England news March 20, 2010

Ashes TV change 'catastrophic' - Hugh Morris

Cricinfo staff

Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket, has said the potential return of home Ashes series to the listed-event status, which would mean they have to be shown on free-to-air TV, would be "catastrophic" for the ECB's funding.

Since the prospect of the Ashes returning to the "crown jewels" category became realistic the ECB have made plenty of noise about the impact it would have on their finances and the knock-on effect to the game at all levels, but especially grassroots funding. The ECB have forecast a loss of £137.4 million for the period 2014-17 if the change goes ahead despite improved exposure by cricket being back in free-to-air TV.

The government's decision may now be delayed until after the general election, but the counties have spent the off season campaigning against any such move for a fear of the money they would lose and now Morris, one of the top men at ECB, has added his voice.

"It is a big debate. The impact that it would potentially have is pretty catastrophic, there is no doubt about that," he told reporters in Dhaka. "Catastrophic in terms of the amount of revenue we would lose that could be invested back into the game at grass roots level or into the women's game. It would potentially not be at the level we are at currently.

"The focus of our investment has been in getting people playing the game and the impact this might have in terms of lack of investment into clubs, schools programmes and coaches would be very significant."

The ECB have recently submitted their review - compiled at hefty expense - to the Department of Culture Media and Sport in an effort to prevent any change in the listings. "The ECB has been advised that there is a risk that a decision to list the home Ashes Test match series might cause pay-TV broadcasters to walk away from all or some of our broadcast rights," a statement said.

"The ecology of the international game of cricket, already under strain as a consequence of the rise to prominence of Twenty20 cricket, and specifically the ability of governing bodies to properly ensure the continued primacy of Test match cricket could also be harmed, probably irreparably.

"The ECB has informed the government that it is not inconceivable that the funding shortfalls created by listing would precipitate a mass exodus of players from the international game and their contracts with national cricket boards, to play instead in tournaments designed specifically to appeal to pay-TV broadcasters."

There is a certain irony, then, that Morris' main reason for being in Dhaka, as England complete their tour with the second Test, is to try and iron out difficulties in the latest batch of central contracts which remain unsigned even though they were awarded on October 1 last year.

It is the second time in two years that there has been an impasse - last year it revolved around IPL clauses, but this time that isn't believed to me a major sticking point - and Morris wants the problems sorted as soon as possible. "It isn't ideal," he said. "We don't want to be in this situation again. We have got a group of players who are very proud to play for England and are committed to the cause."

However, while they are committed to playing for England it is appearing increasingly unlikely that many will be released for domestic Twenty20 duty this coming summer. That is despite there being a two-week window between international commitments - following the two Test series against Bangladesh and before the one-day series against Australia in June - where they could take part in the revamped Friends Provident Twenty20.

Steve Elworthy, the new head of marketing and communications at the ECB, visited the squad in Bangladesh recently to try and convince Andy Flower, the head coach, how important it was to have leading England players on show domestically. But Morris reiterated the demands of the international schedule mean rest periods are precious.

"Clearly the bottom line is that we have to manage the workload of our players," he said. "It's great that we have a launch of that competition, but there is an enormous amount of cricket being played internationally now, which has been reflected in some of the selection decisions for this tour."