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UK editor, ESPNcricinfo

England TV rights

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

David Hopps

January 31, 2012

Comments: 33 | Text size: A | A

Andrew Strauss and his mates celebrate with the World No. 1 mace, England v India, 4th Test, The Oval, 5th day, August 22, 2011
England have become the world's No. 1 Test side with the aid of increased funding from TV rights © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by TontonZolaMoukoko 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?

Posted by AJ_Tiger86 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.

Posted by dcrowle 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.

Posted by redneck 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!

Posted by yorkshire-86 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.

Posted by ProdigyA on (February 2, 2012, 18:24 GMT)

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

Posted by py0alb 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.

Posted by AJ_Tiger86 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by Loiterer on (February 2, 2012, 10:04 GMT)

I find it strange that its seems opinion here is that cricket is no longer viable on free-to-air. In Australia we have Australia-based games live on free-to-air even when televised in the same city as the match being played. And the punters still turn up. Admittedly we do not have free-to-air on overseas matches, which is unfortunate. One must have Pay-TV for overseas matches.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (February 2, 2012, 9:54 GMT)

@Sir_Freddie: You are plain wrong, mate. I'm English and our stadiums are tiny in comparison with the Ozzie grounds, which is probably one reason why our tickets are so prohibitively expensive and Ozzies coming over hoping to see something of an Ashes series have to pay through the nose. What's the capacity of Lord's? 28,000, isn't it? MCG can take up tp 100, 000. Sort of puts things into perspective, esp. when you consider the overall populations of the two countries! Oh, BTW, the Oz ticket prices are far more reasonable too !And Cricket coverage is free-to-air in Oz! Nirvana! Perhaps you should emigrate! No way is cricket 'flourishing' in UK. Sorry, you just couldn't be more wrong! Try two eyes - you'll see more!

Posted by Kavum on (February 2, 2012, 9:32 GMT)

Oh, well. There's always TMS.

Posted by Pyketts on (February 2, 2012, 8:32 GMT)

Ok if we assume that the BBC/ITV/Channel 4/5 were interested in the viewing rights (which I'm not certain they were) what would they do for 5 days of a test ? Would they show it all day or do what they used to and show interupted coverage ? Maybe they would stick it on BBC 3/4 or ITV2 but what's the point in that as it relegates the game to second class status (plus I doubt they'd even commit those channels to 5 full days of test cricket).

Sorry but Sky were the only feasable option, we would all prefer it to be on free-to-air (as with most other things) but it's just no longer a realistic option. Although I do like @ John Mitchell's idea of a few one dayers or T20 games being on free-to-air and think there would be some merit in that.

Posted by foxee1 on (February 2, 2012, 5:13 GMT)

Wow take it easy Sir Fred. It's only a game of cricket we 're talking about now. I might add that your stats on Australian test match attendances are totally inaccurate. We've not only had record crowds going to the games this season, but also record viewers watching also. As far as the Aussie team goes they've done exceptionally well compared to last years effort, and have some exciting up and coming young cricketers. Chin up old boy. Hope your team does well in the next test.

Posted by Andross on (February 2, 2012, 4:37 GMT)

Sir_Freddie_Flintoff - Yeah, which is why we're currently winning, while you're losing, and three of our games this season have had crowds over 60,000 in a day. yep, some real sensible figures you've trotted out there.

Posted by ARad on (February 2, 2012, 4:28 GMT)

The caption is quite wrong. England becoming the number one cricket side has more to do with the passion and hard work of cricketers who were once kids (from England and countries such as South Africa) who became huge fans of the game by watching it either on TV or at the grounds. By merely increasing the number of qualified coaches, for example, you are not going to increase the PASSION. Passion cannot be artificially manufactured. The inability of many English children to watch and follow the game can result in future English teams losing a lot of potentially high quality players. This top-down approach of ECB is another example of short-term 'throwing money at the problem to fix the problem' thinking. Why not close down some counties instead? Doesn't anyone at ECB have the cojones to take bold steps?

Posted by thephill on (February 2, 2012, 3:50 GMT)

@Sir_Freddie_Flintoff, can you fill us in on where your getting your stats from on Aus cricket crowds? Im pretty sure the Sydney test just gone had over 30,000 for the first 3 days, Melbourne over 70,000 on boxing day and Adelaide a couple of sell out days as well. Perhaps all those people were the english fans from last year that you mentioned, who were too depressed to watch their own team in action against Pakistan.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 3:35 GMT)

Well it seems Sky is more interested in making money in their own country than spreading cricket across the world and making money! I guess they just don't want to tap into the foreign or international markets.. God bless the Internet!

Posted by redneck on (February 2, 2012, 3:18 GMT)

@Sir_Freddie_Flintoff mate you dont know what your talking about! 3000-4000 people for a test???? day one in hobart our smallest ground still got more people than the entire cardiff test last year. same for southampton! even lords your attendences for 5 days are eclipsed after 2 days play at the mcg. and thats even with cricket being show on free to air tv against the gate! crickets australia's national game, in england its still a game for the rich! thats the difference! if the ecb had a brain they would be finding away to utilise the london stadium after the olympics to stage a ODI or T20! england like to think they champion the casue for test cricket but really australia are still a head when it comes to bums on seats! the reason the poms can flood the aussie grounds for the ashes is because they all have enough capacity to accomedate them, however the same can not be said when england host us!!!

Posted by FreddyForPrimeMinister on (February 2, 2012, 3:18 GMT)

Sky's coverage is first rate - no question. However, as a player, club chairman and junior coach, I was devastated after the 2005 Ashes, when I saw an initial huge influx of kids interested in cricket start to dwindle as suddenly the majority simply had no opportunity to watch their new idols. The argument that BBC/ITV/Ch4 can't compete financially with Sky is a spurious one - the ECB should recognize the wider benefits of having a terrestrial channel showing live cricket and accept a lesser TV income is the 'price' they have to pay for the widest possible coverage. It seems that like football, the principle benefactor of Sky money is not the fans but the hugely well-paid players... and of course there is the sinister element to all this: if the ECB negotiate the highest possible income (from Sky of course), it becomes far easier to justify their higher salaries... I wonder how much the pay of an ECB executive compares now to say pre-2005 Sky-only TV rights..?? Jem

Posted by Engfasttrackwimp on (February 1, 2012, 23:19 GMT)

That's it... will never buy Sky.. they have ruined every watchable sport!

Posted by   on (February 1, 2012, 17:47 GMT)

Every other major sport in the UK, football, both codes of rugby, tennis, athletics, horseracing, golf, has a balance of free-to-air and subscription live coverage. All need money; almost all recognise the need to reach out beyond Sky Sports' limited subscriber base.

As a last resort, why not put some of England's away internationals of the list of Crown Jewels?

Posted by AJ_Tiger86 on (February 1, 2012, 17:42 GMT)

@RandyOZ: Ha ha, we don't want "cricket" grounds where football, footie, rugby are also played. We have GENUINE cricket grounds. And EVERY single test match, ODI and T20 in England sells out. In Australia most test matches don't even attract 3,000/4,000 people. During last year's Ashes, 99% of the crowd in the stadiums were the Barmy Army. No Australian fans could be found in sight. Bottom line is, NOBODY cares about cricket in Australia. That's why they have become such a pathetic cricket team. On the other hand, English cricket is flourishing due to the HUGE popularity of the game all round the country.

Posted by bluebillion on (February 1, 2012, 13:02 GMT)

I agree with Pyketts. Pointless article when free to air channels dont have the resources to bid against sky. I dont understand what other option the ECB had. Why else did BBC lose part of the F1 coverage to Sky?

Interruption in coverage is also a valid point on free to air channels. While I admit I am not the most avid fan of the IPL but it does offer some decent SUnday afternoon watching. It wasnt great when ITV4 decided British Touring Cars would be a better watch for me.

Posted by   on (February 1, 2012, 0:32 GMT)

SKY has ruined most sports. What used to be free for all (cricket, football, most tennis etc) is now out of most peoples viewing and i would NEVER buy SKY for that reason alone.

Posted by Pyketts on (January 31, 2012, 23:19 GMT)

I'm not sure what the point of this article is ? Sky, whilst becoming far too costly, is the only show in town. No free to air channel appeared to want to bid against Sky, and to be honest the coverage would have been of far lower quality and no doubt interupted by Horse Racing (or some other pointless coverage) like when the BBC had the coverage years ago.

The internet coverage is an interesting point but what is the writter actually suggesting the ECB should do? Sell 3 packages? What is Sky also purchased the internet rights or should they have been banned from bidding?

I am not a big fan of Sky but they are the only broadcaster that has the platform to do the coverage justice, after all you need to dedicate a channel for the best part of 8 hours for one day of a test.

I hope this article hasn't been written due to the owners of Cric Info now being a competitor (of sorts) to Sky......

Posted by RandyOZ on (January 31, 2012, 20:43 GMT)

vastly improved grounds? Come back when you have a 100,000 seat monster. Not that england would have enough fans to fill it.

Posted by Javed72 on (January 31, 2012, 17:58 GMT)

I agree with the sentiments of the article that under the current economic climate, that a deal with sky is unavoidable. However a balance also has to be struck to cater for those of us who cannot afford to squander money on suscription fees. The channel 5 highlights are simply not good enough, they need to be much longer in duration for a start. We get about 20min excluding ad breaks, and extra commentary. Additionally in countries where the match/highlights are not broadacast, a live internet stream should be provided at a small fee for the entire series.

Posted by yorkshirematt on (January 31, 2012, 17:11 GMT)

I can't afford Yorkshire membership, nor test match tickets, nor Sky TV. Oh well, Saltaire 2nds it is then for my cricket fix.

Posted by DingDong420 on (January 31, 2012, 16:14 GMT)

Money Hungry ECB, they dont have the cricket fans interest at heart.

Having said that, I have sky sports (mainly for cricket) and they do a great job, nothing though will compare to the ashes series on chanell4 where it seemed the whole country cam together

Posted by   on (January 31, 2012, 15:40 GMT)

Disgrace, cricket has lost its moral compass. In these difficult times, SKY is a luxury, and we are losing a whole generation of potential cricket enthusiasts. Absolute disgrace!

Posted by Noball_Specialist on (January 31, 2012, 14:21 GMT)

Cricket must remain a sport you must pay dearly to see. We'd rather the grounds be empty in games than let people watch for a reduced fee. We don't care about what you think.

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.

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