Gently Down The Online Stream?

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?

James Morgan


  • “They have a monopoly that they pay handsomely for”

    They pay the premier league handsomely. They give the ECB the equivalent of a bag of pork scratchings and the change down the back of the sofa.

  • “After all, what’s the point in owning exclusive rights to a sport that’s dying?”

    Cricket is still just about popular enough that sky wouldn’t want a potential rival network to have it. Paying £70m a year (loose change for sky) to make sure that doesn’t happen, is a sensible piece of anti-competitive entry deterrence.

    Once cricket gets sufficiently unpopular beyond the point of no return, sky will just offload the rights and say “good luck with that, lol” to whoever picks them up.

    For them, the decreasing popularity of cricket is a win-win. They don’t make much money from cricket fans at present, but as long as cricket is still vaguely popular, they can’t afford to give up the rights in case another network jumps on them and starts making cricket popular and accessible again. The sooner it dies outright, the sooner they can dump it altogether and save themselves a bit of change.

    You don’t become an all powerful monopolistic media mogul with the strength to make or crush entire sports (and political parties) at your personal whim by being generous and fair-minded and by giving your potential rivals a sniff of an opportunity.

  • I’m no friend of Sky or the ECB, but surely in the short-term even a “Sky Cricket” channel on Youtube that counties to could link to and embed vids from would be a contract-friendly, win-win solution?

    Frankly, if the ECB can’t sort at least something like that, it’s time to give up on the future of the sport.

  • Sky is no longer the white knight of English cricket. Would rather we had a deal at a lesser £££s value and greater exposure.

    Sky show most on sky sports news than live.

    The whole game including the women’s need exposure to generate interest of kids.

    • The thing is, a deal at lesser £££s and greater exposure would soon translate into a deal with more £££s and greater exposure.

      If English cricket was intelligently run it could easily be turning over £1billion a year by 2025 and cricket would be competing with football for the most popular UK sport.

  • “…the county championship will immediately become invisible to millions of people.”

    James, surely this has already happened?

    • Well yes! But not completely if there are highlights online and on social media :-)

  • I haven’t watched any ‘live’ cricket since 2005, discounting a brief foray on ITV4 for IPL.
    I choose not to spend £700 a year to subsidise the obscenity of the EPL or enrich Murdoch. I am not alone, I am sure there are many more, like me, once die hard
    cricket lovers who have had their hands forced to be “disenfranchised”?
    Cricket has now become a minority sport, unfashionable. I suspect the post 2005 generation of kids barely know it exists, never mind choose to play it?
    “Grow the game”? I think not!!

    • You suspect right. Something like 7/10 children, when asked to name 10 sports played in England, did not mention cricket.

      Last summer I asked 20 junior cricketers (not just random kids, but active and enthusiastic cricketers) to name a current international cricketer. They couldn’t.

      Last summer I also took several junior cricketers aged 12-13 to watch a game of T20 cricket. When I asked how many of them had watched a cricket match before, the answer was zero.
      I said “what about on the telly?” Answer still zero.
      On the radio? zero. Online? Zero.
      Have you ever even watched clips on youtube? Still zero.

      Cricket just doesn’t exist in their world, outside of the 2 hour window when they get coached.

  • The TV deal is a mess. No other sport (until F1 recently) went into bed with 1 broadcaster.
    They shared their sport around. Cricket however sold themselves to Sky.
    Have they done too much damage already?

    The next deal which will probably be negotiated next year is possibly their last chance to adapt to the modern world. Exclusivity would be a grave error.

    Sky should not be dictating anything to the ECB regarding the domestic game, are they even interested. The ECB need to explore every avenue whether that’s Twitter, You tube, streaming. They have to get cricket out there.

    • I made a similar argument on beingoutsidecricket earlier today. My comparison was with baseball, which is a very similar sport to cricket.

      In a country with 6 times the population of the UK, the MLB make 71 times the revenue of the ECB.

      “The point is, MLB aren’t stupid enough to sell the exclusive rights to a single provider. They spread the coverage around as much as possible as this maximises both revenue and exposure. They sell the games by time-slots, so one broadcaster gets Sunday games, another gets Friday games, etc etc. The games that the national broadcaster isn’t showing are sold at a discount to the regional networks, and as a result, they end up getting MORE money.

      Why doesn’t the ECB do this? Instead of giving sky exclusive rights to everything, even games they have no intention of filming, give them 1st choice for all international and domestic fixtures. Write it into the contract that if they buy the rights, they have to show the game.

      Once Sky have had their pick, let BT choose a game. Then let ITV choose one. Then Channel 4/sunset and vine. Then the BBC. Then give the rest away to the local networks for free.”

      • The ECB should indeed break it up into packages.
        Something along the lines of;
        The Ashes
        Tier 1 Test Series (India, South Africa etc)
        Tier 2 Test Series (West indies, New Zealand etc)
        One Day Internationals
        T20 Internationals
        T20 blast (For when it’s franchise)
        And then promote county cricket themselves on the most suitable networks.

        Surely they’d make a lot more money, and interest a lot more people.

        The comparison with Baseball is an interesting one, not a sport I know a lot about but one which you would think seems quite similar.

        • The interesting thing about domestic cricket that doesn’t apply to international cricket is that you have multiple games going on at once.

          If there are 5 T20 games going on simultaneously on a Friday evening, there is no reason why the ECB couldn’t sell rights to all 5 games to 5 different broadcasters.

          Charge a premium for 1st and 2nd pick (for the glamorous match-ups) to, say Sky and BT, and then sell the other 3 games to ITV, BBC, C4, C5, Sunset and Vine, youtube, twitter, at a discounted price.

          Rather than sky paying £70m, have sky pay £40m, BT 20m, ITV 10m, C4 10m and a few other channels picking up odds and ends for loose change.

          Hell, even if you ended up giving them away for free, it would be better than them not getting shown at all. With a sport like cricket competing for fans with hundreds of other sports and distractions, exposure is everything.


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