Collier fears broadcaster 'cherrypicking'
David Collier, the chief executive of the ECB, has branded as "a nonsense" the decision to return Ashes cricket to the government's list of protected "crown jewel" events, and believes that it opens the door to an era in which Test matches will be "cherrypicked" by broadcasters according to their popular appeal.
"If you took last year for example, where West Indies visited prior to the Ashes, all of the ethos of that series was of England's side preparation for Australia," Collier told Cricinfo. "What incentive would there be for any other broadcaster to broadcast the West Indies series?"
Such a scenario occurred last month during the World Cup football qualifiers, when England's final dead-rubber fixture against Ukraine ended up being shown on an internet pay-per-view site, because there was no interest from other broadcasters following the collapse of the Setanta network.
"The satellite broadcasters said: 'I'm sorry but if we can't have all of the matches, it's out of context, we're not going to broadcast', which is what happened in the last round of matches," said Collier. "If it ever happened in cricket, what it could lead to would be the cherrypicking of England's Test matches, and if that happened, I think that matches involving Sri Lanka, West Indies and Bangladesh probably wouldn't be broadcast at all. Imagine the impact that would have on Test cricket worldwide."
Collier predicted an equally gloomy future for England's domestic cricket set-up. "If these plans were to come into place, our first level of precedence would be to look after the major matches and the stadiums in which they are staged, for the simple reason that the remainder of our income is largely media and broadcasting income.
"All of our remaining costs would get squeezed," he said. "Contracts for England players would get squeezed, there'd be a massive reduction in the number of professional players in England, a massive reduction in the thousands of grants we gave to clubs last year. The whole of our disabilities and women's programmes would have a huge question mark over them, and the national academy at Loughborough would also have a huge question mark.
"But the real irony is that what this move would do is increase the volume of our cricket, because there would be massive pressure to increase any revenue-making opportunities. Our belief is that we want to reduce the volume of cricket, not increase it, but this would have the exact opposite effect."
There are several hurdles that still need to be overcome before the plans are put into practice, and Collier is adamant that the government will see sense once the economic impact study is commissioned ahead of the 12-week consultation period.
"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," he said. "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."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo