That Sky deal: how ECB backed themselves into a corner

By close of play in the latest, long-running broadcasting rights saga, the England and Wales Cricket Board had nowhere to turn. The reason for the lack of space in which to manoeuvre had little to do with the negotiations of the past six months, but was to be found in 2002. That was when the television contract and thus the financial future of English professional cricket were substantially decided, and Sky Sports became broadcast kings of the cricket world.

The game's administrators probably wanted to award the contract for live coverage to a terrestrial station, preferably the BBC, if only to avoid another round of widescale abuse, which if inflicted on man rather than organisation would lead to charges. But their negotiators also had to keep their eyes on the bottom line and that invariably had more noughts on it when the cheque was being written by the satellite johnnies.

In the horrible event, BBC TV, perhaps cricket's natural home, never entered negotiations, did not bid a single penny to screen any ball bowled in any competition between 2006 and 2009. Wherever cricket was going, it was not going home. The prospect went down the plughole more than three years ago when it was announced that Channel 4 had renewed the rights they had won in 1999 almost by stealth, without any bidding process. The BBC were decidedly miffed and have cold-shouldered cricket since.

That left Channel 4, the current holders, as the only interested terrestrial party for live rights. Channel 4 played a canny game as they have done since entering the arena in the late Nineties. It is acknowledged that they have been good for the game but they have been making it clear for a while that it has also lost them a packet, some £7m a year. Channel 4, therefore, did not bid for the seven Tests played in two series that have become the staple of an English season.

Nor did they tender for any limited-over internationals. It is worth bearing in mind that one-dayers have been appearing live more or less exclusively on satellite television since 1999 and nobody has made much of a fuss. Yet a sound argument can be mounted to suggest that the one-day game appeals much more to the young people whose access rights were suddenly being defended so robustly when the results of the negotiations were declared on Wednesday.

Channel 4 wanted only the second Test series in each of the four summers, consisting of either four or five Test matches, with all other live cricket on Sky. This would have reduced the overall rights sum by more than £70m, or 30 per cent, over four years - because of the lower sum Channel 4 were bidding and because Sky's offer without total exclusivity was more than correspondingly reduced.

So, the ECB rejected a package which (together with radio and mobile phone rights) would have brought them something under £160m for one that will probably yield £220m. The resulting anguish that the game might become marginalised was predictable and did not surprise Giles Clarke, chairman of the ECB's marketing committee, who headed the rights talks.

Most of the opprobrium was reserved for the fact that the deal as struck would allow counties to squander the money they receive from the ECB (some £1.2m a year, possible only because of television rights) on indifferent players who happen to have passports permitted under EU regulation - so-called Kolpak players - and are keeping local boys out of the game.

There is something in this, as Clarke is aware, although it did not stop him calling it "emotive crap". The difference in offers amounted to much more than paying a few stumblebum professionals.

Clarke, also the chairman of Somerset, said: "This issue is being addressed by performance-related payments, part of which is that counties have to field players who are available for England. At Somerset, apart from the overseas players we are allowed, we will never sign a Kolpak player."

Within the ECB there was a resigned air, but a realisation that it was a risk. One said: "When you're on the precipice and deciding whether to jump you can sometimes land safely against the odds."

The Professional Cricketers' Association had no official comment until it had assessed all the options but was coming round to the nowhere-to-turn thinking.

It was Channel 4 who were annoyed last week. They revealed how much higher their cricket audiences were than Sky's and poured statistical scorn on Five's plans to show a highlights programme at 7.15pm each playing day. The ECB hope this is a trump card; Channel 4 said they used to get a mere 800,000 viewers when their highlights were on at that time. Channel 4 also hoped "cricket does not come to regret the decision".

The final consideration in the ECB's thinking was that Sky's cricket coverage compared to that of Channel 4 is frankly dull. It has all the stars but little twinkle in its production, no sense of joie de vivre. Things could change and there is, of course, likely to be a scramble for jobs by Channel 4's commentators.

The saddest aspect is that domestic televised cricket will next summer see the last of Richie Benaud, who at 74 retires from British screens when Channel 4 retires from cricket. But the happy note is that by the time TV rights are renegotiated, the BBC will almost certainly be involved.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

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
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London