It was pretty depressing watching England get hammered in the final test match in South Africa last weekend. However, it was even worse hearing English Cricket Board (ECB) Chairman Giles Clarke interviewed about the potential effect of the government’s Davies Review on English cricket – yet another example of the law of unintended consequences at work.
Basically, the government set up the Davies Review to consider which sporting events should have to be shown on terrestrial TV (i.e. not on Sky). And one of the events that the Review decided should be ‘listed’ was the Ashes – the famous test match series between England and Australia. The government has accepted the findings, and seems intent to introduce the relevant legislation before the general election.
But the trouble is English cricket is heavily dependent on the money the ECB gets from selling broadcasting rights. The £30m they estimate they will lose if they have to sell the Ashes to ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 or the BBC rather than Sky represents a third of their annual turnover. To put it another way, that’s more than the entire ‘Team England’ budget. Take that money out of the game, and it will suffer.
Moreover, while it’s easy to be populist and say that more sport should be shown on free-to-air channels, people ought to bear in mind the extraordinary impact that Sky has had on British sport. Without the money they brought to football, for example, there is no way the Premier League would be what it is today, attracting the world’s greatest players and showcasing some of the world’s best football.
But of course, that’s not really the key point here. Nor is the fact that Sky’s coverage is vastly superior to that of the terrestrial broadcasters. It’s not even that the terrestrial broadcasters show no real interest in showing cricket. The key point is that private sporting institutions should be able to contract freely with whomever they want for whatever price they want. End of story. The government just shouldn’t be involved.
P.S. Another sign of the times came when Clarke discussed the increased burden of government-mandated CRB checks - £600,000 last year, up from £300,000 the day before.