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August 5, 2008
The current contract expires at the end of next summer, and the new agreement will keep all live home English cricket at Sky until the end of 2013. Channel Five retains the rights to show highlights shortly after the close of each day's play.
"We held extensive talks with all broadcasters and were determined to be as flexible as possible in terms of our packaging and scheduling to allow the maximum number of bids for cricket from all areas of the broadcast industry," ECB chairman Giles Clarke said. "The ECB recognise and are grateful for Sky Sports' loyalty to the sport - both at home and when the England team tour overseas.'
It had been expected that BBC and Channel 4 might submit rival bids, but in the event neither showed interest. Channel 4 were aggrieved at losing out in 2005 and the company is in a less robust position that it was four years ago.
The BBC's decision to stay out of the process left Sky effectively unchallenged. When BSkyB was awarded the contract at the end of 2005, the ECB, with Clarke at the forefront of negotiations, was lambasted in many quarters for not keeping broadcasts on terrestrial television, but it is likely to get a much easier ride this time because of the lack of interest from mainstream broadcasters.
Instead, Clarke trained his guns on the BBC for their lack of interest. "Now is the time for a real debate on the future of public sector sports broadcasting, which I know is under consideration and under review," he said. "All these people interested in cricket buy TV licences, and surely they should have a right to expect that the public sector broadcasters mount bids for the nation's summer sport, as they do in the case of one of them for 12 other sports?"
An ECB spokesman suggested that the BBC's lack of interest stemmed directly from their re-acquisition of the rights to Formula One motor racing, which requires a commitment of 16 weeks a year. "Just how many people play Formula One?" said Clarke. "If the BBC is to remain part of this it must answer to the millions of cricket fans in England and Wales how it prioritises its investment in sports rights."
The BBC, however, hit back with indignation at Clarke's comments. "We've always said any bid for live Test cricket was subject to value for money and fitting into scheduling," said a spokesman, "In our view neither of these criteria were met. We have consistently argued that not having cricket as a listed event puts it out of the reach of all terrestrial broadcasters. That's the ECB's choice and they are entitled to it, but it's absurd to blame the BBC for this outcome."
At the weekend, Scyld Berry, the editor of Wisden, wrote in the Daily Telegraph: "Children in far more than half the households in this country will grow up without ever having seen [Andrew] Flintoff, or any other England cricketer, perform live. (And so uncool is it to watch highlights that fewer than a million watch those on [Channel 5]). How can any sport prosper when its role-models perform in purdah? No doubt the ECB will blame the BBC for not making a substantial bid. But the game's authorities should negotiate the best bid, not the biggest."
The new Sky deal will include the Stanford quadrangular Twenty20 tournament in England as well as the EPL when it starts in 2010.
At the same time Five have agreed a deal for a highlights package to be screened at 7.15-8pm. There will also be, for the first time, Welsh language television coverage of five matches involving Glamorgan on S4C with five matches plus the Welsh Village Cup.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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