BT’s Ashes Deal – A Step in the Right Direction?

One of the things I look forward to every year is staying up late on Christmas day to watch the Boxing Day test at the MCG. It’s become a tradition.

With the rest of the family safely tucked up in bed, I’ll make myself a turkey sandwich, pour a large brandy into the Edinburgh crystal, and settle in for a couple of hours of cricketing bliss.

Unfortunately however, I won’t be able to do this anymore – not unless I stump up an extra £23.99 per month. That’s because BT Sport have just won the rights to show all Australia matches in the UK. And yes, that includes the next Ashes down under. Previously, matches from Australia were broadcast live on Sky.

Being a cricket blogger, I usually keep my eye on Australia’s progress between Ashes series. It’s good to see how the old enemy are shaping up. I also enjoy watching the Big Bash, and found myself writing about the tournament for 888 Sport earlier this year. It’s fun watching the likes of Carberry, Lumb, Wessels, KP and Flintoff tonk around some Aussie pie-throwers.

Being able to watch matches from Australia during the English winter was one of the things that made a Sky Sports subscription, which costs a whopping £25.50 per month, so worthwhile. Although there’s no county matches to enjoy during the long, cold winter, we could at least look forward to England’s winter tours – which have been live on Sky since 1990 – and the action from sunny Oz.

However, this BT deal has put the cat amongst the Glenn McGraths. If I want to watch all the cricket available in subsequent winters, it’s now going to cost me an incredible £49.49 per month (that’s £23.99 for BT Sport and £25.50 for Sky). BT also charge a rather cheeky £15 activation fee (which can sometimes rise to £30). I suppose that’s how much it costs for an employee to press a few buttons.

If I wanted to, I could reduce this fee to £45.49 by opting to watch BT Sport in standard definition (it’s £19.99 for the basic package). Unfortunately though I’ve got a big telly and I’m used to high definition pictures. Coverage just isn’t the same unless you can see the telecast (© Tony Greig) in its full glory.

If you’re a BT customer, and you have BT broadband, you’re one of the lucky ones – you’ll only need to pay £5 a month to watch BT Sport in standard definition. What’s more, if you’re already a BTTV customer, then BT Sport is free – something that makes BT’s rather tenuous and cheesy ‘it’s free’ campaign with Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney credible (just).

Unfortunately however, many hard-core cricket fans aren’t BT customers. That’s because (like myself) they’ve already chosen Sky’s broadband package in a desperate attempt to get a better deal on Sky Sports. Unless you’re well off, and an extra £24 per month isn’t going to harm you, this deal between BT Sport and the ACB is extremely bad news.

People who have invested hundreds of pounds watching live cricket on Sky over the last decade or so won’t be able to watch the Ashes now. They’ll join the millions who have always relied on TMS and other free-to-air broadcasts. Talk about being outside cricket!

What’s particularly galling is that Sky are still scheduled to show England’s home matches until 2019, plus the cricket world cup. Therefore switching between BT and Sky at one’s convenience is rather tricky. Both companies make you sign up for 12-month contracts. The bastards.

Consequently many people will just have to hold their noses and pay up, or simply do without. There’s always TMS I suppose, but Aggers recently warned listeners that cutbacks at the BBC might mean less comprehensive free-to-air radio coverage.

The whole thing would be easier to stomach if the majority of Sky and BT’s money didn’t go towards securing the rights for Premier League and Champions League football. Personally, I couldn’t give a crap about football these days, so I resent paying inflated sports subscription fees to access sports I don’t want to watch. However, if I want to see the cricket I have no choice.

At this point you’re probably cursing cricket’s governing bodies for indirectly exploiting fans again – or at least allowing ordinary fans to be exploited. However, it’s not all bad news for cricket followers.

For starters, BT Sport have promised to show one live Big Bash game per week unencrypted. This means there will finally be a (very) limited amount of live cricket on free-to-air TV again. BT have also agreed to show some cricket highlights unencrypted too. Fortunately, these games will be relatively easy to access. You can see them via your Sky box or online. Good on BT for doing this.

Many existing BT customers who can’t afford Sky (and therefore haven’t been able to watch live cricket for years) will also benefit from this. As we said earlier, BT sport is actually quite affordable for some. Many people were delighted when Premiership rugby moved from Sky to BT a couple of years ago. The problem with Sky is you have to pay for a whole of host of channels you don’t want – Sky Living and Alibi anyone? – in order to access their sports channels.

What’s more, BT’s emergence as a legitimate rival to Sky could have future benefits for cricket in this country. For starters, the competition means that the ECB should be able to screw broadcasters for more money when the new set of television rights are up for grabs.

Sky’s current deal with the ECB expires in 2019. More money in the ECB’s coffers means more investment in grass roots cricket and lower ticket prices, right? Well it probably means more Bombay Sapphire shipped out to Giles Clarke in reality, but you get my point.

Furthermore, with BT and Sky battling it out for customers, one might expect the price of their sports channels to fall – thus making access to live cricket more affordable for supporters. Or is this a pipedream? When I enquired about adding BT Sport to my Sky package two years ago when the former snapped up Premiership rugby, I was quoted just over a tenner. The price today is just over twenty quid!

Of course, everything would be so much simpler if cricket simply returned to free-to-air television. The money Sky brings pumps into the game is most welcome – and I don’t think anyone realistically wants pay channels to stop showing cricket altogether – but there needs to be significant live cricket back on FTA or the game will slowly die. Surely coverage should be shared?

Because BT will be showing one T20 game a week unencrypted (plus the highlights) some are trying to spin this deal as good news for cricket. For example, BT’s website proudly quoted Cricket Australia’s Ben Amarfio, who said:

“With more cricket content now available via BT Sport, free-to-air television and through our digital platforms, we are making the game more accessible to more people. The principle of taking the game to more people is very important in our efforts to grow the game.”

Personally I’m yet to be convinced – not when so many existing cricket followers (who already cough up a fortune on Sky Sports) are now being asked to shell out even more. At the end of the day, BT sport is just another pay TV channel. Like any other broadcaster, they’re in it for themselves.

Although some will argue that pay channels are the future – the ECB’s Tom Harrison recently described terrestrial television as ‘irrelevant’ – FTA coverage remains the best way to grow the game. The problem is that we’re constantly told that terrestrial channels simply aren’t interested in cricket anymore.

Excuse me for being sceptical. Jarrod Kimber, the co-director of Death of a Gentleman, claimed in our recent interview that broadcasters love test cricket. Why wouldn’t they? It offers five days of solid programming (or three if it’s the Ashes, wink, wink) and provides a captive audience for advertisers.

Think about it. If nobody else wanted test cricket when the last set of rights were awarded to Sky, why did Murdoch pay so much for it? I’m sure it’s not as simple as we’re led to believe. In the meantime what we do know is this: cricket is very expensive to watch and participation levels are going down. This much is indisputable.

James Morgan



  • Don’t forget that BT coverage is awful. Have you watched any of their rugby coverage? It’s a pile of crap compared to sky. At least with Sky having everything it was all one price. But no, BT have to screw everything up.

    • BT’s rugby coverage isn’t that bad. There’s no Stuart ****ing Barnes for a start. Sky’s rugby pundits (except for the early morning Southern Hemisphere games when they ship in Fitzpatrick & Lynagh) are pretty ordinary

    • What’s wrong with it? You can see the pitch, you can see the players. What more do you want?

  • Don’t despair James. I’m a talk talk customer for my phone and broadband but have been watching football and rugby matches on BT sport all last winter. How? Well just type in the name of the match followed by “(edited out)” and there’s a host of websites to click onto all unencrypted and free !

    Easy peasy really :)

    • Hi Andy. I thought we’d better edit out the name of the streaming site. We can’t be seen to endorse these sites. Sorry mate! :-)

  • Basically in the UK and Ireland watching sport on TV is becoming the preserve of the very wealthy. In America and Australia most sport is on FtA TV (all of it in America’s case as ESPN comes as part of a basic cable TV package).

    We live in a very inequitable society which is rapidly exemplified by our overly expensive sport on TV

    Will we ever see a day, for example, when Sky and BT will separate football subscriptions from other sports subscriptions? We can but hope

    • In pretty much every country in the world, you can watch huge amounts of sport on tv for free or nearly free. This disastrous situation in the UK is the exception, not the rule.

      Why doesn’t the ecb do an online package with access to all domestic games?

    • Family in the states have complained a bit though. Their local cable company doesn’t always get the rights to show the team they follow even when that team is closest to where they live. I was surprised to find out they couldn’t just subscribe to the other cable company but a lot of places are stuck with the one with which their locality chose to deal. Wonder if it has to do with the USA being so big. Although I think their football has the best access… I need to find out if they are still better off than I will be with this BT acquisition so I can tell them to stop moaning.

  • BT need to up their game. They cannot have awful coverage and pundits and charge such an outrageous fee. Michael owen on BT Football is a case and point – – he really is AWFUL!

    If BT go down the same path with their cricket coverage, they will lose customers by the truck load. Online alternatives, whilst often poor quality and littered with adverts, will quickly take over.

    It’s just not cricket!

  • The first ODI in the recent South Africa vs NZ series was not broadcast in NZ, because Cricket South Africa and Sky NZ couldn’t agree on a price for the rights (the time-zones and small NZ TV market made for a rather small potential audience, particularly as neither side was full-strength). In the end Cricket SA wound up streaming the 2nd and 3rd games free on their website to NZ IP addresses.

    • The SA/NZ ODIs were shown on Sky in the UK while recent Tests series from SL haven’t been – which is something to bear in mind next time English sources are getting sanctimonious about how much England values Test cricket when the rest of the world supposedly doesn’t.

      • For what it’s worth, the Sri Lanka/India tests are actually being broadcast in the UK, albeit buried in the channel listings on Sony TV Asia, and it requires an separate subscription fee to the Sky Sports one. So I’d say you were mostly right in the sense that not many Sky viewers will casually stumble across it and it won’t get much exposure, but technically it is being shown in the UK, just not on Sky.

  • Got Virgin Media without SKY Sports and get BT Sport can supplement with NOW TV passes for limited periods of SKY Cricket.

    Have you costed that option

    • Hi Baz. Could you let us know how much you pay? Being a long time Sky devotee I’m not sure about NOW TV. I did hear it was possible to pay approximately £10 for a test match, but this seemed a very expensive way of doing things imho.

      • James – it’s not negligible but is a tenner to watch a day’s Test cricket in the comfort of you own home with as many as you can bear to fit in around your reassuringly large HD TV so very much these days?

        You could of course spend £18 upwards to go to Redbridge and Dagenham to watch them prop up League 2 or join the other 250 souls at Arbroath FC for a more modest £12. 90 minutes of glamour, skill and excitement I am sure!

        Of course Test cricket should be Free to Air but, as it isn’t, pay as you go has some charm, doesn’t it, if the prices are not too bad? You at least pay for the days you can watch and no more.

        • I meant it’s not good value compared to the monthly subscription. How many Ashes tests took place in August? Suddenly £25 per month doesn’t seem so bad if people are paying £10 for five days. And do you really want guests coming over for five days? Guests are like fish etc ;-)

  • I honestly think BT sport should have just ignored football altogether and sewn up the cricket, the rugby and the golf, and the US sports, and really invested heavily in being THE place to watch for fans of these sports.

    It would have actually cost them a lot less than the ridiculous money they have spent on a handful of mediocre football games, and it would have got them thousands more subscribers than the current ridiculous situation where they don’t really have much of anything and half the time they’re left showing motocross.

  • Some random points about the small print:
    1) The TV rights for England’s tour of UAE haven’t been formally agreed – so BT Sports could bid for those. (Sky have the SA tour rights).
    2) The next Boxing Day Test in Australia is against the West Indies. CA incredibly awarded them that honour rather than their other tourists, New Zealand. I doubt you’ll be missing much unless more one-sided home massacres are your thing.
    3) There will be more domestic Australian cricket (one BBL match a week) on UK FTA TV than domestic English cricket. Go figure that one out!

  • The problem with so-called “competition” between monopoly satellite broadcasters is that it benefits the viewer not one bit. It simply means the ECB can try to charge more. And yes, that doesn’t mean any extra money for cricket really….just more cash at the top and the odd bone thrown to Women’s cricket or something else to distract the so-called sports journalists covering the game.

    Once they have the rights to a series sewn up, they can charge what they like.

    The clever thing is that people have been convinced that this kind of monopoly tendering (see Water companies, Train companies) is still called “competition” and is still seen as in some way to naturally benefit the consumer. Which, of course, it isn’t.

    It’s a bit like voting. If it ever changed much, they’d make it illegal.

  • Excellent summing up of the situation James.

    I was a bit shellshocked when I heard this news, (original reports were for eye watering amounts, but when the real amount came out you realised its a great deal for BT)
    Sky has been the home of winter cricket for such a long time its hard to visualise it elsewhere. At first I was championing some return of FTA cricket, any news of that is good. But 1 game a week is very small pickings and rather irrelevant.

    After I few days i thought about the idea of the ecb controlling the rights to all English cricket (England home and away and domestic) and running their own channel. I asked what people would be prepared to pay for it, between £10 and £20 per month was the general answer. It convinced me that this is the way to go, American sports do it, cricket Australia do it for online content.

    Now BT have good football, Rugby & Cricket increasing numbers of sports fans find themselves needing both packages, this can’t be sustained for long. Alternatives are popping up (illegal ones are rife) there is another recession looming. Sports rights will soon hit their iceberg, cricket could swerve it with some out of the box thinking.

    • Personally I would be delighted to pay a reasonable fair fee for the individual sports I like. I think this idea would be a great one. Nobody likes paying for crap they don’t like. If I could drop the football, I’m sure my sky sports costs would be halved (at least).

      • I used to follow baseball quite closely. I paid £50 a year and had live access to over 3000 different games via my computer. If I had wanted to watch 2 baseball games a night for the entire year, I could have done.

        Its an understatement to say that its a bit of a shock to the system that I can’t really watch the T20 cricket I want to watch. Even if I dropped £400 a year on a sky package, I could still only watch about 20 games. That’s £20 a game, thats fucking mad.

  • BT are being selfish. All ardent cricket fans have Sky for the reason that Sky do cricket very well indeed. There’s no way that other broadcasters are going to manage the extent and quality of coverage on Sky. As for the argument that cricket should be on “free” TV – I can remember when cricket was on the BBC. The coverage was beyond appalling – switching between channels, large chunks left out, highlights of away matches shown at midnight for half an hour, presenters who appeared to be well over 100 yrs old. It was truly truly awful.

    • You’re right, its much better now that only 10% of the country have access to it and both player and spectator numbers are falling rapidly.

      Why would we ever want to go back to the bad old days where 11 year olds could actually name a single England cricketer?

    • Sky’s coverage is the best, however being behind any paywall is going to,mover time kill the sport. Even the famed football is dying, let alone all the smaller sports like cricket.

      Simple fact is, you either want a sport to survive or you want it to be behind s pay wall and watch is slowly die out for the next generation

    • TV was very different back then. You can’t really compare the quality of coverage because TV technology has moved on so much.
      Quite apart from what AB already said.

    • Your second sentence is quite some generalisation. I am an ardent cricket fan who had Sky for the reason that it became a monopoly provider of something I had access to for the previous 25 years. I never thought its coverage was so great compared to C4 that it justified the marginal outlay, and for a combination of financial and ethical reasons I dropped it in March 2014. I cope fine and, to be honest, nothing sounds much more selfish than people who demand uninterrupted coverage for THEIR money while the implications for the next generation are ignored.

    • I meant to add that your post came on the 10th anniversary of a record 8.4m audience for Test cricket in the UK, during day four of the fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge. On Channel 4.

      I salute your sense of timing.

  • I might be in a minority but as a presentation I preferred the live action on 4. Mainly for the selection of commentators (it wasn’t the england old boys club)

    Of course all the extra stuff on sky (the verdict, zone and analysis) tops C4 but that’s because they have the time to do it.

    • I was horrified when I first heard it was going to C4, but then it switched and it was loads better and I realised the only thing I really liked about the BBC tv coverage was Richie Benaud.

      Do I remember correctly that it was C4 who pioneered hawkeye? My recollection is that C4 rather than sky introduced some now standard technical innovations, but I hardly ever saw sky coverage then.

  • Interesting contrast with the approach in Australia: all Test cricket has to be broadcast on free to air TV by law. The game is therefore part of an Australian summer in the way it isn’t in the UK – and indeed participation is increasing rather than falling as in England. Difficult to go back but I wonder of all the cash from Sky/BT is worth the loss in exposure…?

    • If you calculated the reduction in discounted expected future earnings for every lost fan, you would find it outweighs the sky money by a factor of 100-1.

      I caught the cricket bug by watching it on the bbc in 1990. I must have spent 10s of 1000s of pounds on it as a result in the 25 years since.

      If every new fan is a loss of ~10k… and the sport has lost probably half a million fans since 2005…

  • I always come late to these things, but here is my 2 cents. The mythical sky money is meant to fund grassroots cricket, but our dear darling ECB don’t locate those roots. They seem to mean ECB affiliated organisations. That seems to be the counties and their feeder clubs. They aren’t, for example, paying councils to maintain pitches. In the ever squeezed council budgets, cricket pitches are a soft target. Real grassroots cricket is pub teams, social teams, ‘unofficial’ leagues. The one’s I’m involved with don’t get a pfennig from the ECB.

    • Even the vast majority of affiliated club teams below the premier league level – ie the people who go out and coach juniors for free every week of the year and offer cricket for players of every level from quite good to completely useless, very rarely sees a single penny of the sky blood money.

      These are the clubs that have kept cricket alive in this country for the past 500 years. To be honest, we don’t really need money, what we need is a constant influx of new young players who have seen cricket on tv and want to give it a go.

      • Thanks for the clarification, AB. It is worse than I thought. Maybe, just maybe, the ECB’s weak spot is that they exist to promote the financial interests of their members – essentially team England, the MCC and the counties, but they claim custodianship of cricket in England. One of the subtler points of CLR James’ book is that cricket was captured by a ruling class who, violently at times, keep that control in the name of their assumed fitness to rule. James thinks that that contradiction is what eventually leads to the downfall of any colonial enterprise.

        • Thank you.
          As do hundreds of others, I absolutely love cricket and work hundreds if not thousands of unpaid hours every year to try to share this love with the next generation.

          I don’t really ask for much from the ECB. I don’t want money. (Some better coaching resources would be one thing – maybe ask us what we want rather than infinite pointless “inspirational” videos? – I don’t need inspiring, I need a video of 20 perfect real-life cover drives I can show to the kids).

          But mainly I would just like them to step up and make a reasonable effort to help me out in trying to attracting new players to the game, because its getting harder every year that there is nothing shown on tv.

          • I note that in East Croydon of all places, the RFU has littered the station with adverts promoting rugby (not the upcoming world cup). I can’t imagine Giles Clarke thinking that a similar idea might be good for cricket.

  • The problem with Sky is that they have had a virtual monopoly for the past 20 years. I hope that now they have some genuine competition that prices will fall. Why should sky customers pay the same or more for a product that is quite clearly inferior to what was offered in previous years.

    Rome wasn’t built in a day, and in the short term cricket/ sports fans will either have to cough up for both or one or the other. BT is generally cheaper (with the various package deals) than Sky. The more customers they lose the more they will need to compete.

  • Cricket is only for rich people. If you can’t afford to watch you are following the wrong sport. What are you all complaining about?


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