ECB raises £1.1bn as Sky keeps rights and live cricket returns to BBC
By Simon Ward
Subscription broadcaster Sky has retained extensive UK rights to English cricket from 2020, but live coverage is to return to free-to-air television for the first time in 15 years as the BBC, the country’s public-service broadcaster, has acquired a package of Twenty20 games.
The deals are worth a total of £1.1 billion ($1.43 billion) over five years, or £220 million per annum, the England and Wales Cricket Board announced today.
Chief executive Tom Harrison said the deals had delivered “the reach, revenue and relevance the game deserves, to help it grow.”
Sky will continue to show live all England’s home test matches, one-day internationals and Twenty20 internationals, plus domestic competitions, including a new Twenty20 tournament that is launching in 2020, complemented by highlights and internet clips.
The pay-TV operator has been the exclusive home of live English cricket since 2006 and its new deal has enabled the ECB to come close to its reported upper target of £250 million per year for media rights revenues in the next cycle.
Sky, whose current deal is worth around £75 million per year and expires in 2019, saw off a bid from rival BT Sport, which has emerged as a serious challenger for premium sports rights, including cricket, picking up the rights to matches in Australia, including England’s forthcoming ‘Ashes’ tour.
However, in addition to maximising revenues, the ECB was eager for live cricket to return to mainstream television, to connect with new audiences, and made available a package that includes 10 matches from the new Twenty20 competition and two live England Twenty20 games each year, plus a selection of women’s Twenty20 fixtures, and this has been snapped up by the BBC.
The public-service broadcaster has also landed highlights to England’s home games and will offer internet clips of all matches it does not have live rights to, while also continuing its respected live radio coverage via the Test Match Special programme.
There was reported to be interest from free-to-air commercial broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, but not from Discovery Communications, the owner of pan-European broadcaster Eurosport, which decided not to bid.
The men’s Twenty20 competition, which will complement the existing T20 Blast for the 18 county clubs, will involve eight new teams and 36 matches, and is intended to appeal to people who do not currently follow cricket, as well as existing fans.
In addition to the live men’s Twenty20 matches, the BBC will show eight games from the Kia Super League, the domestic women’s competition, and one England women’s Twenty20 fixture each year.
There has been no live coverage of English cricket in the UK since the famous Ashes series between England and Australia in 2005, which was shown by Channel 4, although Channel 5 has been broadcasting highlights every summer.
The ECB launched its invitation to tender on 12 May and has since been receiving presentations from the various broadcasters. It set a deadline of 10am on Wednesday for bids to be submitted.
In a statement, Harrison said: “This is a great result for cricket. ECB has secured the reach, revenue and relevance the game deserves, to help it to grow. Together, these new deals will deliver the partnership, distribution and investment that will fuel the future of our game, driving recreational, professional and international cricket for years to come.
“Sky Sports have offered a true partnership - more than a broadcast deal - with their shared vision for cricket. Their innovation and production standards are widely acclaimed. Here, they further increase their live commitment and have added bold ideas to drive engagement and to help to get a bat and ball in more hands.
“BBC are valuable long-term partners, bringing cricket to listeners, viewers and a new digital audience. We are delighted they will go to another level with live coverage of international and domestic T20 – men’s and women’s - alongside prime-time highlights shows and a commitment to taking the game to even wider audiences.”
Sky claims that its cricket coverage reached nearly 8 million viewers last year and, in addition to England home international matches and county cricket, it holds rights to ICC competitions until 2023 and forthcoming England tours of Sri Lanka, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies.
The renewal with the ECB strengthens Sky's hand and comes after it was reported this week that the broadcaster is set to ditch its numbered sports channels Sky Sports 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in favour of ones dedicated to particular sports, including soccer, golf and cricket.
Welcoming the new deal, Barney Francis, the managing director of Sky Sports, said: “At Sky Sports we love cricket and so do our customers. This is a ground-breaking agreement that represents a new and exciting approach to sports rights in this country.
“It extends our partnership with the game into a third decade and will see us work with the ECB to excite and engage cricket fans of all ages. We will continue to innovate in our coverage and make it accessible across our channels, products and services.”
The BBC has not shown live cricket since 1999, but provided highlights of the recent ICC Champions Trophy broadcast in full on Sky, and believes it can help to popularise the sport through its coverage from 2020.
Director general Tony Hall, who is thought to have delivered the broadcaster’s presentation to the ECB, said: “The BBC is delighted. And the public will be too. It’s long been our ambition to bring live cricket back to BBC television. I’m thrilled to see that ambition realised.
Cricket is an integral part of the British summer and the BBC will be putting its full weight behind the nation’s favourite summer sport. Our aim will be to make the new T20 competition a huge success. Existing cricket fans – and the millions more who will discover a new love of cricket – have a huge amount to look forward to.”
As part of their new deals, Sky and the BBC have pledged to work with the ECB on initiatives to increase participation and engagement with cricket to enable the sport to grow at all levels.