MP in bid to make home test cricket matches free-to-air by law

Live coverage of England’s home test cricket matches would be protected for free-to-air TV under a proposed law change put forward in Parliament.

Six Nations rugby matches involving home countries would be given the same status by the Bill submitted by Labour former minister John Spellar.

Ofcom’s rules require that full coverage of certain major sporting events is offered to free-to-air broadcasters if they are in the regulator’s “group A” top tier of protected events.

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Mr Spellar, MP for Warley, wants a law change to expand the list and has asked for his Broadcasting (Listed Sporting Events) Bill to be considered further on March 22 next year.

England's Joe Root bats at a test match at Lord's in 2021.England's Joe Root bats at a test match at Lord's in 2021.
England's Joe Root bats at a test match at Lord's in 2021.

He told the PA news agency: “The big international games should be free-to-air, should be available for everyone, because we want those to encourage people, and particularly youngsters, to participate in sport, and also as part of national cohesion of supporting.”

He said his Bill was particularly focused on trying to ensure special status is granted for test cricket matches played in domestic venues and Six Nations rugby matches involving home countries.

If granted the top tier of protected status, those games would sit alongside events such as the Olympic Games and the men’s and women’s football World Cups under Ofcom’s broadcast rules.

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Chris Millard, managing director of the England cricket supporters group the Barmy Army, said he was in favour of the idea for home test matches.

He told PA that the 2005 Ashes series, widely considered one of the best in the sport’s history, and being able to watch it on Channel 4, played a key role in his falling in love with the game.

He said: “I think the big thing for me and my set of friends was that 2005 Ashes. It did capture the nation and it really gripped me.

“I was a cricket fan before and I played a little bit, but I can pinpoint that as a turning point for me where I became hooked on the game.”

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He added: “You can’t take the credit away from what Sky have done for the game and how they’ve managed to develop the game.

“I think there’s a happy balance to be found.

“Currently, it’s a little bit weighted in (favour of) the private sector, Sky, TNT, however, without their investment in the game, I do think that the game would stand still.

“I think there’s definitely somewhere in the middle where we can have some free-to-air cricket, with the caveat being that we still need broadcast companies to be invested for the game to move forward.”

He said there is a need to “bring the next generation through”, but questioned if access on free-to-air TV would be sufficient, saying the game also needs to look at how it can make test cricket “sexier” and more appealing to the young in the digital space.

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“But it can’t do anything other than help raise the awareness for young people and raise the profile of Test cricket if it is on terrestrial TV, without dampening the progression that broadcast rights deals bring on a major scale,” he said.

Private members’ bills offer backbench MPs a chance to propose legislation in Parliament, but are unlikely to progress without Government support.

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