Live cricket will return to the BBC following an 18-year absence as part of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) new broadcast strategy which also sees Sky hold off competition from BT to retain the bulk of the rights.
The new deals are the most lucrative yet for the ECB and will run from 2020 through to 2024. The BBC’s agreement grants it 10 live matches from the ECB’s new Twenty20 competition as well as two England Twenty20 internationals.
Sky meanwhile retained the bulk of English cricket’s coverage after outbidding BT Sport in the tender process. Its coverage is expected to be shown on a dedicated cricket channel as part of major overhaul which will see Sky Sports scrap its numbered channels in favour of sport specific offerings.
The BBC’s coverage includes coverage of both men’s and women’s cricket with two England men’s international Twenty20 matches and 10 men’s matches from the new Twenty20 competition. Broadcasts of the women’s game will consist of one England women’s T20 international and up to eight live matches from the women’s T20 tournament including both finals.
Live cricket has not been on the BBC since 1999 and left free-to-air completely in 2006 when Sky acquired the exclusive rights. Since then the sport’s commercial appeal and audience numbers have slumped which heavily influenced the ECB’s decision to set aside rights specifically for free-to-air broadcasters.
The BBC’s director general Tony Hall commented: “It’s long been our ambition to bring live cricket back to BBC television. I’m thrilled to see that ambition realised.”
Tom Harrison, ECB chief executive, added: “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.”
The BBC’s agreement means it will take over highlights of international cricket which are currently on Channel 5. The BBC will also retain live radio rights and exclusive digital clips for Test Match special.
In addition to ensuring the sport is shown on free-to-air television again, the ECB has also attempted to strengthen the appeal of the sport through a new forward-thinking approach to digital and content marketing which takes inspiration from the likes of the UFC.