We’ll have a roundup of all the latest championship action tomorrow, but today I’d like to talk about a dispute that’s brewing between the counties, the ECB and Sky. It’s a rather delicate issue this one. As we all know, English cricket’s suits care very much about their satellite TV windfall.
Those of you who keep an eye on social media will know that counties frequently show brief highlights of championship matches via Twitter and Facebook. They quite rightly feel this is a good way to engage people (particularly younger generations) and increase interest in the first class game. Apparently however, Sky feel miffed about the whole thing. They believe it breaches their contract with the ECB.
With pre-match sales for the Nat West T20 Blast rising yet again (leaving the championship in the rear view mirror) one would’ve thought that the ECB would do everything possible to boost championship cricket. Unfortunately however, they’re not prepared to put their relationship with Sky at risk – which is understandable I guess, but rather exasperating for the rest of us.
As we all know, Sky is king when it comes to live cricket broadcasting in the UK. They have a monopoly that they pay handsomely for. Murdoch’s crew don’t want the counties to subvert this arrangement in any way – which is why they’re crying foul.
Although the ECB’s contract with Sky confusingly permits counties to stream entire matches on their own websites – something Notts did earlier this year in their game against Surrey – they’re not allowed to broadcast highlights on social media until an hour after stumps each day. If Sky are broadcasting the match in question, they’re not allowed to show highlights until noon the following day.
This seems like a rather messy arrangement to me. If the live streaming of matches is permitted on counties’ websites, what’s to stop them from using social media to drive traffic to these steams? And if they’re broadcasting live streams anyway, then why should Sky be fussed about mere snippets of this action appearing on social media? Perhaps it’s just the principle of the whole thing.
Because the current situation seems nonsensical, the ECB are currently negotiating with Sky to find a solution that gives the counties more freedom. Although the ECB hold their relationship with Sky very dearly (some would say too dearly), they also have to appreciate the bigger picture: many counties want some live cricket to return to FTA television, so denying them the right to show even brief highlights via social media seems churlish.
What’s more – and I think we can all agree on this one – first class cricket needs all the help it can get. Without highlights on social media (and live streams on websites) the county championship will immediately become invisible to millions of people. One hopes that the ECB will see the bigger picture here. I also hope that Sky, despite being a corporate entity determined to protect its interests, might show some generosity and put the broader interests of cricket first. After all, what’s the point in owning exclusive rights to a sport that’s dying?