Ashes on free TV 'will cost ECB £137m'

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The Independent Online

The government received a weighty document yesterday explaining why all English cricket should remain on satellite television. The dossier ran to hundreds of pages and essentially concluded there were 137 million reasons.

That is the amount in pounds sterling that independent financial consultants are believed to have calculated will be lost to the England and Wales Cricket Board if the Ashes series is forcibly moved to free-to-air television, specifically the BBC. A recommendation last year was that home Test series between England and Australia should once more be a listed event for the nation.

The conclusion of the advisory panel, chaired by the former Football Association executive director David Davies, caused uproar at the ECB, whose officials have been mounting a campaign effectively to keep cricket on Sky ever since. England cricket's managing director, Hugh Morris, said here yesterday: "It would mean cuts across the board to our very important programme of investment, and the grassroots and women's games would be especially hard hit."

The ECB submitted its formal response yesterday, though it may be hoping that the whole issue is put on the back burner.

The BBC has shown almost no interest in screening live Test cricket throughout this decade – it last did so in 1999, since when it has chosen not to bid for the rights – and ECB officials resent cricket being handed back to it on a golden platter, which they are certain would upset Sky. Without the Ashes, the fear is that Sky's bid for the rest of cricket would plummet.