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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Urgent Requirement - Central Manchester

£20000 - £23000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Guru Careers: Social Media Executive / SEO Executive

£20 - 25K + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Social Media...

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road