England TV rights January 31, 2012

Sky deal leaves few crumbs for frustrated fans

While the benefits of taking Sky's money are hard to argue with, some cricket lovers will feel let down by the ECB's all-or-nothing approach

Even the most passionate critic of the ECB's decision to sell coverage of all England internationals to the highest bidder should recognise the benefits of the new TV rights deal. The debate is about whether these benefits are worthwhile.

England's Test grounds have changed beyond recognition, with rises in capacity, better facilities and vastly improved outfield drainage, which has reduced playing time lost for rain to a minimum.

This could not have been achieved without money from a rights deal. Even with it, many Test grounds must face up to a precarious financial position.

More than 45,000 coaches have qualified since the ECB's coach education programme, funded by Sky Sports, was launched five years ago, a figure that is triple the expectation. That, too, emphasises that TV money can be used for enlightened purposes.

The rights deal also includes a further commitment to the broadcasting of county cricket - and no free-to-air provider has shown the slightest enthusiasm to do that.

The support network around the England team has also helped to bring undeniable improvements with the Test side enjoying the rare satisfaction of being ranked No. 1 in the world.

The financial hardship facing many county clubs is well known. Predictions of at least one bankruptcy have yet to come to pass, but the 18 first-class counties are hugely dependent upon the annual ECB handout, now about £2 million a year.

The Morgan Review into the future of first-class cricket has once again revealed a county game at odds with itself, resorting to pragmatic, some may say half-baked, compromises. It is not a picture that invites confidence that the game could prosper without Sky's cash transfusion.

The ECB's decision cannot be divorced from economic realities. For all this, though, its total commitment to a pay-TV deal is disturbing.

It is fair to wonder whether England's network of coaches has now swollen to unsustainable levels. On the last Ashes tour, there were as many support staff as players. The same might be wondered about ECB bureaucracy, where there are too many examples of jobs for the boys. The deal is harder to justify if the money gained seems to be money for money's sake.

The highlights package, which is only an effective way to protect English cricket's interests if the programme is shown as soon as possible after the game has finished, has also been announced. The fact highlights will be broadcast in the early evening by Channel 5 is, then, a positive.

The ECB could, however, have shown more appetite for a separate internet highlights package to help spread a game that millions of cricket lovers now find unaffordable to watch.

Frustrated cricket viewers who cannot afford subscription TV could do worse than renew their relationships with their county clubs and broaden their horizons beyond the England side. But they will feel let down by the ECB's all-or-nothing approach. This is a good financial deal, but somewhere, somehow there should have been some peace offerings around the edges.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on February 3, 2012, 13:02 GMT

    As an Englishman living in Australia, I don't understand this discussion between English and Australian fans regarding test match attendances. Pretty much every test in England is sold out well in advance and while not all Aussie grounds are sold out, they are usually mostly full and in the MCGs case it could be 1/3 full and still have an attendance similar to a packed house at Lords. We're probably the only two countries that make money on test matches, so what's there to argue about?

  • Mainuddin on February 3, 2012, 8:28 GMT

    @redneck & drcrowle: During the last year's Ashes vast majority of the crowd in attendance were English fans. There were at least 15,000/20,000 of them. Especially on the last day at MCG and SCG there were 20,000 English fans to enjoy the victory -- not ONE Australian fan could be found in sight. It was bizarre. Even on the first day -- as soon as Australia got bowled out for 98, ALL the Australian fans left. Talk about fairweather "fans". In the recent NZ-Aus test at Hobart, barely 3,000 people watched one of the most exciting tests in memory. Moreover, thousands of English cricket fans travel all over the world to support our team -- only Merv Hughes travels with Australia. It's sad to see the demise of cricket in Australia -- AFL, Rugby League and Football (soccer) has utterly destroyed Australian cricket.

  • Damian on February 3, 2012, 4:29 GMT

    @Sir_Freddie_Flintoff - England also has 50 million people living close to all the grounds vs Oz's 20 million living more than the length of England away from each other. So if 'at least' 20,000 are showing up in London and 20,000 in Perth, which fans are turning up more? Last MCG Ashes test there was 84,000; 64,000; 67,000 and 19,000 (for the last day to watch Oz lose a few wickets and lose). That's probably the entire summer of test attendances in England. Then there's the other 4 test matches...520,000+ attendance for 5 tests. I guess that's not too bad.

  • hayden on February 3, 2012, 0:56 GMT

    @Sir_Freddie_Flintoff mate you still dont get it, 90% empty??? perth get 20000 people out of 24000 seats thats not 90% empty. adelaide just got the most people to a aus v ind test ever staged at the adelaide oval. part of the grounds may look empty but you need to understand going to the waca or adelaide oval in the peak of summer can be pretty brutal in the sun. even the indian meadia raised in the heat of mumbai etc feel the heat more in aus! people take refuge in the shade not shown on tv. if you want 90% empty might i suggest sofia gardens, 900 odd people out off 12000 seats! now that is 90% empty! maybe english grounds should be hosting rugby etc. they might then be able to deliver a real sport venue as opposed to something that was state of the art in the 50's! england can rub the ashes in all they want as they did better than us, but dont have a leg to stand on when it comes to cricket telecasting or crowd attendances. in aus its bigger and better simple as that!

  • Jeff on February 2, 2012, 19:17 GMT

    The key fact is kids are been priced out of the game, and everyone knows without them we dont have the cricketers of the future. In our local area, around 50% of junior teams folded between Sky getting exclusive rights in 2005 or so, and now - mostly in the first 3 years so you cant blame the recession. Kids have ZERO income, so be it £50 internet package or £1000 for full Sky, unless his parents are cricket fans the kid cant afford it. 90% of households have Sky, true - but thats households not kids. The Sky remote in a household will be held by the bill payer, ie not the kid. Even with multi-room, most people with multiroom the extra Sky box is in the bill payers bedroom. As said before, unless the parents are cricket fans they would never agree to surrender the remote for the, lets say, 25 days of an Ashes tour. We need to get kids coming in from non-cricketing families, as those with cricketing parents will more than likely introduce thier kids to the game themselves.

  • Shiv on February 2, 2012, 18:24 GMT

    Why doesnt ECB borrow some money from BCCI like SLCB. Im sure BCCI can afford that.

  • Adam on February 2, 2012, 12:43 GMT

    Major League Baseball has sold mlb.tv for about 10 years now. For £70 a year, you get free access, live, replayed or highlights, to every single baseball game played under their control. You access the site via the internet and can watch the games from everywhere in the world. Every other American sport sells something similar. The profit they make must be remarkable, and the access for fans is unprecedented.

    Why oh why oh why can't the ECB launch ecb.tv? For £50 a year, free online access to every county match and England international. Sky is recording them anyway. The access and exposure to cricket for young fans would skyrocket, and the money they would make worldwide off millions of fans all paying £50 each would more than make up for any loss of money in the Sky tv deal.

  • Mainuddin on February 2, 2012, 12:13 GMT

    @ Those who replied to my previous comments: As I said, the English cricket grounds are REAL cricket grounds. Football, Rugby Union, Rugby League, AFL etc etc are not played there. I would always take a 30,000 seater true cricket ground over a multi-purpose stadium with drop-in pitches. Moreover, the most important point is, almost all the test matches played in Australia have vast amounts of empty seats -- especially at Brisbane, Perth, Hobart and Adelaide. What's the point in having high capacity stadiums when 90% of the seats are empty? In England ALL test match days have at least 20,000 in attendance. So, overall English cricket attracts far more spectators even though the stadiums have lower capacity. And, don't even get me started on travelling fans. Thousands of Barmy Army members visit all over the world to cheer for England. Only a few dozen people like Merv Hughes follow Australia. Fact of the matter is, cricket is dead and buried as a spectator sport in Australia.

  • NIall on February 2, 2012, 11:58 GMT

    @yorkshirematt - Yorkshire Membership is almost exactly the cost of a TV License - I checked. There are cheaper packages available as well. I think that looks like pretty good value for a seasons worth of Cricket.

    @KevinElliott - Ah yes I remember the good old days before Sky when I could watch division one football live each week on the BBC, when England's overseas cricket was shown on terrestrial TV along with the County game and the French Open Tennis. Oh no wait a minute, that's right it was a dream.

    It seems to me that certainly the ECB could have packaged their product differently and sold multiple packages to different broadcasters, but the idea that Sky have ruined cricket and cricket coverage is frankly laughable.

  • Dummy4 on February 2, 2012, 10:18 GMT

    People have always paid to watch professional sport on the gate. Why is it any different on the TV? Premier league football hasn't exactly suffered from being almost exclusively on pay-TV, and from the sounds of neither has cricket. Sport is a luxury item, if you want to watch it, you have to pay for it.

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