Could BT Use Freeview to Land TV Rights?
The negotiations for the rights to televise English cricket from 2020 to 2024 have been a source of much discussion ever since the ECB unveiled it’s proposal to stage a new city based T20 competition, with English cricket’s governing bodies hoping to raising more than £1 billion from those TV rights.
With multiple interested parties, and a range of rights packages on offer, the kind of bidding war the ECB needs to hit that figure is possible – with one major player catching more than a few curious glances from fans, writers and administrators: BT.
BT Sport’s £1.2 billion investment in the Champions League was a (further) display of intent in a football market previously dominated by Sky.
Their move to secure the rights to the 2017/18 Ashes tour a further encroachment in to territory previously dominated by their main rival.
BT Sport was serious about establishing itself as the number one competitor to Sky Sports, it has acted as such and it has the war chest to back it up.
Now, with negotiations underway for the previously mentioned English TV rights, the deals with Cricket Australia and the Champions League could be used as indicators of the broadcasters interest in cricket as well as their ability to take a run at multiple rights packages.
These negotiations aren’t just about money, with the ECB making it clear they will see English cricket re-appear on free-to-air TV on a more permanent basis – with the BBC already helping the ECB take the first steps along the road with the (admittedly strangely scheduled) Champions Trophy highlights currently on our screens.
But BT may have thrown a curve ball by showing Saturday’s Champions League Final on freeview.
Whilst the BBC are noted as the ECB’s preferred partner for free-to-air coverage, Channel 5 are known to be interested whilst BT might be able to corner the market if they are willing to show the required number of games for free, in a similar vein to the Champions League Final.
The suggestion is that the ECB would prefer to only deal with one satellite provider – which makes sense given that splitting coverage likely hinders as much as it helps – so why not deal with one TV broadcaster in its entirety? Especially if it is willing to stump up the cash.
The argument against is of course that putting all games on BT Sport muddies the water – people are inherently lazy and if there is a lack of clarity over which games are free and which are not, people simply won’t watch. The path of least resistance will nearly always win out and thus a deal with the BBC or Channel 5 make more sense in this regard.
But if BT is willing to hit the sweet spot in the venn diagram of cash plus coverage, well isn’t that the perfect outcome for the ECB?