CAMPAIGNS: A TV triumph for English cricket - Lobbying

For many years, the BBC held the rights to broadcast English domestic Test cricket on television. Following the 1996 Broadcasting Act, the status of Test cricket as a ’listed event’ was tightened, meaning that cable and satellite channels were prevented from transmitting domestic Test cricket exclusively live.

For many years, the BBC held the rights to broadcast English

domestic Test cricket on television. Following the 1996 Broadcasting

Act, the status of Test cricket as a ’listed event’ was tightened,

meaning that cable and satellite channels were prevented from

transmitting domestic Test cricket exclusively live.



The last time the BBC bid for the rights to show domestic Test cricket

was in 1994. At that time, subscription channels were allowed to bid in

a limited fashion, although pay-per-view channels were prevented.

Following the 1996 Broadcasting Act, subscription channels, such as Sky

Sports, were now excluded.



The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) felt that it could inject much

needed funds into the game if it could negotiate with another

broadcaster, preferably non-terrestrial. But to do this, the ECB needed

to change the status of English Test cricket to a delisted sport.



Public affairs agency Westminster Strategy was hired by ECB to work on

the campaign.



Objective



To end the classification of domestic Test match cricket as a listed

event - as defined under the 1996 Broadcasting Act - which stops

domestic Tests being shown exclusively live on subscription

television.



Tactics



In 1997, the Goverment announced that there would be a review of listed

events and the criteria defining them. Soon after, however, Chris Smith,

the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was quoted as

saying the Government planned to extend the listed events register, not

reduce it. It was clear that the ECB would be facing an uphill

battle.



At the same time, opinion in the media was against delisting, with fears

that the rights would simply be sold to the highest bidder. Naturally,

the BBC was also lobbying heavily to keep the regulations in place and

many backbench MPs and Peers were strongly opposed to seeing Test

cricket removed from terrestrial television.



The first element of Westminster Strategy’s campaign was to establish

the ECB’s case. Its key message was that the 1996 Broadcasting Act was

unfair and did not make for a level playing field. It also focused on

the fact that extra funds gained from the sale of television rights

would be used to invest in cricket at a grassroots level.



A presentation of the case was made to the Government’s Advisory Group

on listed events. Over a six-month period, the campaign targeted

politicians, influential civil servants, the media and various

interested third parties.



In particular, cricket clubs across the country were contacted to create

support for the campaign at the county level, and cricketing

personalities were enlisted.



The final months of the campaign were spent ensuring the support of

various MPs and communicating assurances that the future of cricket on

television would not be solely about finding the highest bidder, but

making it a fairer bidding process.



Results



On 25 June this year, Chris Smith announced that, in effect, all

domestic Test matches would be delisted, saying it would ’allow the

sport more freedom to negotiate a fair price for its flagship

events’.



Since then, the ECB has signed a four-year deal with Channel 4 and Sky

Sports worth pounds 103 million - almost double the pounds 58 million

paid by the BBC for the previous contract.



The opinion of the media was turned from hostility to support, with

articles in newspapers such as the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph

reiterating the financial benefits of the move.



Verdict



Taking on the BBC and cricket fans - not necessarily the most

free-thinking in the sporting world - is a daunting task. However this

campaign was handled extremely well, keeping attention focused on the

ECB’s hopes and moving away from a negative money-grabbing image which

could have ruined its chances.



Client: England and Wales Cricket Board

PR Team: Westminster Strategy and in-house

Campaign: Going into bat for English cricket

Timescale: July 1997 to June 1998

Budget: pounds 55,000



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.