Are the Ashes Tests going to return to free-to-air television?

by Steve

Some potentially good news for non-Sky subscribing cricket fans today, with news that the panel established to recommend the ‘listed events’ that should be available on free-to-air television will propose that the Ashes should rejoin that list.

These so-called ‘crown jewels’ are the sporting events that the British government essentially decide should be made available to all, and so cannot just be shown via a subscription channel, such as Sky Sports.

The Ashes were on this list, but were removed prior to this summer’s series, meaning cricketing fans had to either pay a subscription of around £40 a month, or find somewhere else to watch it.

This development is obviously good news for sports fans – free sport is always a good thing. The cricketing authorities are not so happy. The England and Wales Cricket Board have a £300m deal with Sky that would be at risk, and the terrestrial channels are unlikely to pay anywhere near that amount for broadcasting rights.

Clearly, a loss of income isn’t brilliant for English cricket. But is it the end of the world?

I say no. If anything, the cricketing authorities are potentially making a quick and easy buck at the expense of the future of the game. Sure, that money can be put into grassroots development, but what about the continuing popularity of the game?

Far, far less people saw England defeat Australia this year than in 2005. Potential new converts to the game missed out. The next Andrew Flintoff may well have decided against pursuing his interest in cricket, as it wasn’t there for him to watch this summer. While a sport isn’t on ITV, BBC or Channels 4 or 5, is it really mainstream?

Cricket (and sport in general) needs to look at the bigger picture and make a decision. Take the cash now, or build a stronger, larger long-term following?