1.1 billion fat ones. That’s what the ECB have just secured for English cricket’s broadcasting rights. Everyone thought the DUP got a good deal from Theresa May, but Harrison and Graves have just walked off with a hundred million quid more.
And where’s the bulk of this money come from? It’s from Sky, who else, who fought off serious competition from BT Sport (who will be showing the Ashes this winter) to keep their monopoly over English domestic and international cricket for the foreseeable future.
Well … almost … thankfully it’s not quite a monopoly anymore.
The sweetener in this deal, if one can call it that, is the ECB have finally held their noses and thrown free-to-air television a bone. It’s only a small bone – let’s call it a metatarsal – but it’s a bone nevertheless. It wasn’t quite what many of us were hoping for, but this is the ECB we’re talking about. Perhaps we should be grateful for anything we get?
From 2020, the BBC will show two England T20 games per year, plus ten matches from the ECB’s controversial and completely unnecessary city based domestic T20. Why they couldn’t just have shown a few Blast matches is anyone’s guess.
The other good news is that the Beeb will be showing a women’s T20 international, plus games from the women’s domestic T20 too. It will be interesting to see how much of a boost this gives to our girls. The idea of live women’s cricket on the Beeb would’ve been a pipe-dream twenty years ago. Now it’s very much happening, people.
Although I’m extremely disappointed that there won’t be any live test cricket on terrestrial TV – or even BT sport who have a slightly bigger reach than Sky judging by the increase in Premiership rugby attendances since the sport moved channels – this deal could have been worse for cricket.
For starters, 1.1 billion is a king’s ransom for a game that’s supposedly dying in the UK. It’s quite annoying that a large portion of this will go on launching Harrison’s harebrained have-a-hit, which might ultimately kill off some counties, but it’s better for cricket to have full coffers than empty ones.
What’s more – and this is an important point – Sky are changing the way they structure their sports channels. This might make Sky’s coverage slightly more accessible than it’s been in the past.
Although I’d normally be apoplectic that the ECB have ‘sold out’ to a broadcaster with a somewhat dwindling audience (Sky’s subscription numbers have been going down after all), watching Sky’s cricket coverage is reportedly going to cost a lot less than it used to do. That’s because Murdoch’s lot are cancelling Sky Sports 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and replacing them with stand alone channels for each sport.
Customers can therefore decided which sports they pay to watch … great news for those of us who love cricket but can no longer tolerate Premiership football. I suspect that it might not be so cost-effective, however, if you want to subscribe to all their sports channels at once though.
At the moment it can cost as much as £45 quid to get Sky Sports (depending on what deal you’ve negotiated). I’ve heard it rumoured that Sky’s cricket channel might cost about £15 per month. That’s not bad considering the huge amount of games they’re promising to show. Watch this space I guess.
What’s more, and I’ve said this many times before, Sky’s cricket coverage is bloody excellent. It’s a lot better than what the Beeb and C4 used to offer. It’s just a massive shame for the sport that so few people can watch it. Maybe the new dedicated cricket channel will attract a few more people and provide a better quality / reach balance?
Overall, however, I sense that one’s opinion of this new deal will depend entirely on what one’s expectations were. And I have to admit that mine were very low. Consequently this write up might not sound as pessimistic as you might have expected from a blog that’s banged on about FTA television for yonks.
But having said that I can’t deny that my emotions are still mixed: I’m happy that cricket will have a dedicated channel, and happy that the ECB has raised so much money, but I’m unhappy where some of this money will go, and I’m deeply unhappy that the public won’t be able to watch live test or ODI cricket on free-to-air television for at least another seven years. Many other sports would consider this to be an act of suicide.
Tom Harrison and Colin Graves have proclaimed this deal as brilliant for cricket – of course they were always going to say this whatever the outcome – but it’s also extremely upsetting that millions of young people are going to grow up thinking that T20 is the only (or the most important) form of the game.
I fell in love with cricket in the school summer holidays during the 1980s. Initially I didn’t understand what the hell was going on, but the euphonious voice of Riche Benaud, and the elegance of batsmen like David Gower, slowly won me over. All the next generation are going to get is Danny Morrison and range hitting from players like Aaron Finch.
But before I sign off in somewhat despairing fashion, there is one more bright spot to mention: the Beeb’s Test Match Special will be with us for at least another few years.
I know TMS isn’t everyone’s cup of tea these days, and the likes of Graeme Swann and Ed Smith will never be in the same league as the late great Brian Johnson and Christopher Martin Jenkins, but in a Benaud-less world the continued existence of TMS is reassuring and very comforting to a lot of cricket fans. And I’m one of them.
Whatever the small pros and considerable cons of the new broadcasting agreement, at least having live cricket on BBC radio (and some live cricket on BBC television too) is a silver lining we can all cling onto.