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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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