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ECb warns government over top player exodus- 22 Mar 2010 00:00:00

In its continuing lobbying against government proposals, the England and Wales Cricket Board has warned that the country’s top players could desert the game if Ashes Test matches are shown for free on terrestrial television.

The sport is awaiting a government decision on whether to ring-fence the series for free-to-air broadcast. However the ECB says independent advisors predict a loss of £137m in revenue should the Tests be listed.

A statement predicted a ‘collapse in the entire fabric of cricket...from the playground to the Test match arena.’

The statement added that the ECB has told the government, ‘it is not inconceivable that the funding shortfalls created by listing would precipitate a mass exodus of players from the international game, and their contracts with national cricket boards, to play instead in tournaments designed specifically to appeal to pay-TV broadcasters.’

The idea to make the Tests available for the nation to watch for free was put forward by an advisory panel led by former Football Association chief David Davies.

Live Test cricket has not been available on a free-to-air channel since the 2005 Ashes and Sky's current deal lasts until 2013, meaning any decision now would not affect viewers until 2017.

The ECB has been canvassing independent advisors to assess the potential impact of any move to make the home Ashes Tests part of a crown jewels broadcasting event for the nation.

It has now submitted its findings to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which is expected to announce its decision before the general election.

The ECB statement continued: ‘The independent economic impact assessment, based on a conservative assessment, demonstrates a probable loss of £137.4m for the 2014-2017 domestic broadcast contract.

‘This represents a drop of 48% in expected revenues from our domestic broadcast rights for the same period. These figures already take into account any expected revenue upside through listing the home Ashes Test match series, most notably any additional sponsorship income, calculated to be up to £4.8m.’

The ECB had previously suggested that the first victims of reduced broadcasting coffers would be grass roots and women's cricket.

Now there are also concerns about the long-term viability of the senior England side because the lure of lucrative Twenty20 tournaments could mean lower-value central contracts could force individuals out of the international game en masse.

The ECB statement continued: ‘The evidence submitted to DCMS sets out how an impact of this magnitude would dramatically reduce investment in cricket's infrastructure leading to less successful England teams (men's, women's and disability), threaten the future of many first-class counties and reduce by more than half ECB's investment into the grass roots of the game.

‘The ecology of the international game, already under strain as a consequence of the rise to prominence of Twenty20 cricket, could also be harmed, probably irreparably.’

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