For the future of the game
Channel 4 has registered record viewing figures during the Ashes series as the country is gripped by cricket fever. But from next summer live television coverage will only be available on Sky TV. Martin Williamson spoke to Giles Clarke, the chairman of ECB marketing committee which ran the tendering process, about the decision to award all live coverage rights to the satellite broadcaster from 2006
What was the difference between the various bids on the table?
We have never commented. However, we have made it clear that the C4 bid was such that the ECB would have had to reduce expenditure over the entire game by 40%.
Did you actively court other broadcasters when the tender process started?
Yes. Tenders were invited from over 20 broadcasters. Meetings were held with a large number of them.
How do you react to Luke Johnson's comments that the negotiations were badly handled by the ECB and were all about short-term gain?
He's wrong. They were expertly handled. Short-term, the acceptance of C4's offer would have had catastrophic economic consequences for cricket. This deal was about securing the long-term financial future of the game. Luke's comments need to be taken in context that he was an unsuccessful bidder.
Were you surprised at David Collier's comments that he hoped more terrestrial broadcasters bid in 2009 so soon after a satellite channel had paid so much for the rights?
It's a matter for him.
Given that Sky have far greater resources and can outbid any other broadcaster, is there a risk that they will monopolise coverage for years to come?
If they outbid everyone else next time - as for years to come, who knows?
As Sky paid a premium for exclusivity, is there a risk that a shared deal next time would mean a marked reduction in income for the ECB?
It depends entirely on the bids and packages. As I have said previously, it is pretty clear to industry players that mobile rights will be considerably more valuable next time, and these will probably be acquired by a different business to the television rights.
How do you react to suggestions that in 2009 other broadcasters who feel shut out, will, much as the BBC did this time, not tender and so leaving Sky to pick up the rights for a song?
I don't see that happening with the England team probably the best in the world. The BBC did not feel shut out. They came to see us before the tender date to explain they could not fit Test matches into their scheduling.
Sky is too expensive for many people - you said in December that "there will always be people who can't afford certain things and that is the way it is". Did that feature in your thoughts?
Taking a pay channel option naturally raises these issues. We said at the time that it had been a hugely difficult decision. There is a major question here anyway. Cricket costs money to run, and the income from spectators does not begin to pay for the England team, which takes 25% of our entire budget, for instance. Cricket lovers need to consider that they should be happy to contribute funds to the game. Having a strong income from our broadcasting rights is essential for the game's growth and wellbeing. What on earth do people expect us to fund the game with otherwise? There would be a lot of screaming and shouting if we had to cut the England team funding after winning the Ashes!
Although highlights are on Channel 5, that is not available to significant sections of the country and so those people will not see any cricket. Is that a concern?
That is incorrect. Ofcom's report on the rights allocation states that Five is available currently to 95% of the population, and that further transmitters planned will increase that number by summer 2006. Freeview provides Five, and that is a very fast-growing network.
We have had considerable feedback critical of Sky's coverage (as opposed to coverage being on Sky). Was quality ever a factor in your decision, and did you worry that far fewer people have access to Sky?
Each broadcaster who bid made a special presentation to the ECB on how they planned to cover the competitions they wished to broadcast. We were very impressed by all the presentations. Sky, in particular, have some major innovative plans, which will incorporate both new technology and also more perspective from younger commentators who also cover both female and ethnic areas of interest. Sky currently has some eight million homes subscribing, and of course there is widespread pub and club transmission.
Had you chosen to take the shared-coverage option, what would the reduction in income have meant for English cricket?
A 40% cut in all expenditure. As an example, there would have to be far fewer England centrally-contracted players, a reduction in the support staff, cutbacks in the 16% of income spent on the recreational game, and probably a destruction of the county network, including many of the new Academies. As Phil Edmonds said: "It's taken 140 years to build this up. It would be madness to smash it up."
How will the extra income to English cricket be used to improve the game from top to bottom, and how do react to claims that the deal will mainly underpin the structure of county cricket?
As I have said, 25% of the money goes to support Team England. It will enable us to beef up the England A side investment, with winter tours and Academy coaching, keep the nucleus of contracted players Duncan Fletcher wants - there will be 25 under his control - and pay for more specialist coaches like Messrs Cooley, Maynard and Penney. The recreational game, which takes 16% now, will have further funds available to develop better nets and pitches etc. It will link in with Chance to Shine, the £50million initiative for cricketers at state schools launched by Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England. Naturally money goes to counties as well - who else is going to find new players, and where else do new spectators start to watch Twenty20, for instance? The structure of county cricket is important to the game as well. Cricket is rare among major sports in that the national side plays around the country and gives more spectators the chance to see their heroes in the flesh. Those grounds need to be maintained.
Is there a risk that youngsters will grow up without any mainstream TV exposure to cricket and so it will be an alien game to them?
What's mainstream TV in the digital age with analogue switch off? This argument has no water at all. Take a look at the viewing figures for the terrestrial channels. The decline is particularly marked. More relevantly, youngsters will be receiving screen grabs of wickets and big shots on their mobiles. That's what will interest them. Cricket wasn't an alien game before TV arrived anyway!
What would be your reaction to calls that the Ashes be reinstated as one of TV's "crown jewels"?
There is a huge difference between a Cup Final which lasts for 90 minutes, the Grand National which lasts for 10 minutes, and Test cricket which lasts for 35 days a summer. In any event, the digital age has made this argument irrelevant.
So you think that negotiations would have been different had they taken place this year rather than last?
Who knows? Kelvin McKenzie said "C4 assumed England would not beat Australia - Sky took the view they would".
With hindsight, is there anything about the tender process that you would have handled differently?
No. We followed the EU regulations and UK law. There is no other way. Every bidder was treated equally and they all had the opportunity to bid several times. All bidders made it very clear to us when they had made their final offers and had no more money to put forward. We did an excellent job under extremely difficult circumstances. When I took the position, the media speculation was that the value of the rights would decline by 40%, and sponsors would not be renewing. Those facts seem to have been forgotten.
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo