London: An independent panel urged the government on Friday to reserve several high profile sports events, including England’s home Ashes tests, for free-to-air TV despite opposition from sporting bodies and Rupert Murdoch.
The government-appointed panel said the tests against Australia, Open golf and international soccer qualifiers should be added to an existing list of protected events reserved fo,r free-to-air.
The “A-list” of events already includes the summer Olympics, the soccer World Cup, the FA Cup and others, barring them from being shown on subscription channe,ls such as Murdoch’s BSkyB (BSY.L).
The plan, which will be thrown open for a 12-week consultation, has already drawn criticism from sporting bodies which say they will receive less investment. It is likely to further strain relations with Murdoch’s media empire.
Gordon Brown told BBC Radio on Friday he had recently spoken to Murdoch, after the media mogul’s flagship Sun tabloid persistently attacked the prime minister over Afghanistan.
The top-selling daily has announced it will support the opposition Conservative Party at a general election due next year.
Sky bought the exclusive rights to all the England home tests in 2005 for around 220 million pounds and has extended until the 2013 season for over 260 million pounds.
The deal sparked controversy after more than 8 million people watched England win the Ashes in 2005 on Channel 4’s free-to-air coverage. That compared with the last day of the England victory at the Oval this year, which was watched by around 2 million people on Sky.
But the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Giles Clarke, told the Telegraph newspaper he thought the plan was “deeply flawed” and the “entire structure” of cricket would be damaged.
“Before the Secretary of State makes his final decision or accepts any of the panel’s recommendations I feel he must conduct his own independent financial research into the impact on our sports,” he said.
“At the moment I am certain that neither the Government nor Sport England would have the resources to make up the considerable shortfall between rights revenues that at present come from the television broadcasters who compete in a fair and open bidding process.”
David Davies, who led the review, said his plan put the public first.
“The panel’s task was to look beyond the interests of any one sport, and assess the events that really matter to society in the modern age,” he said.
Ben Bradshaw, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said in a statement the government wanted to get the right balance between ensuring everyone had access to big events while giving strong financial backing for leading sports.
“We intend to publish shortly a formal Government consultation on the report’s recommendations,” he said. “Following the conclusion of the statutory 12 week consultation period, the Government will bring forward its final decisions.”