Live English cricket will return to free-to-air television in 2020 after the BBC won the rights for 21 matches each summer, while Sky Sports held off stern competition from BT Sport to retain its status as the sport’s chief broadcaster.
The new five-year agreement with the England and Wales Cricket Board, covering the 2020-2024 period, will bring in a bumper windfall of £1.1billion, a significant increase on the current TV rights deal, and is seen widely by leading figures within the game as huge boost, largely thanks to the return of the BBC to televised cricket.
Live coverage of the England team has not been available on free-to-air TV since the 2005 Ashes series, shown by Channel 4, while live cricket was last broadcast on the BBC in 1999.
The new multi-billion pound TV deal will see the corporation show two Twenty20 internationals, one women’s T20 international, 10 games from the new T20 competition and eight from the women’s equivalent.
The BBC has also guaranteed a primetime slot for highlights packages of all other England matches, with coverage expected to be shown across BBC Two and BBC Four, while in-play clips will be made available its on social media and online platforms.
Test Match Special, which celebrated its 60th anniversary this summer, will continue to be part of the landscape with BBC Radio winning exclusive radio rights amid a push from talkSport.
Sky Sports will remain the home of all live Test, one-day and T20 internationals, as well as the county game, though BT Sport’s entry into the market helped drive the cost far beyond the existing £75million-a-year deal. A dedicated Sky Sports cricket channel is expected to launch later this summer.
They had feared that they might lose the rights as a result of a serious bid from BT Sport, which has already swooped for all of Australia’s homes Tests including the 2017-18 Ashes series, although the pay-TV giant has preserved its place as the home of live cricket broadcasting after reportedly outbidding its rivals, extending its current deal for a further seven years.
Sky Sports will be the only place to watch live coverage of all England home Tests, ODIs and T20s, women’s matches and county cricket, while all matches from the new eight-team T20 competition launching in 2020 will also be shown live on its platforms.
But Sky’s complete grip on exclusive live rights will be brought to end after the new TV rights packages issued by the ECB, first revealed by The Times in March, provided a guarantee for live free-to-air coverage and the BBC, which fell out with English cricket’s administrators at the end of the last century, was always thought to have been its number one choice given the corporation’s ability to promote the sport across its various TV, radio and online platforms.
The BBC faced competition from all its chief free-to-air rivals, including ITV, Channel 4 and current England highlights rights holders Channel 5, all of which have broadcast major cricket events in some form since the demise of the BBC’s previous long-standing deal with the ECB in 1998.
The BBC’s bid presentation to the ECB was led by its director general Lord Hall, who submitted a 100-page document to the ECB detailing its financial offer and wider reach it can offer the game. It is likely the BBC was outbid by other free-to-air rivals but they cannot compete with the corporation’s combined audience across its channels.
A five-man panel including ECB chief executive Tom Harrison and chairman Colin Graves made the final decision to award Sky Sports and the BBC the rights to English cricket from 2020.
Announcing the new deal, Harrison focused on the possibility of expanding interest in the game, which has seen participation fall despite heavy investment in recent years. He said:
“This is a great result for cricket. ECB has secured the reach, revenue and relevance the game deserves, to help it to grow.
“Together, these new deals will deliver the partnership, distribution and investment that will fuel the future of our game, driving recreational, professional and international cricket for years to come.
“Sky Sports have offered a true partnership – more than a broadcast deal – with their shared vision for cricket. Their innovation and production standards are widely acclaimed. Here, they further increase their live commitment and have added bold ideas to drive engagement and to help to get a bat and ball in more hands.
“BBC are valuable long-term partners, bringing cricket to listeners, viewers and a new digital audience. We are delighted they will go to another level with live coverage of international and domestic T20 – men’s and women’s – alongside prime-time highlights shows and a commitment to taking the game to even wider audiences.
“Right through this process we’ve been excited to witness a fresh approach to the game and what it offers. This has transformed our relationships and our media deals. I want to thank everyone who has talked with us, shown their enthusiasm and added to our vision for the future.”
Welcoming the announcement, Colin Graves, ECB Chairman, added:
“Through these exceptional new partnerships with Sky Sports and BBC we have a unique opportunity to give cricket a very bright future.
“It is vital that the game now takes time to plan ahead and invest strategically in all the right places. The ECB Board will lead on this, working closely with all of our stakeholders at every level of the game.
“The professional players – the men and women who entertain us, inspire people to play and draw us to the grounds – will rightly be part of these conversations.
“This work will build on the dialogue we’ve encouraged across the game over the last two years and which has already led to a shared framework for decision-making in Cricket Unleashed, an approach for an inspiring New T20 competition, and All Stars Cricket, our new entry-level participation programme.”
Bosses from the successful broadcasters welcomed the deal with promises to deliver on the ECB’s hopes of driving new fans to the sport.
Barney Francis, Managing Director of Sky Sports said:
“At Sky Sports we love cricket and so do our customers. This is a ground-breaking agreement that represents a new and exciting approach to sports rights in this country. It extends our partnership with the game into a third decade and will see us work with the ECB to excite and engage cricket fans of all ages.
“We will continue to innovate in our coverage and make it accessible across our channels, products and services. And drawing on our experience of getting millions on their bikes with our successful 8-year Sky Ride initiative, we are committed to working with the ECB to help grow the game at all levels.”
BBC director general Tony Hall said:
“The BBC is delighted and the public will be too. It’s long been our ambition to bring live cricket back to BBC television. I’m thrilled to see that ambition realised. Cricket is an integral part of the British summer and the BBC will be putting its full weight behind the nation’s favourite summer sport.
“Our aim will be to make the new T20 competition a huge success. Existing cricket fans – and the millions more who will discover a new love of cricket – have a huge amount to look forward to.”
Whilst the new TV deal doesn’t start until 2020, there is a possibility that BBC could return to televising England internationals as early as next year, with Channel 5’s current deal for primetime highlights expiring at the end of the 2017 season.
No official announcement has been made as to which broadcaster will fill that void before 2020, while it is also not clear at this stage whether the BBC will produce its new cricket coverage in-house or whether independent firms, such as Channel 5 highlights and ICC tournament producers Sunset+Vine, will be able to pitch for the contract.
A full breakdown of the new ECB England Cricket deal with Sky Sports and BBC Sport can be found below:
Test matches – Live/Highlights/Clips
International T20 (men) – Live/Highlights/Clips
One-Day Internationals (men) – Live/Highlights/Clips
England Women’s Internationals – Live/Highlights/Clips
New T20 competition – Live/Highlights/Clips
Women’s T20 competition – Live/Highlights/Clips
County Championship – Live/Highlights/Clips
County T20 – Live/Highlights/Clips
One-Day Cup – Live/Highlights/Clips
Test matches – Highlights/Clips
International T20 (men) – 2 x Live/Highlights/Clips
One-Day Internationals (men) – Highlights/Clips
England Women’s Internationals – 1 x T20 Live/Highlights/Clips
New T20 competition – 10 x Live including Final/Clips
Women’s T20 competition – 8 x Live including Final/Clips
County Championship – Clips
County T20 – Clips
One-Day Cup – Clips