Game would Profit from Giving Tests to Sky

Game would Profit from Giving Tests to Sky

Post by Vicky B. Vigneswar » Tue, 02 Jul 1996 04:00:00

              Monday July 1 1996                                

Game would profit from giving Tests to Sky
Christopher Martin-Jenkins

THE chances are that this week's debate in Parliament at the
report stage of the Broadcasting Bill will guarantee that home
Test matches will continue to be shown on BBC Television. The
chances are, too, that this will be bad news for cricket.

Most of us, of course, would like to see the Tests on the only
terrestrial channel which is likely to carry them. We may object
to the occasional switch to Ascot, Wimbledon, Royal Lytham or
even Wembley, but most of us are familiar with the coverage and
comfortable with the tone set by Tony Lewis's genteel lead, with
its admirable absence of hype. Familiarity in this case breeds

Only about 20 per cent of us have been prepared, or able, to pay
for Sky. The lure for most of that 20 per cent has been the
coverage of the winter Tests, now equally familiar: practically
never a ball missed, imaginative, upbeat. Down-market, some
would add, but only perhaps because of the adverti***ts and
you can get used to those if it means seeing Tests and
internationals which were once out of bounds for television

Why then could there be any objection to a continuation of the
present arrangements which, after all, have provided double the
number of television hours - about 600 now - over the last two
seasons, plus an annual income rising to almost 18 million pounds
in 1998, close to 12 times that of 10 years ago?

The answer, of course, is money and the simple fact that Sky, if
barred by Government statute from making an exclusive bid for
the home Tests, might not be as inclined to bid for the less
enticing plums on offer: the one-day internationals and Benson
and Hedges, for example, for which presently they have exclusive
rights for live coverage. Terry Blake, the Test and County
Cricket Board's marketing director, calls the present contract
"a model for any other sport".

The TCCB say they have always acted responsibly in the past and
can be trusted to do so again. They estimate that they could
lose a third of the 60 million pounds revenue over four years which
they negotiated last time from television sources if they are
forced to keep the home Tests for a terrestrial channel. The BBC
negotiators will not pay more than they have to if Sky's rivalry
is removed.

On the other hand, if the home Tests were to be de-listed, as
the Board have been urging MPs, they might very well achieve a
further hike in the market value of cricket, to the benefit of
the game's development via the county boards which are now in
place in most of the 38 counties, all of them clamouring for
money to pay for coaches in schools and clubs. Football's
Premier League and the Rugby Football Union have at least
trebled their contracts and it is clear that cricket could at
least double theirs to 120 million pounds , which would soon be
swallowed up if there is to be a genuine revival of the game in

The ideal solution might, in fact, be for the Board to lose
their battle in the House of Commons but for the Government to
recognise that they are penalising cricket unfairly

The case is a strong one, so long as the Board can be trusted to
consider the crucial importance of cricket being seen on
television by the majority of the population. They have
effectively made a promise to the wider public by signing the
voluntary code by which various sports have pledged to maintain
a balance between maximising income from the sale of
broadcasting rights and ensuring the widest possible exposure.
The central principle of the code is that all major sporting
events will be shown on mainstream television, preferably live
but, if not, as highlights.

The test might come if the Board are tempted by a huge Sky offer
next time to show the Tests on BBC only in the form of evening
highlights. If the lobbying fails and the Broadcasting Bill
keeps the Tests on the list, that would not be possible.
Reassuring for the mass of viewers, certainly, but potentially
disastrous for the wider interests of cricket as the counties
feel their cautious way towards the overdue National Plan.

The ideal solution might, in fact, be for the Board to lose
their battle in the House of Commons but for the Government to
recognise that they are penalising cricket unfairly by weakening
their negotiating position and compensate them by releasing the
money hitherto withheld from cricket. The important capital
projects such as those at Lord's, Southampton, Durham and the
Oval, for which National Lottery money has so far been meanly
refused, are examples.

Once the England Cricket Board and the National Plan are in
place there will be no excuse for further parsimony on the part
of a Government who pay lip service to supporting cricket as the
national summer game but who have given singularly little,
through the Sports Council, to supporting developments like
these. They should be prepared at least to match the 9.5
million which the TCCB are feeding to their Cricket Foundation
for grass-roots development.

This debate, and other topical issues, can confidently be
expected to be increasingly well covered in print and on the
various television, video and radio magazines. The two senior
monthly magazines, The Cricketer and Wisden Cricket Monthly, are
having a most impressive season, the first full of interest and
vigour in its 76th year, the second given a new lease of life
under the bright direction of a new editor (and sometime rock
critic of this newspaper), Tim de Lisle.

He wants his publication to be "less a paper of record, more
provocative and better written". It is cleanly laid out and
intelligent, although The Cricketer still leads for variety and
its international ratings are more convincing. If you can afford
it, buy them both - and Cover Point too, a video magazine whose
value will grow as the years pass.

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