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.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Arts and Entertainment
Pink Floyd on stage at Live 8 in 2005. From left to right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright
music New album The Endless River set to overtake boyband for most pre-ordered of all-time
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

Head of Finance - Media

£80000 - £90000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for an International Mul...

Business Development Manager

£25000 - £27000 per annum + Bonus: Sauce Recruitment: Within your role as Busi...

IT Graduate

£15 - 20k: Guru Careers: We are looking for an eager IT Graduate / Technology ...

Ad Director / Sales Director

£55 - 65k + 25% Y1 OTE + Fantastic Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an e...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama