David Prosser: Cricket facing a vicious bouncer

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The Independent Online

Outlook Leaving aside the politics of today's expected announcement from the Government review of sports broadcasting – though the conspiracy theories are great fun – insisting that the Ashes must return to terrestrial television won't do cricket too many favours. Sky paid getting on for £300m to secure exclusive rights to the series just gone, plus the 2010-11 and 2013 Ashes. No terrestrial broadcaster will pay anything like that for the 2015-16 series, when the new rules are likely to come into force.

Indeed, the England and Wales Cricket Board will be much more upset about today's ruling than Sky. The broadcaster would, of course, like to keep the Ashes, which won it 1.9 million viewers for the climax of the summer series. But a biennial sporting event does not have the commercial significance of, say, weekly Premier League football.

Nor is the fourfold increase in audience figures that terrestrial TV might deliver – Channel Four got 7.4 million viewers for England's Ashes victory in 2005 – likely to be much comfort to the ECB. It earns no money from those viewers and there is no evidence cricket's popularity is boosted by wider television coverage. In fact, attendances at matches have increased in the past two years, since Sky clinched all live coverage of the sport in this country.

All this said, Sky will be unnerved by another attack on its sports rights. It is already fighting a fierce battle with Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, which is insisting that it sell on its sports coverage to rivals such as BT at much-reduced prices. Sky hopes the threat will disappear with a Conservative election victory – the Tories are committed to abolishing Ofcom – but it could do without more threats to its primacy.

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