The Beeb Is Back – But Is It Enough?

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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.

James Morgan

About the author

James Morgan

James is a freelance copywriter, writer and author. He's a founder and co-editor of The Full Toss.

24 comments

  • I’m enthusiastically looking forward to cancelling the football part of my sky sports package.

    Turns out those of us who pointed out that sky paying the ECB just £75m a year for exclusive rights to all cricket was a piss-take were right, doesn’t it? The ECB couldn’t negotiate their way into a crisp packet.

  • I’ve read a lot of comments today, and there’s a lot of disappointment that the BBC haven’t got test matches.
    I find that baffling, the packages on offer have been in the public domain for a couple of months now. There was no way FTA were bidding for test match cricket.

    • I don’t think people are surprised by that – in the face of some overwhelmingly positive articles, they’re just pointing out that although this is obviously better than nothing, this is hardly a seismic return to “the good old days”.

      Watching the white rose wailing warblers vs southern signposts sponsored by asda is hardly going to arouse the passions of your average 10 year old in the same way that an England test series might.

      • I disagree I’m afraid, a 10 year old in 2020 is not gonna sit and watch hours of cricket for 2 months. They want immediate action.
        T20 is the gateway to the kids, and hopefully getting them hooked

        • Rubbish. Ignorant and patronising rubbish with no basis in reality. Have you ever actually met a 10 year old? I coach an entire team of them. They could not be less interested in franchise t20 teams. Test cricket is by far the most exciting format of the game, I was able to appreciate this as a ten year old, why would a current ten year old be unable to appreciate this?

          Do you have some kind of superiority complex?

          • You coach an entire team, great. How many 10 year olds don’t you coach in your area, who won’t come to training and have no interest. A lot more I’d say.

            Ok it’s a different country, but Australia has shown the way in how to get kids interested in cricket, however it’s easier for them as they don’t have the monster that is football to deal with, the ECB also have to try and get kids out of the football bubble and into cricket.

            No idea of your age AB, but let’s assume your similar to me, when I was 10 I was interested in all sport including test cricket as it was on the TV, I also liked riding my bike, listening to the pop charts and playing sport. But back then, the only computer available was a spectrum zx, there were only 4 TV channels.
            Kids have so much more available to them now, that in my opinion are much more attractive options to them than a couple of hours on the sofa watching test cricket.

            Have no idea why you think a social observation is a superiority complex?

  • Pretty much agreed: £1.1bn, or £220m pa will do wonders and should provide sufficient funding to sort out the counties when hare-brained City T20 fails to develop the strong local roots and youth development programmes the game needs.

    I had a glimmer of a hope that some clever negotiating (ok, only a glimmer) might have seen some BBC terrestrial TV coverage of Tests and ODIs on a co-operative “upgrade” basis – something like 1-2 hours per day of live coverage and highlights on terrestrial encouraging people to take Sky subs for full package of coverage, but I guess that might have been too commercial for the Beeb.

    They may only be crumbs from the table, but I think it’s a move in the right direction and we should say thanks for the crumbs.

  • If the new tournament takes off, the BBC will be dumped – and if doesn’t, they’ll be blamed.

    I don’t see how 22% of the matches is going to enable a viewer to follow the broader narrative of the competition.

    The lack of any change for CC rights shows the ECB fundamentally want to kill it off.

    • It will enable them to follow it because… casual fans won’t watch it every night, 2 games a week is fine. Plus they have highlights

      We don’t know any details of the deal yet, the ECB asked for a vision for the future , we have no idea what this means for the counties

  • ” I can’t deny that my motions are still mixed…”

    That sounds unpleasant….
    Maybe you meant emotions ?
    🙂

  • James – a really well thought out article, finally setting out the pros and cons of Sky – a welcome change from the one-sided stuff that’s been on this blog for so long. I do worry about the lack of access to cricket on FTA, particularly in a world where it has to compete with many other sports and entertainment, but agree with you that Sky’s coverage is excellent. One thing which people always overlook (especially those who are prone to nostalgia about the BBC’s coverage from the 80s) is that, before Sky came along, England’s away games weren’t shown on British TV at all.

    The tiny amount of FTA cricket isn’t really a surprise, given that Sky have so much bigger resources than the BBC. I do wonder whether the BBC’s smaller budget might have been better spent on an in-depth highlights and analysis show for all England games, along the lines of Match of the Day, rather than a token couple of live IT20s and a new T20 league which nobody even knows at this stage what form it’ll take, let alone if anyone will watch it.

  • In the debate about the 8 team city-based t20 Tom Harrison played up the importance of selling TV coverage to overseas viewers and the declining interest in Test cricket in some countries. Whatever the exact % of the deal that is ultimately going to be paid for by viewers on the sub-continent, it has already been large enough to affect the structure of the game here.

    There are obviously good things that can be done with extra £mns, but the extent to which it comes with the growing power and influence of the BCCI is also important.

  • Whatever views people might have on the style of Sky TV’s presentation it is undeniable that there is a darn sight more commitment to sport in general, including minority interests, than the BBC has ever shown. I would rather leave televised sport in their hands than the increasingly irrelevant BBC. I loved Jim Laker and Ritchie Beneaud when I was growing up, but that era is dead and gone. All the great commentators they had are dead and buried (or retired) and the new generation, led by Sky, is largely composed of ex players who know most of the present players well, and are reasonably articulate. This makes for more interesting analysis generally. I should point out here, I am not a Sky subscriber and never have been, but I can get Sky sports news on my package, and that is enough to keep me on top of what is going on in the sporting world. TMS is still one of the most entertaining ways of ‘seeing’ a test match live. All this makes me more determined to go and watch 1st class cricket and support my local Warwickshire team, as well as the occasional ODI and days test cricket.
    Cricket is a high profile sport with sky and their commitment should ensure it stays that way for the foreseeable future. I think the viewing public is intelligent enough not to be affected by the inevitable corporate hype that Sky is prone to. The over the top hysterics of particularly Australian commentators can be irritating, but you can always turn the sound off and have TMS for test matches.

    • This is unfair on the BBC. They have a big range of sports on their channels and the red button such as Rugby League, Tennis, cycling, Athletics, hockey etc and provide some good coverage. They only have a limited budget. Sky show lots of different sports to fill up their four pay tv sports channels.

      I miss Sky Sports News on Freeview .

      • Compared to the daily output of Sky terrestrial TV shows almost no interest in sport outside of its football coverage. The olympics is once every 4 years and rugby, snooker, golf and tennis coverage is lilited to a few major tournaments. Limited budget is no excuse for this disparity. It is a question of priorities. There is no terrestrial sports channel option, why, when there is clearly massive interest.
        Sky has an active sponsorship involvement in many sports, which terrestrial TV lacks. I get fed up with people championing the BBC, as though it is offering something special. It is now full of an ever more commercial approach to programming. The likes of David Attenborough has morphed into suits like Greg Dyke. The memorable stuff is becoming ever more rare, as we vegetate on a homogenous diet of reality shows and second rate movies. Cheap as chips. BBC4 is now a minority beacon, not the future.

    • Cricket was a high profile sport the ECBs decision to sell its soul to Sky has left it a fringe sport at best.

  • Any cricket that gets back on to FTA TV, is good news. It’s just a shame it’s only T20. Will not make any difference to me, if as rumoured the new not needed franchise competition runs at the same as the domestic 50 overs cup. Give me county cricket every time. We were at the Essex V Middlesex county game, to get a result with a couple of minutes remaining, was more entertaining than anything Strauss & Harrison can dream up.

  • I hope the beeb didn’t have to pay much for this unnecessary and uninspiring new city based T20 franchise. Because at a guess the franchise needs Bbc FTA coverage far more than the Bbc needs this franchise’s dubious offerings

  • A few 2020’s won’t make the blind bit of difference. Still, it fills up the bonus’s and wages of the execs so what the hell.

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