Ashes to ashes: MPs say TV deal could kill cricket fervour

The Ashes fervour that gripped the country last summer may never be witnessed again because of the disappearance of live Test cricket from free television, MPs have warned.

In a scathing report, they declared that the deal to hand exclusive Test match broadcasting rights to BSkyB from this year could sound the "death knell" for live coverage of international cricket on free television, warning it "may never again" be seen outside pay-to-view channels.

MPs attacked the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for reneging on a "gentleman's agreement" reached in 1998 to keep a substantial amount of cricket on free-to-air television, and criticised ministers for failing to intervene.

The MPs also attacked the BBC and ITV for failing even to bid for rights to broadcast live Test matches or highlights, leaving Sky free to sign the contract for England Tests until 2009. The rights to show cricket highlights went to channel Five, the only broadcaster to bid.

Channel 4 viewing figures exceeded eight million last summer during England's nail-biting bid to win the Ashes for the first time since 1987. Ashes mania swept the country during the summer and thousands witnessed the England team's celebrations in central London.

But euphoria turned to fury among fans about the exclusive Sky deal, which was agreed before the Ashes tour generated huge new interest in the game.

Members of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee warned: "Without a renewed interest from terrestrial broadcasters and a commitment from the England and Wales Cricket Board to maintain a substantial proportion of live coverage on free-to-air television, the committee is concerned that live Test cricket may never again be shown free-to-air."

MPs demanded that the Government draw up a legally binding requirement that significant cricket remains on free television when the broadcasting rights come up for renewal.

But they stopped short of calling for Test cricket to be put back on the "A-list" of sporting events - known as the crown jewels - which, by law, must be shown on free-to-air channels.

Under an informal agreement between the Culture Secretary at the time, Chris Smith, and the chairman of the ECB, Lord MacLaurin, the cricketing authorities said they would ensure live Test cricket was not removed from free television. The committee's report expressed "profound disappointment" that the agreement had been scrapped. It said: "What is evident to this committee is the terms of that agreement have manifestly been breached by the ECB with the tacit approval of DCMS. Whatever the good intentions and pragmatism of the decision at the time, the gentleman's agreement has sadly proved totally ineffectual."

The committee expressed particular disappointment at the BBC's failure to bid for the cricket. MPs said: "Had the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 all made bids, the ECB could have insisted that they were not prepared to sign an exclusive deal with anyone. We are concerned about the ECB's timidity in not insisting upon a non-exclusive deal. A clear signal from the outset that an exclusive deal was not on the table may have substantially altered negotiating positions in the ECB's favour."

The committee's Conservative chairman, John Whittingdale, said: "The failure of the Government, the ECB and the terrestrial broadcasters to ensure the next Ashes series is at least in part broadcast free-to-air has rightly enraged many fans and players."

The Tory sport spokesman Hugh Robertson said the Government had misled the public.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam