English cricket is looking to land a television deal worth up to a staggering £1.25billion when it puts its rights – including for its new Twenty20 competition – up for sale in May.
The huge sum of money, on a par with that paid this month for Champions League and other European club football, will secure the future of the domestic game for a generation if the England & Wales Cricket Board can hit the target it has set for its first broadcast auction in five years.
The ECB is looking to land between £230 million-£250m per year for five years from 2020 to 2024, an incredible threefold-plus uplift on the current £75m it currently receives annually from Sky Sports for exclusive coverage of all live cricket in England.
The rights will be split into four packages in order to tempt terrestrial broadcasters to bid in a formal process that will begin in early May, Telegraph Sport understands.
Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, told a meeting of the county chairmen on Monday that talks were at an advanced stage with the BBC, which is confident of becoming the ECB’s free-to-air partner for the new Twenty20 competition and has promised to give it the same level of exposure as the FA Cup.
It is also understood the BBC is about to re-enter the cricket market by agreeing a deal to show highlights from this summer’s Champions Trophy in England, the first time cricket in this country has been broadcast by the corporation since the 1999 World Cup.
But competition from other terrestrial broadcasters for the ECB’s new eight-team, city-based Twenty20 competition will be fierce.
ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 all declined to comment on Tuesday but it is understood the latter is set to bid for any free-to-air matches in the tournament after broadcasting the Big Bash this winter.
The network is looking to expand its sports portfolio, which already includes highlights of England’s international summer.
It is believed ITV will carefully examine any package on offer before deciding to bid but it has been warned by the ECB it will have to mount a serious financial offer.
Sky and BT Sport will also need to commit to an unprecedented outlay for a sport other than football if they are to land one or more of the other packages.
The ECB’s confidence in landing such an increase in its existing deal stems from three factors.
Firstly, there is an acknowledgement it undersold its last rights deal to Sky, which wisely negotiated an extra two-year option that took them up to 2019.
Secondly the broadcast market has changed massively since 2012 with BT’s buying power enabling Sky to be outbid by its arch-rival.
Finally, the addition of the new Twenty20 tournament gives Harrison and his executive team another product to sell.
They need to maximise its value in order to meet the staging costs of the venture and pay the counties the annual £1.3m each they have been promised.
The ECB could combine all its Twenty20 content into one package and the governing body has set up a committee, to be led by deputy chairman Ian Lovett, to decide on the allocation of major matches spanning the new television deal and the host venues for the Twenty20 competition.
The majority of cricket rights will go to a satellite channel but Harrison has pledged that at least eight matches in the new tournament will be priced at an affordable level for a terrestrial broadcaster.
He has also confirmed whichever networks win the rights will have a say in the venues at which the competition will be staged.
The other packages on offer could consist of England’s Test cricket, one-day cricket, highlights and domestic competitions.
Harrison was appointed by the ECB two years ago mainly due to his expertise in the rights market gained while working for IMG.
Meanwhile, the ECB board yesterday recommended changing the constitution of the ECB to allow the go ahead of the Twenty20 tournament without the participation of the counties. The ECB’s 41 members have 28 days to vote with 31 required to pass the motion, with ECB chairman Colin Graves hailing the move.
He said: "The ECB board today gave their unanimous support to trigger a formal process to change the game's Articles of Association and allow a new T20 competition.
"Our members have seen the evidence for why the new T20 proposal is the right way to reach new audiences, create new fans and fuel the future of the game.
"Together, we can now take a huge opportunity to not only create a deeper engagement with those who currently follow cricket but to attract a whole new audience and ensure the sustainability of our game.
"This is a watershed moment for us all to make the whole game stronger."