Cricket could return to BBC as T20 negotiations begin
ECB hopes for £1bn TV rights windfall that could secure sport's future in England and Wales 'for a generation'
Live cricket could return to the BBC for the first time since 1999 as broadcasters begin bidding for the TV rights for 2020 to 2025 – a day after the England and Wales Cricket Board announced a new T20 tournament featuring eight city-based teams.
Up for grabs are the rights to show all cricket played in England and Wales and, says The Times, "Sky and BT have no objections to sharing some live rights with the corporation".
The ECB hopes the new T20 competition will prove a money-spinner and believes the TV rights could be worth more than £1bn over five years.
It is also "desperate to boost cricket's popularity, especially among young people, and wants around eight of the 36 matches in the new competition to be shown on a free-to-air channel as well as a subscription one, such as Sky or BT", says the Times.
Early indications are that there is real interest in the T20, adds the paper. "The ECB is expecting there to be a large overall increase in the amount bid for international and domestic events... BT may target buying rights to the new T20 competition more aggressively than England Test matches."
The BBC declined to comment, but the London Evening Standard reports that "director general Lord Hall has already met the ECB's top brass for lengthy talks about potentially bidding for the rights to show the new city-based Twenty20 format".
Other terrestrial broadcasters are also keen, says the Daily Telegraph. "ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 all declined to comment but it is understood the latter is set to bid for any free-to-air matches in the new tournament after broadcasting the Big Bash this winter," the paper reports.
"It is believed ITV will carefully examine any package on offer before deciding to bid but it has been warned by the ECB it will have to mount a serious financial offer."
Raising £200m a year or more from TV rights would represent an enormous increase on the £75m the ECB currently receives from Sky Sports for exclusive coverage of all live cricket in England - enough, says the Telegraph, to "secure the future of the domestic game for a generation".
Will new Twenty20 tournament revitalise cricket in England?
ECB outlines controversial plans for a city-based tournament featuring eight teams and an IPL-style player draft
English cricket is set to launch a new Twenty20 tournament to rival that of the Indian Premier League and Australia's Big Bash.
Plans for the competition were revealed on Monday evening by Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board [ECB], who said it was "a hugely exciting moment" for the English game as it looks to shed its staid image and sex up the sport.
The new tournament is scheduled to begin in 2020 and will feature eight city-based franchises, an Indian Premier League-style player draft and end of season play-offs.
The move away from the traditional 18 county system is sure to provoke debate but the ECB wants its members to sanction the tournament for the good of the wider game.
The eight teams in the new league would be based in Britain's major cities and will play 36 games over a 38-day summer window, with four home games for each team. All the matches will be televised with "significant free-to-air exposure" promised by the ECB as they look to take the new format to the masses.
In addition, and in a nod to the Indian Premier League, there will be a play-off system to provide greater incentive for finishing higher up the league, as well as a players' draft, with squads of 15 including three overseas players.
"What we are doing here is future-proofing county cricket," Harrison told BBC Sport, who denied the new approach as a risk.
"I don't think it's so much a gamble," he said. "I think it's about looking into the future and saying, 'What do we want our business and our game to look like?'"
Driving the ECB desire to sex up the sport is the realisation that in the digital age cricket faces competition from all manner of entertainment not to mention the almost endless football season. Yet despite this there is still a demand for cricket - as Australia's Big Bash league has shown with its average crowds of more than 28,000 - but it has to be packaged in a format that is fast, fun and furious.
"What we absolutely need to do, is start appealing to a younger audience," said Harrison. "We know that by doing things differently, by building new teams, we can be relevant to a whole new audience and bring this very diverse, multicultural Britain in to our stadiums in a way perhaps we haven't been successful in doing."
While the city-based Twenty20 tournament is likely to pull in the younger punters, county cricket remains popular among the older generation, and there will inevitably be concerns that this marks the beginning of the end for the traditional county game.
"Not at all," countered Harrison. "Cricket has been a sport which has always had the ability to evolve and change where it's needed to, and its shown itself to be incredibly adaptable... we have demonstrated we are capable of it, we've got the format, we now just need to create the competition which enables these new fans to get involved.
"It's a hugely exciting moment."