ECB's Graves: Test cricket too costly for FTA broadcasters
Colin Graves, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, has discouraged the next UK government from adding home test matches to the listed events that must be shown live on free-to-air television, claiming that they are too expensive for such broadcasters anyway.
Last month, the UK Parliament’s House of Lords Communication and Digital Committee called for the home Ashes test series between England and Australia to join the listed events, meaning that it could no longer be shown exclusively live by pay-television operator Sky, the ECB's long-time broadcasting partner.
Meanwhile, the opposition Labour Party has pledged to add the Cricket World Cup, won this year by England, to the list of protected events if it prevails in next week’s general election.
However, Graves believes that the ECB has satisfied the demands of free-to-air by agreeing a deal in which the BBC, the UK’s public-service broadcaster, will show eight live matches per year from The Hundred, the new domestic short-format competition, and two England Twenty20 matches per year, while Sky retains full live rights to all domestic and international cricket played in the country.
There has been no live test cricket on free-to-air TV in the UK since the memorable Ashes series of 2005, which went out, to large audiences, on commercial network Channel 4.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Graves said: “One of the first things I said as chairman was we want cricket back on terrestrial television. We have done it but test cricket on terrestrial television is a totally different ball game.
“If you talk to [free-to-air] broadcasters, none of them want it. It does not fit into their schedules. The cost to do a test match is astronomical from a broadcasting point of view. For a five-day test you are talking production cost of £1 million ($1.3 million) so there is not going to be a queue even if they push it that way.”
He also reiterated the financial arguments made by ECB officials at a hearing of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in October, saying: “If any government starts pushing free-to-air and says it has got to happen, they are going to take a chunk of money out of English cricket. That is not just professional cricket. It will take a chunk of money out of recreational cricket, women’s cricket, schools, the whole shooting match, so we have to be very, very careful when we talk to governments and make sure they are aware of the situations they might want to get in to.”
The ECB has come in for considerable criticism for its large investment in The Hundred, featuring matches of 100 balls per team, when there is already a popular short format in Twenty20 (120 balls per team), but Graves said it has budgeted for only selling 60 to 65 per cent of tickets, and denied there was a risk, citing the aforementioned five-year, £1.1-billion rights deal with Sky and the BBC.
Graves said: “That is a fantastic position to be in. I do not see that as a risk one iota. We launched T20 [in England in 2003], but we missed a massive opportunity. We gave it away to the rest of the world and did not do too much with it because again there were a lot of soothsayers out there calling it Mickey Mouse cricket. Look what has happened to T20. That is why we have done what we have done. We are not going to fall in the same trap twice.”
Graves is due to step down as ECB chair in November 2020, having been granted a six-month extension to oversee the launch of The Hundred, which has been trademarked by the governing body.
His successor will be the first to be paid a salary, in the region of £150,000, and the board has brought in prominent headhunters Odgers Berndtson to lead the search, with the favourites said to include Lord Kamesh Patel, the current deputy chairman, and Hugh Robertson, the former UK sports minister.