The Ashes on TV: The Three Fifths Solution

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2010 at 1:25 pm

This Is What Compromise Looks Like:

Three Fifths: this is what compromise looks like

The ECB, the ruling body of cricket in England and Wales, has released a somewhat overwrought, not to say hysterical, statement concerning the disaster that will befall English cricket if the government interferes with its lucrative Sky Sports contract.

According to the ECB, the loss of the Sky deal could cost them £137m. And that if that happens, it will lead to a ‘mass exodus of players from the international game’ and the ‘collapse in the entire fabric of cricket…from the playground to the Test match arena.’

Come on chaps, pull yourselves together. The current TV deal lasts until 2013, so the £137m figure is – to say the least – questionable because it is based on a future, post-2013 deal which has yet to be offered and accepted. It also assumes that without Sky money, there would be nothing whatsoever to replace it, which is simply incorrect. BSkyB are not paying huge sums into the ECB coffers to satisfy their keen desire to develop women’s cricket in England. They are not in it for the ‘grass roots’. There is value in English cricket even without Sky, and the ECB should have more faith in its own product.

The Ashes: Our Crown Jewels

Check out what our American cousins are doing with the highly successful, and compare with the ECB’s TV site. Note that is owned and operated by the sport’s governing body.

The issue for the government, and many cricket lovers, is the exclusivity of the BSkyB deal, preventing as it does a repeat of the 2005 dream scenario when a nation enchanted by cricket sat down to watch the game in their millions. In 2005, a peak of  9 million people watched the Ashes on C4. For the Ashes in 2009, shown exclusively on Sky Sports, the peak was nearer 2m. That is a huge discrepancy and one which the Government wants to address. Driving the reform is a desire for cheap TV for all – the ‘crown jewels’ theory that test cricket belongs to the nation – as well as the more reasonable belief that a sport which is severely restricting its own exposure for short term gain is following a false strategy [*]. Cricket in England is not so robust it can shrug off the loss of several million TV viewers.

May I suggest a sensible compromise? I call it the three fifths solution, and this is how it works: BSkyB acts as host broadcaster for the five match Ashes series, with the obligation that the first two tests of the Ashes are made available for simultaneous broadcast to the highest bidding free-to-air channel. A reasonable reserve price should be set for this auction.

This solution satisfies the public service remit (the ‘missing millions’ who did not watch the 2009 Ashes) allowing the non-Sky subscribers a full 10 days of high quality and dramatic action on free-to-air TV to promote interest and participation in the game. This stimulous would be all the more effective for coming earlier in the summer season: June/July rather than September. The BSkyB package would therefore be reduced, but with the important benefit of retaining exclusivity for the significant majority of the competiton (three fifths), not to mention the ‘business end’ of the Ashes series: they would get the ‘decider’, which, for the last two Ashes, has been the final test at the Oval. BSkyB would also enjoy the added advantage of the terrestrial, free-to-air product effectively advertising BSkyB’s exclusive coverage of the remaining three tests. Imagine the effect the 2005 Egdbaston test would have had on demand for Sky subscriptions leading into the final three tests of the series: available exclusively on Sky. Ditto Lord’s 2009.

The three fifths solution gives BSkyB precious, exclusive content they would be happy to pay for, with any potential shortfall in income to the ECB made up by (significantly) increased sponsorship & advertising generated by larger viewing figures for the free-to-air product.

[*] Take the IPL 2010 on YouTube. Was this a deal whose goal was to increase the revenue of the IPL? Or was it a deal to use the broad reach of YouTube to reach a new audience and boost the international profile of the IPL brand, based on a strategy to establish the IPL as the world’s dominant T20 competition?

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