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.