ECB stirs up bidding war among broadcasters for the rights to new Twenty20 cricket tournament

The ECB is looking to work with both free-to-air and pay TV broadcasters for the new tournament

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has begun talks with social media platforms as well as an array of free-to-air and paid broadcasters over the rights to its new Twenty20 tournament.

Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the ECB confirmed the new competition earlier this week, promising that it would help will “future proof” the sport and engage a generation of children.

It will feature eight regional teams based at the biggest venues in the country and is scheduled to begin in 2020.

Having gained the approval of all 18 first-class counties (the top cricket teams in the England) as well as the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), one of the sport’s governing bodies, the ECB is now pressing ahead with deciding on the broadcast model.

According to the Guardian, the ECB has held conversations around the new Twenty20 tournament with the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, as well as with Sky, BT and Discovery/Eurosport.

The rights deal will not be decided until this summer, however the ECB is already being pressured into partnering with terrestrial broadcasters in order to broaden the reach of the sport.

England’s new Test cricket captain Joe Root, stressed the importance of having the tournament on free-to-air television so that it can emulate the success of Australia’s Big Bash League.

“It is very important the public are given an opportunity to see cricket at a national level, on free-to-air TV,” said Root.

Sky initially acquired the rights to English cricket in 2006 and its current deal, which runs until 2019, is worth £75m a year. The exodus from free-to-air television has hurt the sport though, especially with regards to viewing figures. Sky Sports’ Ashes final day coverage last year had a TV audience of 467,000 while Channel 4’s coverage in 2005 drew an audience of 8.2 million people on the Sunday.

Participation levels of the sport have also been harmed by the lack of viewing availability. A comparison of Sport England Active People survey found a 32% decline in participation levels in people aged over 16 since coverage of the sport moved to satellite and cable TV.

In looking to strike the right balance, Harrison has revealed that he will look to make at least eight of the 36 matches in the event free-to-air.

“In an ideal world, I’d like to maximise revenue and reach. I would love to have as much cricket as we could [on free to air TV],” said Harrison.

“The reality is we are a pay TV business and at the moment there aren’t too many alternatives. But we have to be smart about how we package and work with all our commercial partners to make sure we are getting that balance right between reach and revenue.

“We’ve got a great opportunity. We have competition in the market place and a desire from free-to-air to partner with us on new T20. The reason for that is because they are excited about what we are presenting to them, excited about where we are taking the game. We’re in a very strong place.”

In working with both subscription broadcasters and free-to-air, Harrison will hope to attract enough sponsors while also driving competition among broadcasters, as was the case when BT snatched the rights for cricket in Australia from Sky in a deal worth £80m over five years.

In addition to holding talks with traditional TV broadcasters Harrison has also reportedly met with Facebook and Twitter to discuss marketing and streaming options for the sport online.

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