Government stalls on free-to-air decision

Sports minister Hugh Robertson today announced that the decision on whether to re-list home Ashes tests for free-to-air TV will be deferred to 2013.

The government’s official rationale is a preference to wait until the digital TV switchover is complete in 2012. Unless of course they’ve chosen to fudge a politically fraught decision which either way will anger someone – the public, or the ECB.

2013 is itself a home Ashes year – and how today’s news will affect that series is as yet unclear.

But this at least provides us with more time and a greater opportunity to make the (already compelling) case to government that major home series must be on free television. Write to your MP, lobby Hugh Robertson, e-mail the newspapers’ letters pages, make your voice heard. This issues is far too important to let politicians decide on our behalf.

Maxie Allen


  • It is worrying that the ECB / TCCB argued that cricket had to go onto Sky TV to generate the revenue to raise the standards of the England team and county cricket. Now, the ECB are arguing any cut in income will directly impact club / school cricket and will have a severe reduction in the budget for the elite level. I can see some serious emotional blackmail being used to keep all cricket on satellite TV but the status quo is unsustainable. A whole generation of kids may never have seen the England team on television – my interest in cricket came from watching tv as none of my family played or watched cricket and it is worrying how a 12 year old will get into the game if not encouraged by clubs or schools if the family do not have Sky.

  • It’s a tricky one. Which argument do you subscribe to? That cricket is dead without the money that being on Sky brings in? Or that cricket is dead without widespread, free-to-air exposure on one of the four terrestrial broadcasters?

    That’s not the point of the listed events, of course; it was intended to ensure that the real crown jewels, the real centrepieces of British sporting life, were available to all and not restricted on the basis of ability to pay. Arguing that cricket needs help through the listing undermines the point of listing in the first place: the list reflects the popular, not the other way round. The Grand National, the FA Cup Final, the Olympics aren’t listed so they get more viewers; they’re listed precisely because lots of people want to watch them – and much, much more than the rough third of the population who are happy to pay for Sky.

    So the second argument doesn’t stack up. Cricket might need that exposure – but it shouldn’t come from the blunt instrument of listing; nor does it come from sleep-walking into a situation where only ball-by-ball coverage of Tests will do. There’s room for both and that needs creativity on the part of the ECB: find a format which fits easily with TV schedules and make it available to the BBC or ITV, Channel 4 or Five. And keep the ball-by-ball on the pay channels, where the small number of people who will want to watch it will generally migrate.

    And for the first? Couldn’t the BBC just squeeze a few hundred million out of, say, BBC ONE’s £1 billion annual turnover to buy some cricket rights? It comes down to two things: first, a desire on the BBC to limit expenditure on sporting rights and a fear that it is acts as a inflator in the market; and second the very real knowledge that ball by ball cricket probably doesn’t add a single additional viewer in reach to the television services and will actively cause more people to tune away. Oh, and there’s no argument for market failure here; the market’s very happy to pay, after all.

    Adding cricket to the listed events would be like listing a building, with all of the upsides and downsides that presents. It protects it and it preserves it but it makes it impossible to change and eventually ever more expensive to maintain.

    (BTW, for anyone who does guess who I am and read this, these are my views and nothing to do with my employer.)

  • Our argument is that the outcome is more important than the technical principle. Cricket’s fan base is large enough to merit it being protected on behalf of the general public; cricket belongs to us all, it is not the ECB’s private property. The ECB are in effect and practice a self-appointed and private organisation, who in this matter are acting in their own corporate interests, not ours. In this context we argue that the government should intervene for the benefit of the disenfranchised public.

    Giles Clarke’s arguments about grass-roots funding are extremely disingenuous. Firstly, the money overwhelmingly goes to elite clubs already within the cricketing establishment. Secondly, it’s a small proportion of ECB outlay and dwarfed by their real expenditure – subsidising county clubs, who in turn spend too much of that money on obscure if effective overseas players.

  • Think you already know which side of this particular argument I’m on, so will confine this post to a couple of the points raised above.

    It’s more important that a decent highlights show for all England’s Test matches (both home and away) is on free-to-air TV at a sensible time – something along the lines of Match of the Day, but maybe with a bit more analysis and discussion, and certainly earlier in the evening. As most people are at work (or, for some away Tests, asleep) when much of a Test is in progress, ball-by-ball coverage of the whole game is wasted on many – hence why the major terrestrial TV stations don’t want to bid for it anyway.

    Also, after the digital switchover is complete, free-to-air TV needn’t be one of the 5 current terrestrial channels – this in itself is a good reason to delay the decision till the impact of the switchover can be understood.

    • The compromise could be that Sky are forced to show one match per year on a non-subscription channel such as Sky 2 as long as it is available on platforms such as Freeview. Sky keep their exclusivity of the product as well as a possible bigger audience for their advertising.

  • Why should it all revolve around keeping Rupert Murdoch happy? Aren’t we, the cricketing public, more important?

  • All I can say, is for the first time in forty years, I will not be watching the home tests this summer. I subscribe to Sky Sports 1 but am not prepared to pay more for the ‘ashes’ channel. I fear cricket will go the same way as professional boxing. There was a time when a big fight involving a British fight galvanised the nation, had huge viewing figures and was a major talking point at work. As a teacher, I work with teenagers most of them have no interest in boxing, know nothing about it as they have never seen it on TV. I fear the same will happen to cricket. It will eventually become totally irrelevant to the large majority of young people if it isn’t already.

    • Crickets never been shown exclusively on Sky sports 1. So you must have missed plenty in the past.
      Personally I think in the digital age I think Sky is Cricket’s natural home, none of the 5 could give the sport the dedication required and do it justice.
      However I do believe the ECB have room for compromise, Some part of the new T20 comp should be FTA.


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