ENGLAND'S cricket authorities have told the Government they believe that reserving the Ashes series for terrestrial television would cause a "devastating collapse in the entire fabric of cricket in England and Wales from the playground to the Test match arena". Anyone might wonder after reading those words how cricket survived before Sky Television took the monopoly in 2006.
And there is more rubble foreseen. The ECB calculate that a "probable" £137.4 million will be wiped off their television revenues for the 2014-2017 period, a drop of 48 per cent. This, they say, would threaten the existence of "many" first class counties and cut investment in the grass-roots sector by half. Another gloomy point is that Test cricket would be ill-equipped to halt the march of Twenty20 cricket and that players could abandon the long form in droves. All the ECB need to do is to announce they would have to cut biscuits from their coffee break budget at Lord's and the horror will be complete.
Interestingly within days of ECB's projection Surrey announced record pre-tax profits of £752,000, a jump by almost a third after strong performances in the previous two years. The county said their turnover increased by £1.5 million to £25.5 million largely due to the twin successes of hosting at the Brit Oval another Ashes-winning Test match and the ICC World Twenty20. They are one of the 'haves' along with Glamorgan, newcomers to the table. Kent, one of the 'have not' counties, announced losses of more than £802,000, despite big increases in match receipts. Essex reported a loss this week of £216,000, despite increased membership and higher Twenty20 attendances.
Television has great significance as terrestrial broadcasters will pay nothing like the amounts that Sky have invested, especially as the BBC have blown their budget on Formula One, locking up well over £200 million for the rights plus a significant wedge of coverage on-cost. In fairness to the ECB, the BBC's absurd policy on sport has taken a bidder out of the market and hit the nation's No 1 summer game. As ECB chairman Giles Clarke has said, who in this country 'plays' Formula One? Cricket is the UK's second-biggest team participant game, after football.
If Sky were to reduce their investment in cricket, it is likely that jobs will be lost at the ECB and elsewhere, including coaching outreach. But while there is so little on terrestrial television, cricket will remain almost a non-sport. Rugby union realised that their sport disappeared off the nation's consciousness after Sky were given exclusive Twickenham rights and all club rugby. The same error of judgment has not been made again.
There is an irritating ploy in the ECB submission against the 'crown jewels' recommendation in the Davies Report. The ECB list all the achievements during the Sky era, including the Ashes success of 2009, strong women's performances, wider grass-roots participation and so on, and it is implied that all this will end if Sky lose their broadcasting monopoly.
So on March 19 2010 the ECB submitted their response to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's consultation document on the review of free-to-air listed events. This followed the report of the Davies advisory panel that the Ashes should be listed for free-to-air television and all other cricket removed from the B list that covers terrestrial highlights.
The ECB said that in recent weeks they had received contact from bodies across the sport, including first class counties, county boards, the Professional Cricketers Association, Minor Counties Cricket Association, Premier League clubs, representatives of women's and disabilities cricket, the Lord's Taverners, Chance to Shine, the governing body of the world game the International Cricket Council as well as other national cricket boards expressing their great concern at the impact listing might have.
The ECB summarised key parts of their submission so that everyone in the game had an "accurate understanding of the findings of the economic impact assessment". The ECB commissioned independent advisors Oliver & Ohlbaum, a sports marketing consultancy, National Economic Research Associates and the accountants Deloitte, who reviewed the impact there would be on cricket's grassroots infrastructure.
What was said to the Government
The ECB said: "The independent economic impact assessment, based on a conservative assessment, demonstrates a probable loss of £137.4 million for the 2014-2017 domestic broadcast contract. This represents a drop of 48 per cent in expected revenues from our domestic broadcast rights for the same period. These figures already take into account any expected revenue 'upside' through listing the home Ashes Test match series, most notably any additional sponsorship income, calculated to be up to £4.8 million.
"The evidence demonstrates starkly that placing the home Ashes Test match series on list A would bring about a devastating collapse in the entire fabric of cricket in England and Wales from the playground to the Test-match arena. The evidence submitted to Department for Culture, Media and Sport sets out how an impact of this magnitude would dramatically reduce investment in cricket's infrastructure leading to less successful England teams (men's, women's and disability), threaten the future of many first class counties and reduce by more than half the ECB's investment into the grassroots of the game. It would also impact on the regeneration we have seen in recent years in links between schools and clubs including those that our 1,330 focus clubs have made with 5,355 schools."
The ECB summary continued: "Cricket in England and Wales has undergone a rapid transformation during the period since the ECB has been able to obtain a true "market rate" for its broadcasting rights resulting in the following positive outcomes:
a) unprecedented progress at the recreational level of the game, with our 39 county cricket boards providing a focal point through which the amateur game can flourish in England and Wales. Externally audited figures show that the ECB spends on enthusing participation and excellence (the category which reflects investment in the women's, disabilities, age-group and recreational game) in 2009 was £19.4 million; 22 per cent of total expenditure across the recreational and professional game.
b) greater financial security for our first class counties through increased central payments, enabling them to provide both a centre of excellence for cricket in their individual region and act as a sporting, social and community hub for cricket. There has also been a transformation in facilities at all of the first class county grounds, with our major Test grounds now investing in facilities that match the very best in other sports.
c) investment into our England (men's, women's and disabilities) teams, including central contracts, sports science and coaching support and the National Cricket Centre, with resultant success including all three teams winning their respective Ashes series last year.
"The ECB has also set out how listing would reverse the progress which the ECB has made in increasing participation as a direct consequence of the extra income generated through our domestic broadcast rights. The latest Active People figures from Sport England (published this month) recorded the highest-ever figure for the number of adults now playing cricket at least once a month, an increase of 12.5 per cent on the figure recorded in 2005. Cricket ranks as the second most popular team sport after football.
"Our focus clubs represent the best indicator to measure the direct impact of investment by the ECB. Recent figures collated by the ECB and verified by independent analysts show that since 2006 the following increases have been recorded by those focus clubs:
71% in participation
26% in club membership
40% in those involved in coaching roles
18% in those involved in volunteer roles
"A specific area where the ECB has made significant progress in the development of the grassroots game is in the women's and girls' game. In 2003, there were only 93 cricket clubs with women's and girls' sections, by 2009 that figure had risen to 505.
"The submission also sets out the advice we have received from sports right experts that listing could be the determining factor in an irreversible demise of Test match cricket and lead to less coverage of county, club and women's cricket as the game faces the challenge of Twenty20 saturation or even a Packer 'mark two'.
"The ECB has been advised that there is a risk that a decision to list the home Ashes Test match series might cause pay-TV broadcasters to walk away from all or some of our broadcast rights. The ecology of the international game of cricket, already under strain as a consequence of the rise to prominence of Twenty20 cricket, and specifically the ability of governing bodies to properly ensure the continued primacy of Test match cricket could also be harmed, probably irreparably.
"The ECB has informed the Government that it is not inconceivable that the funding shortfalls created by listing would precipitate a mass exodus of players from the international game and their contracts with national cricket boards, to play instead in tournaments designed specifically to appeal to pay-TV broadcasters.
"Sky Television, in particular, has also played a key role in promoting domestic (first class county), club and women's cricket through their commitment to showcase coverage of these forms of the game and to introduce popular magazine programmes promoting cricket at all levels. These are not commitments we would expect FTA broadcasters to be willing, nor able, to match should pay-TV broadcasters decide their investment is better made in other sports or cricket products.
"In its submission the ECB has reiterated its proposed innovative and positive solution to DCMS which is to strengthen the B list thus ensuring that highlights are broadcast FTA at family friendly times (between 7.15pm and 8.00pm), and that all Tests, not just the Ashes, are on this list.
"Our approach guarantees that moments of national resonance are broadcast and has the added benefit of ensuring that Test match cricket over four years is available to the widest possible audience whilst protecting the fragile infrastructure of the sport.
"The ECB is encouraged that in recent weeks both Ben Bradshaw, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Gerry Sutcliffe, Minister for Sport, have said that they attach great importance to assessing the impact the proposals will have on the financial strength of the game. We are confident they will review this evidence carefully and will provide them with any further information they require."
CHARLIE SAYS: My gut feeling is that the Ashes series must go terrestrial. In other words the ECB must divide up one year in four between Sky and terrestrial. Yet the ECB claim revenue would decline by £130-plus million. Figures don't mean much unless the starting point and options are made clear.
Sky offer a special deal with cricket clubs, a very good idea, but due to bundling of other programmes into the subscription Sky Sport costs more than £400 a year for most viewers.