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The Sports Lawyer: ‘When TV is the paymaster, scheduling can be a legal minefield’

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THE SPORTS LAWYER is actually a posse of Britain’s brightest lawyers, from the Sport & Media team at the UK law firm, Thomas Eggar, who will be contributing features, analysis and insight on a regular basis on the key sports law issues of the day. In TSL’s latest column, Andrew Nixon discusses the problems that arise – most notably now in cricket – when TV companies effectively fund the sport, and request due influence.

 

 

 

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By Andrew Nixon

29 July 2011

Cricket’s first World Test Championship (WTC) is due to take place in 2013 in England. Test cricket, given its format, does not naturally fit within a competition window; however, the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided to proceed with a tournament involving the top four test sides in the world, with the final (potentially as a timeless test to ensure a result) taking place at Lord’s.

It is a move that has generally been welcomed. Whilst many still see Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game, outside of England and Australia those numbers are dwindling, and it is to be hoped that a play off system will go some way to improving the commercial viability of the five-day game.

However, one of the problems faced by administrators is the already overloaded (and unstructured) fixtures calendar. It is clearly difficult to shoe-horn three versions of the game together and keep any sort of format. This also means that broadcasters, from whom cricket generates huge revenue streams, will want to ensure their position is protected and this issue is at the heart of a dispute which may threaten the WTC.

In order to ensure the WTC can proceed, and hold status as the major event in the calendar for 2013, the ICC have removed the Champions Trophy from the fixture list. The Champions Trophy, which takes place every two years, has never really worked as a tournament or as a concept; indeed, its only USP is the TV revenue it generates. The problem with this decision is that ESPN Star, which holds an eight-year rights contract with the ICC worth $1.5billion, are unhappy about losing the Champions Trophy.

Although ESPN would be able to screen the WTC, the Champions Trophy, as an event and therefore a platform for selling lucrative advertising, is of more interest to ESPN’s core Asian market. Furthermore, the WTC was not part of the deal when it was signed in 2007.

Resolving this issue will not necessarily be easy. The ICC has mooted playing both the Champions Trophy and the WTC in the same calendar year; however, that will only further crowd the calendar and dilute the meaning (and quality) of both events. Furthermore, whilst it may resolve the issue with ESPN, it will create a problem with the governing bodies of both England and Australia. Neither board, if they are to be expected to play in the WTC (followed by back to back Ashes series in 2013) will want to commit players to the Champions Trophy in addition.

Comment

A wider issue, and an interesting discussion point, relates to the control broadcasting companies have over sporting calendars. The sale of broadcasting rights is crucial for the commercial programmes of governing bodies and event organisers, such as the ICC. Indeed, television revenue has replaced ticket sales as the major source of income. The Champions Trophy is a prime example of an event which often attracts poor attendances but retains commercial viability because of the broadcasting deal. What this means is that television and media companies hold considerable influence over fixturing (a prime example being BSkyB’s influence over Premier League fixtures). Whilst before, the ICC would have been able to control and dictate its own calendar, the advent of billion dollar television deals means that this is no longer feasible. Provided the income filters it way down the sport and is used to develop the sport from grass roots, then the trade off can be worth it. However, as with the ESPN Star dispute, managing the interests of national governing bodies, broadcasters and the players themselves is far from easy.

.

DCMS report on football governance

The enquiry into the governance of football in England is just out. The key issues under review are:

  1. should football clubs in the UK be treated differently from other commercial organisations;
  2. are football governance rules in England & Wales and the governing bodies themselves, fit for purpose;
  3. is there too much debt in the professional game;
  4. what are the pros and cons of the Supporter Trust share holding model;
  5. is government intervention justified and if so what form should it take; and
  6. are there lessons to be learned from governance models in other sports in the UK and abroad.

The Sport Lawyer will provide full comment on the report when it comes through.


Sports shorts

Sky win F1 Rights

A new rights deal, under which the BBC and Sky Sports will both broadcast Formula 1 in the country between 2012 and 2018, has been announced today. The new carve up will see Sky Sports broadcast every race, qualifying session, and practice live and the BBC will show half the races live, as well as the qualifying and practice sessions from those races.

GB triathlete Wiltshire receives 6 month ban

Harry Wiltshire has been suspended for 6 months by the International Triathlon Union (ITU) for unsportsmanlike conduct.

He was disqualified from the European Championships for impeding Javier Gomez during the swimming leg. The race was ultimately won by GB’s Alistair Brownlee and although there was no evidence, per se, that Wiltshire’s actions were part of a plan to assist Brownlee, the ITU still deemed it appropriate to suspend him. Interestingly, the ITU does not have its own internal appeals procedure, so should Wiltshire and the British Triathlon wish to have the decision reviewed, they will have to bring their grievance to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Contador hearing delayed

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has now confirmed that Alberto Contador’s doping case, which was due to be heard next week will not take place in November this year. It was agreed by all parties that the hearing could hold over until after the conclusion of this years Tour de France, which Contador competed in. The further delay is to allow the World Anti Doping Agency to complete compilation of its evidence.

Fernandes in talks with QPR over purchase

Tony Fernandes, the boss of Team Lotus F1, is understood to be in talks with Queens Park Rangers over a potential £100m buy out. The club is currently 62% owned by Bernie Ecclestone, who has said in the past he might be willing to sell his stake.

Resolution to the NFL Lockout?

It appears the 4 month stand off between the NFL owners and players may well reach a resolution after a ten year deal was approved. This means in principle that the season can commence, as scheduled, this September.

Andrew Nixon is an Associate in the Sport and Media Group at Thomas Eggar.

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