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Who owns English cricket?

The England cricket team is doing really rather well just now. They are not the best. Australia are the best. But England are well on the way to establishing themselves as the best of the rest. Yesterday they completed a fine victory against South Africa, in the first of the series of five test matches they are playing down there, having earlier in the year, in England, beaten New Zealand in 3 games out of 3 and the West Indies in 4 games out of 4. Before that they toured the West Indies and beat them 3 games out of 4, with the last game drawn. In other words, England have won 8 out of their last 8 test matches (more than any England side has ever won consecutively before), and it would have 12 out of 12 had it not been for that final game draw in the West Indies. Recent England recruit Andrew Strauss, who batted superbly, both in the game against South Africa that finished yesterday morning and throughout last summer, has now played in just 8 test matches and has been on the winning side every time. This is amazing.

All of which means that, what with England doing so well, now was a very good time for the England cricket authorities to be renegotiating the TV rights to cricket matches, and here is what they have done:

Live coverage of England’s home Test matches will no longer be available on terrestrial TV from 2006 onwards.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has awarded an exclusive four-year contract to BSkyB, which will run until 2009.

In other words, I and millions of other BBC License Fee payers will not be able to watch test cricket live on the telly without paying extra. I am selfishly unhappy about this. I like watching test cricket live on the telly, in among doing other things. Cricket is a slow game, and now that they have instant replays of anything very exciting, it mixes well with working on other things.

However, it is clear to me that the cricket people in question (the England and Wales Cricket Board – or ECB) are perfectly entitled to make this deal. If I want to go on watching their games, I will have to pay more. That is the deal they are offering, and it is up to me to decide what to do about that.

Others, however, take a more interventionist line.

Criticism of the ECB’s decision was swift. The backlash amongst cricket supporters has been fierce and the governing body stand accused of ignoring their responsibility to promote the sport at a time when the England team is enjoying great success.

Labour MP John Grogan, a Yorkshire CCC member, told the Guardian he wants the list of “crown jewel” sports, which include the FA Cup final and Olympics, to be reviewed. Cricket was removed from the protected list in 1998.

“I think it’s disastrous for English cricket,” said Grogan.

“There is a real danger (cricket) will disappear from half the public’s consciousness and youngsters will take up other sports.

“The government has to review what sports are included in the listed events.”

Listed events. If you think that sounds like ‘listed buildings’, you would be right. What it means is that The Government, on behalf of The People, seizes control of various Big Sporting Events, and says that the people who have spent the last century or two organising them, and building up into the Crown Jewel Events that they have become, do not own or control them any more. Oh, they have to go on organising them. But they are no longer allowed to charge what they want to charge for their events. Which means that the events are not theirs any more. Greedy cricket supporters who, like me, want to watch cricket on the telly, but who do not want to pay what the supplier of the events is asking, are now agitating for the Government to steal test cricket from its rightful owners.

As usual, when the Government is being urged to Doing Something, the question of whether the people on the receiving end of this Something are being wise, or generous, or generally doing their jobs well, is all mixed up with whether the Government would be right to barge in and rearrange matters. But, these are two absolutely distinct matters. Maybe your taste in music is poor. Maybe you are worth more money than your employers are now willing to pay you. Maybe in refusing to marry this virtuous but rather plain girl rather than that silly but prettier one you are being both cruel and stupid. But that is a long way from saying that the government should force you to listen to better music, force your employers to pay you more than they want to, and decide who you should marry.

And maybe the ECB is serving cricket badly, by denying many of the potential next generation of England cricketers the chance to watch test cricket at an impressionable age. Maybe this is a mistake. Maybe the money they will make from the deal and which they will distribute to the England county cricket clubs, is money they should have been willing to do without. Maybe.

But – and no maybes about it – it is none of the Government’s business to be deciding on behalf of the ECB what they should charge for their product, and to whom.

18 comments to Who owns English cricket?

  • Chris Harper

    Cricket needs revenue if it is ever to regain the place it once had in English life.

    ‘Listing’ an event is to guarantee its eventual decline. Just another example of statist greed and short termism.

    Political Correctness -
    The practice of using the language of tolerance to promote intolerance.

  • If the government intervened to undo this new contract, can the ECB sue the government to recoup the money it has lost?

  • Ian Bennett

    That is the deal they are offering, and it is up to me to decide what to do about that.

    Sounds like a free market to me.

    Cricket: twenty minutes of excitement crammed into five days.

  • W

    A second cricket issue: who owns the fans?

    Having spent five days with the Barmy Army in Barbados I think they are the best behaved, most dedicated and energising bunch of sports fans I’ve ever come across. Five days of energetic chanting, colossal boozing, and the only untoward incident was a pitch invasion by two men dressed as nuns after the closing ceremony.

    I think the Barmy Army, who followed England from the dark days, should get more credit for the resurgent spirit of the England team.

    But ECB now wants an official fan club.

    Who sympathises?

  • attila

    Musn’t forget thhe boozing!!!

  • It costs money to stage sporting events, and the ECB is quite correct to follow the route which would make the revenue generation easier.

    If the Beeb wants to televise any event, they should have to compete for the privilege.

    If they can’t, tough titty.

    As to WHY the Beeb should be around anyway (courtesy of coerced licensing fees), that’s a story for another post.

    And as to why government has any excuse for interfering in sport… ditto.

    I can’t imagine any rationale for having a “Minister of Sport” in a government cabinet.

  • Your problems with the BBC and sport make my concerns about government monopolies for cable TV here in the States look foolish. At least we can watch without paying anyone at all if we can put up with what’s available over the air. And no one watches PBS even though we all are taxed for it. I am upset, though, over local governments dictating what cable services will be available. I just don’t see any justification for any government to be involved with what people watch on TV. Say, if I remember right, “TV” isn’t even mentioned in the Constitution. Is it?

  • Henry Kaye

    Someone, somewhere, has made the comment in this context as to how cricket managed to survive before the days of television. When I was at school 60 years ago, every school had one or two cricket elevens (and football/rugby) and I think that that may be the missing ingredient today – or so they tell me.
    Having said that, if we are to have a national television service paid for by the taxpayer I think it would not be unreasonable to insist that that national service be required to carry (in full) ALL national sporting events. Clearly, that flies in the face of a free market and I offer no further justification than a love of sport and a fierce nationalism.
    By the way, I subsrcibe to SKY and enjoy full coverage!

  • John Ellis

    Robert:

    Say, if I remember right, “TV” isn’t even mentioned in the Constitution. Is it?

    Nor is slavery, but they all (the Founding Fathers) did it…Had to say that, cos the BBC has nothing to do with your sacred Constitution.

    However, your point is essentially correct: Libertarians don’t like to pay for state services, TV, health or police…

    …but don’t whinge when all you get is 233 channels of Murdoch.

  • Well, Adam Gilchrist was on the winning side in his first fifteen tests….

  • ernest young

    Cricket was the epitome of amateur sport, classless, and played by hearty fellows, with an excess of testerone, as a summer pastime. Played righfully on any open space, but preferably on a village green, and with a healthy dose of Corinthian spirit.

    That it has difficulty in transposing to tv is hardly surprising, unless you a have a direct connection to the teams playing, it is one of the most boring of spectator sports. The company and the general ambience of a summer day, is what made it so popular, even the ladies enjoyed it. (the cricket, that is). It was, and is, a social thing.

    It was a product of gentler, less rushed times, and in spite of Packer’s fancy dress outfits, and floodlit pantomimes, it will remain so.

    All very nice and nostalgic, but there ain’t no way they can package it to make money on tv. Without the atmosphere it is dull and – dare I say it? – boring…

  • Well, the amounts of money that Channel 9 in Australia makes from cricket broadcasts is very large indeed. It fills up many hours of summer programming, the game has natural breaks for advertisements, and lots and lots of people watch it. Similar things are true in India and even in South Africa.

  • ernest young

    Michael,

    I was really thinking of cricket in the British context. I am sure that in sunnier climes, where the game can be, and is played, by all and sundry, and for most of the year, and where even the local teams get some tv coverage, and where it is also encouraged at the school level, must also make a difference to its popularity as a spectator sport.

    The British ‘County’ format does little to encourage a large following of supporters, particularly since the County borders are forever being altered, making team allegiance difficult.

    Nothing worse than the pain of a lifelong Yorky who, on the borders between Yorkshire and Lancashire being altered, finds himself in Lancashire…

    Of course, the weather does make a big difference, the interminable ‘rain stops play’ interludes, with a couple of boring old farts droning on about some esoteric statistic, or something equally boring, do not make for good viewing.

    That the places where it is popular are all places with a high sunshine level must explain its popularity in the (former) colonies.

  • Earnest,

    ANY game is boring, if you don’t understand its complexities and skills.

    The only time I was ever bored by cricket, any cricket, was when Geoff Boycott was batting.

    It is the king of all sports.

  • ernest young

    Kim,

    You really should not be so quick to jump to conclusions. As a youth I played cricket in the summer and soccer in the winter. I played two seasons for Middlesex Colts, and it was only the necessity to earn a living and the call of National Service, that stopped any further progress, so I am well aware of the so-called ‘intricacies’ of the ‘king of all boring spectator sports’.

    You know that old saying about “When I was a boy, I played as a boy, etc. etc…..”

    I agree, it’s a great game to play, but to watch on TV? – blah!

    I agree that it suits many to be spectators, – but TV really does not convey the feeling and atmosphere of the ‘live’ event, but then I am of the ‘old school’ and I prefer the amateur approach to sport rather than today’s so-called professionalism…

    A Happy Christmas to you and yours!!…

  • Shakeel

    Nowadays it seems that Australian are the owner of cricket(not of english cricket)

  • BAHADURR KHAN

    I WISHED THAT IF WEST INDIAN WERE THE OWNER OF CRICKET BUT ITS A DREAM OF UNFULFILL

  • faisal

    i can play cricket in london i am cricketer i played hussan gtm kana club and toyota indus motor com pls u give me one chans pls pls