Newly-merged law firm to advise as ECB seeks to maximise media rights revenue
The England and Wales Cricket Board has appointed CMS, the London-based leading law firm, to advise it on the sale of its media rights for the next cycle, from 2020 to 2024.
CMS will help “to ensure the process meets the very highest standards of integrity, transparency and accountability,” the ECB said on Wednesday, following an annual general meeting at Lord's Cricket Ground.
A tender for broadcasting and other media rights is to be launched shortly, which will include England’s home matches and a planned new domestic Twenty20 competition,
CMS won a competitive process last November, with a joint pitch that involved another legal firm Olswang ahead of the merger of the two companies.
The three-way merger of CMS, Olswang and Nabarro was concluded on 1 May.
David Zeffman, formerly a partner of Olswang and now head of gambling and sport at the new entity, will lead the team advising the ECB on its tender process and the subsequent media rights agreements, working alongside Chris Watson, the head of global technology, media and communications, and Satyen Dhana, the partner for city competition.
Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive, said: “This summer ECB will conduct the sale of media rights for all our competitions, including home-based International matches, the current domestic competitions for both men and women and the New T20 competition.
"It’s critical that the process is right, meets the highest standards of integrity and helps the whole game to get the best outcome. The experience and expertise of CMS will support us in this.”
Watson added: “We are delighted to be working with the ECB at this exciting time in their development. Critical to our appointment was our ability, as a newly united team, to provide sports, broadcasting, competition and IP specialists all under one roof and each aligned to the ECB’s objectives.
“This is a very significant appointment for the new firm and clearly demonstrates the strength of our combined offering and expanded ability to offer clients the full spectrum of international converged TMT services.”
The ECB is reported to be aiming for domestic rights deals worth between £230 million and £250 million per year, a threefold increase on the £75 million per year it currently receives in an exclusive live rights deal with Sky, the UK pay-TV operator.
The governing body’s optimism is based on the prospects for a new domestic city-based eight-team Twenty20 league to start in 2020 and designed along the lines of the high-profile Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash League.
The tender will also include England’s home test matches, one-day internationals and Twenty20 internationals, plus domestic county matches, with the T20 Blast, the existing domestic short-format competition, to continue.
Sky has had a stranglehold on live rights to English cricket since 2006, but now has a credible rival in BT Sport, making a competitive auction a real possibility.
While it is anticipated that, in order to maximise revenues, a subscription broadcaster will show most of the live games from the new Twenty20 competition, around eight will be reserved for free-to-air coverage and the ECB has held talks with the BBC about returning to live televised cricket for the first time since 1999.
Lucrative broadcasting revenues will enable the ECB to replenish group reserves, which stood at £35.7 million at the end of January 2017, down from £73.1 million at the same time a year earlier.
This followed record investment of nearly £75 million in the professional and recreational game last year, with the main areas of expenditure being: payments and contributions to the first-class county clubs; recreational and grassroots spend; support for the England teams and talent pathways across men’s, women’s and disability cricket; and the ECB’s role in leading and supporting the growth of the game.
This deliberate strategy contributed to a pre-tax loss of £37.3 million, compared to a £1.4 million profit in the previous year.
Turnover fell from £134 million to £118.9 million, with broadcast revenue down by £5.6 million and match returns down by £5 million. However, this was anticipated given that the home series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka were always going to be less money-spinning than those against Australia, for 'The Ashes', and New Zealand, the visiting teams in 2015.
The ECB's financial model is based on a four-year business cycle, in which years featuring tours by Australia and India generate more revenue than others. India are due to return to England in 2018 and Australia in 2019.