Throughout the reports about the ECB’s planned T20 league, there is the theme that the counties need to do this because of the money. If they don’t receive an extra £23.4m per year from 2020, they are in serious financial trouble, and the only way to get this is to throw away everything they’ve attempted to build and instead create a second-rate T20 competition. This, I believe, is patently false.
The Current TV Deal
Sky Sports apparently pays the ECB £65m per year for the rights to English cricket, in a deal which runs from 2013 to 2019. This includes the TV rights to the Men’s and Women’s international teams and all county cricket.
First, it might be wise to consider inflation. To quote Wikipedia:
“Inflation is a sustained increase in the general price level of goods and services in an economy over a period of time resulting in a loss of value of currency.”
In simple terms, things tend to appear more expensive over time. A loaf of bread might have cost 9p in 1970, 50p in 1990 and £1 today. So let’s consider the £65m deal over seven years. Over the last seven years, the cumulative inflation in the UK is roughly 23%. If we applied this value to the £65m, this would mean that we should expect at least £79.95m for the next TV deal assuming it was on the same terms and cricket in England retains the same value. This would account for an extra £14.95m which could go to the counties, or 63% of the £23.4m ‘bribe’ they’re currently being offered.
It is also worth reminding ourselves of the point at which the current Sky TV deal was reached. Signed in 2012, it was three years since the Setanta Sports channels had left the UK and over a year before BT Sport launched. Put simply, Sky Sports were the only subscription sports channel at the time, and the only bidder for the rights to show English cricket. In that kind of situation, Sky will presumably have offered the least amount they thought the ECB would accept rather than the highest amount they were willing to pay. With two well-funded competing broadcasters, the ECB should be able to extract significantly more this time round. After factoring in the inflation, the counties only need a 10% increase in the value of the TV deal to fully fund themselves, without any extra T20 competition.
Stand Apart Or Fall Together?
All of the above speculation and calculation relies on the same deal being offered to Sky Sports or BT Sport, but of course this need not be the case. With only one premium sports provider in 2012, it made sense for everything to be packaged together and sold to the only bidder. Now, should this necessarily be the case? If English cricket was available on both Sky and BT, that would broaden the possible audience at least a little. It would also be very interesting to see how they value the various formats and competitions.
In the current £65m-per-year TV deal, the ECB reportedly considers the TV rights for the T20 Blast to be worth £7.5m and the County Championship rights to be worth nothing. This would suggest that a deal just for the England team would have been somewhere around £55-57m on their own.
The first thing that jumps out at me is the County Championship’s valuation. If it is worthless, as the ECB suggests, why not give it away for free? They could stream it all on Youtube or let any Freeview channel show any game free of charge. The reason this wouldn’t happen is because the premium subscriptions channels don’t want to compete with free coverage. If Sky Sports paid £55m to show the England team, they’d be pretty annoyed if more people watched Lancashire vs Essex on ITV4 the same day that they were showing a Test match. If Sky and/or BT don’t want to compete with low-budget free cricket coverage, they can choose to pay for it. With the ECB holding much more power in the negotiations now, they should also be able to force the channels to show a minimum number of championship games.
The £7.5m valuation for the T20 Blast also seems very low. To put that figure into context, in 2015 BT Sport paid a reported £80m for five years of Australian cricket. Australian cricket is played essentially between midnight and midday, UK time. There is only one series with England during that period. Arguably the most valuable part of that deal is the Big Bash League. With most games taking place between 8am and midday, it’s at least on during daylight hours. For this, and one England series, BT are paying Cricket Australia £20m per year. This season Sky Sports are showing a minimum of 34 T20 Blast games on live TV, mostly during primetime, which the ECB thinks is worth £7.5m. Why would the BBL be worth more to an English television channel than the T20 Blast? I literally cannot understand this.
Right now, the counties are probably voting in favour of the ECB’s planned T20 league, just so they can get an extra million pounds each. I honestly think that they would almost certainly get more than that simply from increases to the current TV deal. I certainly think the ECB undervalues the existing county competitions, and to fully realise their value they must be sold separately from the England team’s television rights.
So that’s it. Feel free to abuse me in the comments or on Twitter.