TV rights saga October 10, 2005

ECB defends decision over TV rights - again

Cricinfo staff

John Grogan (left) who has tabled an early-day motion, alongside Keep Cricket Free founder David Brook © Keep Cricket Free
The ECB has again defended its decision to sell TV rights to satellite-only broadcaster BSkyB for four years from 2006.

The debate over the removal of match coverage from terrestrial TV continues to rumble on almost a year after the original announcement was made, much to the ECB's frustration. Various MPs and lobby groups, most notably Keep Cricket Free, have continued to campaign for the decision to be overturned.

The latest move came from John Grogan, a Labour MP, who tabled an early-day motion in the House of Commons calling for home Test matches to be returned to free-to-air TV.

But Colin Gibson, the ECB's communications director, again stressed that the board had acted in the best interests of "cricket as a whole". He told the BBC: "The television revenue makes up 80% of our income. Had we not accepted the bid from Sky, who are a quality cricket broadcaster, we would have been faced with cuts of up to 40% in all areas of the game. This would have affected every level from grassroots right up to the England team."

The Keep Cricket Free lobbyists maintain that by their calculations, the extra revenue the ECB could earn as a result of matches being available to a wider audience on free-to-air would more than offset any shortfall in the deal itself. Those figures are disputed by other parties.

Grogan, whose motion is unlikely to succeed, told the BBC that in Australia a similar situation was resolved when John Howard, the prime minister, "banged a few heads together". He said that as things stand "everyone will be watching the World Cup next year on free-to-air TV - there will be 20 million people watching it - and there'll be a couple of hundred thousand watching the cricket on Sky."

The government has already said that it will not interfere although Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, explained that the situation would be reviewed when the new contract expired in 2009.