The Crown Jewels debate January 12, 2010

Free-to-air Ashes decision to be taken before election

Cricinfo staff

A decision on whether the Ashes will return to free-to-air television will be taken before the general election, the Government said on Tuesday.

Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary, provisionally accepted the findings of a review panel led by David Davies, the former chairman of the FA, in November last year, which called for the home Ashes to be added to the list of 'crown jewel' sporting events protected from pay-only television.

The ECB, however, vehemently opposed the move then, arguing that it would bring a severe loss of revenue and harm grassroots funding for the game. 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.

When the move was announced in November the ECB were frustrated that the review committee did not commission an independent report into the economic impact of the decision, after estimating that some £30 million per year, which amounts to more than a third of their annual turnover, could be slashed from their budget.

Yet John Grogan, Labour MP for Selby and a long-standing campaigner for wider access to televised sport, said that if governing bodies receive public money they should expect their major events should be shown for free.

"If the governing bodies believe in an entirely free market approach, why are they receiving public money? You can't have it both ways. If hard-pressed taxpayers and lottery players are funding the sports, should they not be able to see some of the events on free-to-air TV?"

Sion Simon, a junior minister, told MPs that the government had provisionally accepted the findings of the review and final decision will be made shortly after the period of consultation ends in March.

The ECB, however, have not changed their stance, and are holding out hope that the Government will reconsider its provisional decision. "Our position is that we will put in comprehensive documentation and research to the Government," an ECB spokesman told Cricinfo. "We expect them to take the appropriate amount of time to consider the full financial considerations of any potential decision."

There is, however, only a short window between the end of the consultation period and the moment that parliament goes into recess ahead of an anticipated May election. The move to terrestrial could be seen as an attempt to woo voters, while sticking the boot into Rupert Murdoch, the owner of BSkyB, after the Murdoch-owned Sun backed the Conservatives for the election.