UK poised for live free to air International cricket

Live international cricket looks poised to return to UK free-to-air television for the first time since 2005 when the England and Wales Cricket Board begins its next cycle of domestic media rights deals in 2020, according to a report published by sports news portal

Last week, the ECB launched the invitation to tender for domestic media rights to its major events from 2020 to 2024.

In tender documents seen by the UK’s Times (see table below), it is reported that one package of rights, which includes international and domestic Twenty20 cricket games, will be offered exclusively to free-to-air broadcasters.

The relevant package (Package 3) includes: two men’s international Twenty20 cricket matches; one international women’s Twenty20 game; 10 games from the ECB’s new Twenty20 competition; and eight matches from the domestic women’s Twenty20 competition.

In the UK, live TV rights to domestic and international cricket in England are presently held by subscription broadcaster Sky in a deal worth approximately £75 million ($97 million) per year that runs until 2019. Free-to-air commercial broadcaster Channel 5 has TV highlights rights and public-service broadcaster the BBC controls the radio rights.

It has been reported that the ECB is aiming for domestic rights deals worth between £230 million and £250 million per year, with fees to be driven up by the launch of the new city-based eight-team Twenty20 league to start in 2020 and designed along the lines of the high-profile Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash League.

It had been anticipated that, in order to maximise revenues, a subscription broadcaster would show most of the live games from the new Twenty20 competition, with some games reserved for free-to-air coverage.

Sky has enjoyed a stranglehold on live rights to English cricket since 2006, but now has a credible rival in BT Sport, which broadcasts cricket played in Australia, making a competitive auction a real possibility.

Earlier this week, the ECB said it is seeking bids from broadcasters, platforms and distributors in the UK and Ireland for live, highlights and clips rights to be exploited via television, radio and digital media over a five-year period, with chief executive Tom Harrison adding that it wants “the right balance of reach, revenue and exposure.”

Rights are set to be awarded at the end of June, two days after the ECB’s tender process closes.

The ECB recently appointed CMS, the London-based leading law firm, to advise it on the sale of its media rights in the next five-year cycle.

Meanwhile, the International Cricket Council today signed up cider brand Aspall as sponsor of next month’s Champions Trophy.

Aspall becomes the official cider partner of the competition, which is taking place in England and Wales from 1 to 18 June.