot get enough of the game, it has also served to highlight the decision to sign away all TV rights to satellite broadcaster Sky Sports.

On Tuesday, David Collier, the ECB's chairman, spoke of his hopes that terrestrial broadcasters will bid for the rights when they next come up for grabs, but that drew an angry response from Luke Johnson, the chairman of Channel 4, who lose the rights after the final Test at The Oval. In an interview with Mihir Bose in the Daily Telegraph, Johnson was quite clear what had been behind the ECB's decision. "Our view is that the ECB did a very bad deal for the sport. They didn't handle the negotiations well. They were short-term. They went for the money.

"We tried to bring it to the attention of the relevant people at the ECB," he continued. "But what happened is that there are certain factions in the ECB and they took charge of the negotiations and they are very commercially minded."

The ECB stance is unequivocal. TV money finances the game, and so it was honour-bound to take the best deal. Had it not, so the argument goes, then funding for the England team right down to grass roots cricket would have had to be slashed.

While Johnson admitted that Channel 4 could never match the money Sky had available, he said he believed that going for the highest sum was not in the game's best interests. "The ECB went for the money and they will find they have made a terrible mistake, with cricket disappearing from terrestrial television the level of interest in the sport will decline sharply," he told Bose. "Cricket is not like football, it needs visibility. How will they get 20,000 people outside a Test ground?"

A number of MPs have called on the government to make Test cricket one of the so-called "crown jewel", events, such as Wimbledon and the FA Cup final, which have to be available on free-to-air terrestrial TV. Test cricket had such status until 1998 when it was taken off the list.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' sports spokesman, told The Guardian: "It is frankly appalling that cricket is not on the list. I wrote to the secretary of state before the Old Trafford Test urging a review and the latest success demonstrates the need for a rethink even more clearly."

  • From September Sky Sports, which costs around £33 a month to subscribe to, will have the monopoly on all live English cricket, domestic and international, until 2009. Five, a free-to-air channel, will broadcast highlights of home international matches.