TV Dispute Threatens World Test Championship
Published 01 August 2011 By: Andrew Nixon
Cricket's first World Test Championship (WTC) is due to take place in 2013 in England. Test cricket, given its format, does not naturally fit within a competition window; however, the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided to proceed with a tournament involving the top four test sides in the world, with the final (potentially as a timeless test to ensure a result) taking place at Lords. It is a move that has generally been welcomed. Whilst many still see Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game, outside of England and Australia those numbers are dwindling, and it is to be hoped that a play off system will go some way to improving the commercial viability of the 5 day game.
However, one of the problems faced by administrators is the already overloaded (and unstructured) fixtures calendar. It is clearly difficult to shoe-horn three versions of the game together and keep any sort of format. This also means that broadcasters, from whom cricket generates huge revenue streams, will want to ensure their position is protected and this issue is at the heart of a dispute which may threaten the WTC.
In order to ensure the WTC can proceed, and hold status as the major event in the calendar for 2013, the ICC have removed the Champions Trophy from the fixture list. The Champions Trophy, which takes place every two years, has never really worked as a tournament or as a concept; indeed, its only USP is the TV revenue it generates. The problem with this decision is that ESPN Star, which holds an 8 year rights contract with the ICC worth $1.5billion, are unhappy about losing the Champions Trophy. Although ESPN would be able to screen the WTC, the Champions Trophy, as an event and therefore a platform for selling lucrative advertising, is of more interest to ESPN's core Asian market. Furthermore, the WTC was not part of the deal when it was signed in 2007.
Resolving this issue will not necessarily be easy. The ICC has mooted playing both the Champions Trophy and the WTC in the same calendar year; however, that will only further crowd the calendar and dilute the meaning (and quality) of both events. Furthermore, whilst it may resolve the issue with ESPN, it will create a problem with the governing bodies of both England and Australia. Neither board, if they are to be expected to play in the WTC (followed by back to back Ashes series in 2013) will want to commit players to the Champions Trophy in addition.
A wider issue, and an interesting discussion point, relates to the control broadcasting companies have over sporting calendars. The sale of broadcasting rights is crucial for the commercial programmes of governing bodies and event organisers, such as the ICC. Indeed, television revenue has replaced ticket sales as the major source of income. The Champions Trophy is a prime example of an event which often attracts poor attendances but retains commercial viability because of the broadcasting deal. What this means is that television and media companies hold considerable influence over fixturing (a prime example being BSkyB's influence over Premier League fixtures). Whilst before, the ICC would have been able to control and dictate its own calendar, the advent of billion dollar television deals means that this is no longer feasible. Provided the income filters it way down the sport and is used to develop the sport from grass roots, then the trade off can be worth it. However, as with the ESPN Star dispute, managing the interests of national governing bodies, broadcasters and the players themselves is far from easy.
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- Tags: Broadcasting | Cricket | ESPN | ICC | Intellectual Property | International Cricket Council (ICC) | United Kingdom (UK) | World Test Championship
Andrew Nixon is a Partner in the Sport Group at Sheridans. Referred to in this year's Legal 500 as a “very bright and talented sports lawyer” Andrew's practice focuses principally on regulatory, governance, disciplinary, arbitration and dispute resolution within the sport sector. Andrew's clients include governing bodies, sports clubs, sports agencies and individual athletes.