The ECB’s new friends at Conservative Central Office

Few topics reveal the warped nature of ECB cricketing logic more vividly than their desperation to avoid returning The Ashes to terrestrial TV.

And now Lord’s top brass will be pinning their hopes on a Conservative election victory in May.

The party’s sports spokesman Hugh Robertson this week implied that a Tory government would not enforce the David Davies review’s recommendations – namely, that home Ashes series be ‘listed’, and available only on free-to-air channels.

Robertson’s analysis of the issue appeared to come straight from the ECB manual of corporate-speak:

“Now people are just waking up to the fact that 80 per cent of the ECB’s income comes from broadcast income and if you take that away you are going to decimate quite a lot of investment that’s gone in to women’s cricket and the grassroots. At a time when the public purse is under greater pressure than ever before that’s a brave, if not a very foolish, call to make.”

It’s troubling that a potential future minister has unthinkingly swallowed Giles Clarke’s arguments whole. To say he sounds like a stooge is putting it mildly. But more unedifying still is the chilling insight he affords into the arrogant cynicism of the cricketing establishment.

Losing TV revenue, Robertson and the ECB argue, will mean less money for women and grassroots. No mention of cutting marketing budgets, executive salaries, England players’ wages, or the huge county club subsidies paid to Kolpak imports. No – that stuff will always get the money, but the girls and kids will lose out. As Clarke told the BBC last November, “[the] 10,000 new coaches we’re coaching in the next four years – we wouldn’t have a hope of coaching them in the future. We wouldn’t have the money, we would have to cut it out.”

The threat that coaching will be the first item out the window if the axe falls speaks volumes about his priorities.  And while we’re on the subject, where exactly is all this grassroots investment? Do you see any evidence of it in your neighbourhood or local cricket scene? Is your town groaning under the weight of youth cricket initiatives and excellent public facilities?  Unlikely. As I understand it, the money goes only to ECB accredited league clubs, and the coaching is largely for talented children already within the elite colts system.

But that’s hardly grassroots. What about youngsters whose parents might not think of enlisting them at Hoity Toity CC, and miss out? Or kids who aren’t good enough to make the first XIs – but would still have their lives enriched by playing cricket just for the fun of it. And what about us – fans, followers, and village players? We are the most important part of English cricket. We are the largest interest group by far, we pay for it all, and without us, England matches would have no context. So where’s our share of the Sky windfall?  Tickets for international cricket in England are extremely expensive. Village cricket clubs receive no subsidy; decent public-hire pitches are massively over-subscribed. And not a single English child can watch cricket on TV unless their parents want to pay for it and are able to.

The ECB’s talk of grassroots is almost impossible to distinguish from complete bollocks. It’s a political sop, to protect their income, one third of which – £31 million in 2007 – goes to the counties…who in turn, elect the ECB. Where they do invest, it’s only within their own self-perpetuating system. If you’re an outsider – in other words, an ordinary cricket fan – you don’t count, so cough up.

If the Ashes return to terrestrial TV, surely the BBC or C4 will still pay something for the rights, even if it’s less than Sky offer. Meanwhile the ECB can continue lining its pockets with the Sky revenue from all other home series. But Giles Clarke maintains that re-listing “would take cricket back to a position of extreme poverty.” And this is what really terrifies him. In ECB-land, it seems, success is measured only by England performances and revenue targets. They don’t recognise their wider role in representing the interests of the entire English cricket community. Everything has a price, which is why Clarke thinks he can ‘buy’ grassroots development merely by signing a cheque for youth coaching. The wretched Hugh Robertson believes English cricket can’t afford free-to-air TV coverage. The truth is that we can’t afford not to.

Maxie Allen


  • The bit I dont understand from the Giles Clarke / ECB argument is that the grassroots funding rather than the money for county cricket will have to bear the brunt of any reduction in television revenue. Why? I would not have problem if the recreational funding was untouched and county cricket had to cope with a significant reduction in TV money. We have far too many counties and too many full time professionals.A chap i work with has a ten year old son who is getting into cricket, yet not having Sky means that he has never seen England play live on TV. Giles Clarke argument is emotional blackmail and is killing the game longer term. I cannot believe that England vs Bangledesh test series in May is that important to Sky and would be a perfect example of a series that could be on BBC3 / ITV3 etc.

  • Real Cricket fans, the sort who read this blog, have a lot to thank Sky for, and certainly don’t want the Ashes on BBC or Channel4 (even I’d they think they do). Only on Sky cam you watch and every ball of a Test without interuption for horseracing or Come Dine with Me. It’s fantasy to think that amy channel other than Sky would give us as much Cricket as we want.

    Goose’s suggestion that the Bang v. Eng series could be shown on ITV3 or BBC is a perfect example of this delusion. There is no way in a million years that anyone but Sky would be interested in this series.

    If the Ashes goes to BBC/C4, you’ll have plenty of material for this blog complaining about the patchy coverage.

  • I agree with a strong undercurrent in Maxie’s post – ‘real’ grass-roots cricket is constantly ignored. The problem is that in expressing strong feelings about this I sense a ‘John Major’ mood coming on, and I certainly wouldn’t want that….

    Yes – we all want the national side to do well – and be a thoroughly professional outfit etc etc, and we would quite like a thriving first class scene as well. Club cricket needs support and we naturally all want our youngsters to have access to good quality coaching and a burgeoning colts scene. Ideally we’d probably like them to get a decent grounding in cricket at school, which all too few do nowadays.

    But what happens beyond that? Local leagues may have ‘saved’ the game at grass roots level, but unfortunately at the expense of the things that I for one particularly love about it. Once we are all taking the game that seriously, and being ultra-competitive, winning at all costs and fighting for our place in the team with the keen fit youngster who has his eye on a higher league – something gets lost… something that I certainly grew up with and value more than anything.

    Cricket as a social game – a game play by 14 year olds alongside 60 year olds – a game that crosses social divides and can be played at practically all ability levels – in the same match! A game – in short – that used to be played on every village green. In my view, if we lose this game completely we will have lost something precious and irreplacable – something that really did form part of our national character.

    In short – a plea for real village cricket!

    Now – sounding hopelessly nostalgic – this grumpy old man will sign off!

  • For once, I think the ECB have it right. Because of its long and slightly unpredictable timeframe, cricket fits best on a dedicated sports channel, free from clashes with other programmes. People seem to recall C4’s coverage with rose-tinted spectacles, but forget how frequently they interrupted the Saturday (at least) of the Tests for racing. In any case, you can’t have one rule for the Ashes and another for all other international cricket – it would be like giving Sky the rights to the Premier League but not to Man United v Liverpool.

    Sky have invested loads in cricket over the last 20 years, not just financially (before they came along we rarely saw any of England’s away Tests). If the plan went ahead, funding would take a double hit – a lower amount from the BBC/C4 knowing they weren’t in competition with Sky, and probably a much lower amount from Sky having had their main event taken away. I agree we need to see more evidence of the Sky money actually getting to the grassroots cricket (rather than being swallowed up by the counties), but forcing the Ashes back to terrestrial would be a huge backward step.

  • I think Sky do a great job, but I think Maxie is right when he says that the ECB don’t use the money wisely … and that a lower figure (from the BBC/C4) would not affect grass roots cricket if the money was used wisely.

    I do not see how £85 to watch pakistan at Lords this summer represents value for money. A lot of money is obviously being wasted somewhere. Tickets prices are considerably lower in other countries … yet for the most part they have more successful teams!

  • I have always enjoyed the Sky coverage and they have done a great job covering overseas tours. However, I cannot see how having zero live games on terrestrial TV is sustainable as there will be a generation of kids who will never have seen top level cricket live on TV. At least Football, Rugby Union, Rugby League, Tennis, Golf, Darts, Athletics, Formula One, Moto GP, Horse Racing, Snooker, Boxing, Hockey and Gymnastics have all realised that they need public exposure – yet cricket is different and can somehow survive in a vacuum of viewing figures regularly less than a million. At least ITV are showing the IPL – apart from an England vs Ireland one day game on the BBC red button, I cant remember any other live coverage in the last four years.

  • One of the problems, which can’t really be ignored, is that the BBC don’t really want the cricket. It’s too unwieldy and too expensive. They’d rather spend the money on F1.


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