UK Ponders Additions to ‘Crown Jewel’ Free Sports Coverage

By Kevin Hilton

The UK government has commissioned a review of the list of sporting events that are ensured free-to-air terrestrial television coverage. This group, popularly known as the “crown jewels,” currently includes the Olympics and the FA Cup Final, but Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Andy Burnham is said to be keen for cricket to be reinstated.

A panel of broadcasters, business figures, and sports personalities has been assembled to consider what should stay within the two categories for events that have to be shown in some form on terrestrial services. Group A is the most important, guaranteeing full live coverage for BBC1/BBC2, ITV, Channel 4, or Five. In addition to the Olympics and the FA Cup Final, it contains the World Cup Finals, the Derby and Grand National horse races, the European Football Championship Finals, the Scottish FA Cup Final (broadcast in Scotland), Wimbledon tennis finals, the rugby league Challenge Cup Final, and the Rugby World Cup Final.

Group B covers highlights of cricket Test matches contested in England; all non-finals matches of both Wimbledon and the Rugby World Cup; games involving England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in the Six Nations rugby; the Commonwealth Games; World Athletics Championship; the final, semifinals, and matches featuring home countries in the Cricket World Cup; and Ryder Cup and Open Championship golf.

There has long been frustration that cricket, considered the English summer national game, is not available live free to air, with ball-by-ball coverage of most competitions only on Sky Sports. While the majority of cricket fans would like to see Test matches return to terrestrial TV, the likelihood is that Twenty20 international competitions will be added to Group A. The shorter game would be easier for broadcasters like the BBC to schedule and could pull in a younger audience.

Besides cricket, Burnham favours adding further minority and women’s sports to the crown jewels. He is reported to believe that, in today’s multichannel and multimedia market, a list of protected events is even more important than in the past.

Burnham has appointed former Executive Director of the Football Association David Davies to head the review. Davies, who also had a broadcasting career with the BBC lasting nearly 25 years, is joined by a panel of experts including BBC Radio

Five Live presenter Eamonn Holmes, former England cricketer Angus Fraser, Olympic medal-winning hurdler and now broadcaster Colin Jackson, businesswoman Penny Hughes, and Hope Powell, coach of the England women’s football team.

There is no date set for when the panel will report its findings.