ESPNCricinfo’s live score service showed (at the time of writing) that England were 70/2 after 17.1 overs on the 1st day of the First Test Match against Sri Lanka at Lords. Unfortunately for cricket fans in Australia this is the only way to follow the English team this Australian winter, as the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have failed to find an Australian TV broadcaster and the BBC’s Test Match Special coverage is geo-blocked.
As recently reported by Fairfax Media, this is the first time since 2002 that the ECB has failed to have an Australian broadcaster for the English cricket season (which this year features series against Sri Lanka and India). Fox Sports was the incumbent broadcaster but elected not to purchase the broadcast rights to the 2014 English summer of cricket. While Fox Sports has not publicly said why it isn’t broadcasting England’s summer of cricket, we suspect that it has something to do with (as we reported last year) Channel Nine securing exclusive rights to broadcast all tests, ODIs and T20 matches involving Australia in England in 2015 and 2019. Given that Fox Sports continues to show LIVE cricket, such as the West Indies v New Zealand test series (from the Caribbean) LIVE, it seems very likely that Nine’s deal with the ECB made it difficult for the ECB and Fox Sports to come to commercial terms for ongoing coverage of English cricket.
While it is disappointing that Fox Sports did not secure the rights to England’s matches against Sri Lanka and India, it is an understandable commercial decision. The highlight for Fox Sports in its previous deals with the ECB was that it got to show Australian matches which rated very well for the News Corp unit (despite being simulcast on Nine). For example, on 21 August 2013 the highest rating program on subscription TV in Australia was coverage of Day 1 of the Fifth Ashes Test with 224,000 viewers tuning in. At the same time on GEM 414,000 watched Nine’s Ashes coverage.
The question remains why didn’t another broadcaster such as ESPN, Eurosport or Setanta step-in and buy the broadcast rights for the Australian market to matches that should get solid viewer numbers from ex-pats in Australia and cricket tragics alike? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, persons born in the UK continue to be the largest group of overseas-born residents, accounting for 5.3% of Australia’s total population as at 30 June 2013.
With this year’s English summer of cricket having no official TV or radio broadcaster in Australia, the ECB must take steps to make available online Sky Sports’ coverage for Australian viewers (whether for free or on a subscription basis). Without a legal option, it is likely that cricket fans in Australia will access pirated streams to follow the English cricket team.
The ECB needs to make its product available to Australian audiences in non-Ashes years to ensure that its premium product is delivered to cricket fans in what is arguably the second or third biggest cricket market in the world.
On 3 July 2014, Fox Sports Australia and the ECB announced that they had reached an agreement for live TV coverage of India’s 2014 tour of England, including the Investec Test Series, the Royal London One-Day International Series and the NatWest International T20 fixture.