Sky set to lose cricket's 'Crown Jewel'?

From Colin Mann in London

UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB may no longer have sole rights to show cricket's 'Ashes' series between England and Australia when the matches are played in the UK, according to the findings of an independent review Panel into the future of listed sporting events, which suggested that these be added to a list of protected events that should receive live free-to-air coverage. Any such decision would not affect current deals, with the Australian tour in 2016 the first likely to come under any future restriction.

The panel, chaired by former broadcaster and executive director of the English Football Association David Davies, said that sporting events with a special national resonance should continue to be protected for the widest-possible television audience. It accepted that there was still a place for a listed events regime, but suggested its long-term future in a changing media landscape was by no means certain.

If the Government chooses to continue listing events to ensure free-to-air broadcast coverage, there should be a single list of live events, the Panel concluded. Protected coverage of highlights is now insufficient and out-of-step in a multi-channel, digital and online world.

The Panel recommended that the following events should be protected for free-to-air live coverage:

– The Summer Olympic Games

– FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament

– UEFA European Football Championship Finals Tournament

– The Grand National

– The FA Cup Final (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland only)

– The Scottish FA Cup (in Scotland only)

– Home and away qualification matches in the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Football Championships (listed in the Home Nation to which they relate)

– The All-England Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship (listed in its entirety)

– The Open Golf Championship

– Cricket's Home Ashes Test matches

– The Rugby Union World Cup Tournament

– Wales matches in the Six Nations Rugby Championship (in Wales only)

The Panel applauded BSkyB's role in driving innovation in the way in which sport is covered in the UK. Its capacity with ESPN, to reach 90 per cent + of households in 2012 via commercial multiplexes and Freeview, was confirmed to the Panel by Digital UK, which has overall responsibility for completing digital switchover. The Panel urged both BSkyB and ESPN to consider again what may be in the best interests of UK viewers, and the circumstances in which they might broadcast a small number of major events free-to-air.

The Panel also accepted that sports governing bodies should be best-placed to know what is in the best interests of their sport now and for the future. But the

A three-month period of consultation now follows before Ben Bradshaw, the Culture Secretary, and Gerry Sutcliffe, the Sports Minister, decide whether to adopt any of the report's findings.

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