TV rights November 13, 2009

Ashes back on 'crown jewels' list


The ECB has described as "hugely detrimental" the decision to return England's home Ashes Tests to a revised list of major sporting events that should be shown on free-to-air TV. The findings of the review panel, headed by David Davies, the former chairman of the FA, were unveiled on Friday, but there will still be a huge number of hurdles to cross to get the Ashes back on terrestrial television.

"Sporting events with a special national resonance should continue to be protected for the widest-possible audience," said a statement issued by the panel. "There is still a place for a listed events regime, but its long-term future in a changing media landscape is by no means certain."

Test matches in England were de-listed in 1998 which meant that pay-TV operators could bid for the rights. Initially BSkyB gained one home Test per season with Channel 4 showing the rest, which ensured international cricket was still available on a free-to-air platform, but since 2005 all England matches have been shown live on BSkyB with just highlights available on Five.

When England regained the Ashes, at The Oval, in August the viewing figures peaked at around two million compared to the seven million who tuned in when Channel 4 had the rights for the 2005 series.

"On that night in August when England won the Ashes, the BBC One national news was led by cricket, the ITV news was led by cricket, Sky News throughout the day was led by cricket," Davies told the BBC. "Throughout that summer for five Test matches, cricket figured prominently on the national news in this country every day.

"My only question is if that was not an event of national resonance, what was it? I was also uneasy about the fact that millions of children were unable to see it live. We are asking cricket that once every four years - and not until 2016, in six years' time - that 25 days of cricket are free-to-air in one summer."

The ECB's current deal with BSkyB and Five, which is worth a combined £300 million, runs until 2013 and includes the next home Ashes series. Under the recommendations the first series that could possibly be back on terrestrial TV would be the 2016 contest.

Newspaper reports are suggesting that the Government's move to shift the Ashes back to free-to-air is an attempt to gain revenge on Rupert Murdoch, the owner of BSkyB, after the Murdoch-owned Sun backed the Conservatives for the next general election.

An ECB insider told Cricinfo that the fears were genuine, and with the report coming out so close to an election, there was a fear that they were being used as "the piggy in the middle"

While the move from terrestrial to pay-TV has hit viewing figures, the money pumped into the game at grassroots level has helped develop the game.The ECB are already braced for a battle to ensure that this proposal never sees the light of day.

Privately, they are furious that the committee did not commission an independent report into the economic impact of the decision, after estimating that some £30 million per year could be slashed from their budget, which amounts to more than a third of their annual turnover. They will be lobbying the government on that very point during the 12-week consultation process that will follow the announcement.

"The last time the Ashes were on terrestrial TV it was a tremendous series in 2005, but it still went off air on terrestrial for a horse race," David Collier, the ECB chief executive, told Cricinfo. "You just can't do that and retain any credibility. Why does the report believe that the competitor broadcasters will bid competitive rates for the 2016 series, when they had the opportunity in the last two rounds of bidding [in 2004 and 2008], and they failed to put in a bid?"

"The objective evidence is overwhelming. The overwhelming evidence says this is a nonsense and that is what we'll be presenting to the secretary of state. It would be disastrous if this implementation went through, as it would cut cricket's income by 50%. We've been very clear from the outset that they must take account of economic evidence, and that has not changed one iota."

"Both Secretary of State Ben Bradshaw and Minister of Sport Gerry Sutcliffe are big supporters of our grassroots programmes and the recent success our investment in women's cricket has had on the international stage," read an official ECB statement. "In the coming weeks we will set out to them the hugely detrimental impact the panel's recommendations would have on our successful community projects.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Thomas on November 16, 2009, 1:23 GMT

    If the ashes are put back to the public, it will be a great day for cricket and the nation. The ECB should never have sold us out in the first place, going behind their 'gentleman's promise' so good on the panel for holding them to their promises.

  • Richard on November 14, 2009, 22:11 GMT

    Forget the BBC; I thought that Channel 4's commentary beautifully counterpoised a great series in 2005 (as well as other series). Having watched Sky's coverage over much of the last 10 years I have to say it has focussed more and more on technology and less and less on the characters of the game e.g. Richie Benaud vs Nasser Hussain etc., both good players but one has more TV presence than the other IMHO. When I watch cricket I want a balance of good play, technology and commentary. Watching Sky's coverage it appears (since they monopolised UK international cricket rights) that they are content to continually play repeats of bad decisions to the background of Nasser's monotone about how technology should be used more in umpiring decisions. This demonstrates that Sky has run out of ideas just like it had with the BBC in the Nineties. I hope that Channel 4 has a secret yearning to take back test match commentary and puts in a serious bid and Richie is still commentating in 2016.

  • Wessels on November 13, 2009, 23:32 GMT

    Why is nobody mentioning the "switchover" - surely by 2016 every TV in the UK will have at least a Freeview box....which means that Sky3 will be in every home -so... Sky keeps the rights and just broadcasts the home Ashes on Sky3 (free-to-air) and still makes money from selling advertising space - simples....

  • David on November 13, 2009, 19:59 GMT

    I think it is just great getting the Ashes back but not just home tests. Overseas as well to brighten up our cricket free winters. For a Murdochless home like ours, Test match Special is brilliant meanwhile. Also include other major Test series too as soon as possible but lets start with the Ashes home and away. Next winter's will be mega. Let Radio 4 thinking permeate BBC tv. Real Nick's point about snooker, racing and other sport is spot on.

  • peter on November 13, 2009, 17:43 GMT

    Talking of fat cat executives, the ECB could do with some pruning. To talk of Ashes tests going free to air as 'catastrophic' is garbage. Highlights on Five is no substitute - until the whole nation gets digital TV large parts of the country can't get Five. Kids learn by emulation - for 4 years now many have been deprived of the opportunity to watch the world's great players. The old, the sick, the poor, can't afford or lack capacity to attend Tests. The alleged loss of £30M could bring positive benefits - a trimming of county staffs stuffed with no-hopers, a culling of blazers and suits that always seem to be hanging around on international days doing nothing, even a cut back on the England support team. Cricket needs above all the interest and support of the young. Therefore the sport should have max exposure on the greatest viewer potential. That means terrestrial TV. End of story.

  • Rakesh on November 13, 2009, 17:27 GMT

    Surely the ECB need to recognise that getting people/kids interested in cricket has to be more important than lining their pockets with Murdoch's cash. What's the point in having funds for 'grassroots' cricket if the grassroots of cricket are disappearing to football and other sports? Cricket needs more exposure in the UK than just Sky Sports or the news in order to grow and develop in the UK. It then needs to find another way of plugging the loss of revenue - start with getting rid of Giles?

    Get cricket back into UK households, not just one series every four years but all Test matches and domestic cricket - without Mark Nicholas if possible....

  • Robert on November 13, 2009, 15:44 GMT

    The BBC are just trying to get this on the cheap so that they can keep paying their fat cat executives inflated salaries and send their pampered so called "stars" on a freebee holiday in the name of charity.

  • Philip on November 13, 2009, 15:30 GMT

    TV licence fee paying public have robbed. It is high time that BBC got their act together and gave some thing back to us. It was a disgrace that only 2m viewers watched the Ashes victory. We do not need all the gimmicks that SKY offers. Just give us some good cricket. Is that a big ask? What a shame that we could not see some "Aussie (wally) bashing" after years of Pommie bashing. There will always be the big guns from SKY who will be show their discontent ... it will be worth it when see +5m viewers. Philip Gnana, New Malden, Surrey

  • Barry on November 13, 2009, 14:55 GMT

    Too late, SOMEONE who loved Rupert (I wonder who could be such a bliar) left the door open and the Ashes horse has bolted. The greedy ECB will schmooze our freebie-loving MPs until the Tories get in. If the BBC lose 6 Nations rugby as well, the tax aka license we all pay the goverment MUST be scrapped.

  • Robert on November 13, 2009, 10:17 GMT

    Why just Ashes matches? Why not other tests? Why not a few one day games? (I remember the days when The Cavaliers matches were televised. Surely better than strictly come dancing and drivelling drongoheads droning on about football.).

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