TalkSport take overseas cricket rights from BBC

England's Mark Stoneman batting against New Zealand in March

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England’s Mark Stoneman batting against New Zealand in March

The BBC has lost the rights to cover England’s upcoming cricket tours of Sri Lanka and the West Indies on radio to commercial broadcaster TalkSport.

It is the first time since 2005 that the BBC’s Test Match Special has lost the rights to an England overseas tour.

“I know our loyal @bbctms listeners will be very disappointed,” wrote commentator Jonathan Agnew on Twitter.

Scott Taunton, CEO of TalkSport owner Wireless Group, said winning the rights was “a great victory” for the station.

“I’m delighted that we will be with England fans for every ball of the day throughout these winter tours,” he added.

The free to air rights cover the Tests, one-day internationals (ODIs) and T20s for the tours that start in Sri Lanka in October and the West Indies in early 2019.

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“Aggers” said he hoped he could “still provide news coverage” about the tours

Many cricket fans have reacted with dismay to Agnew’s retweet of TalkSport’s announcement, with one calling it “a national disgrace”.

“This is literally the worst thing I have ever read on Twitter,” wrote another.

Yet some fans have been more moderate, with one calling on listeners to “give TS [TalkSport] a chance before passing judgement.”

In his own post, Aggers, as he’s known, stressed the decision was made by the Sri Lankan and West Indies cricket boards and not the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board).

TalkSport’s cricket coup follows News Corp’s 2016 purchase of its parent company in a £220m deal.

The BBC and the ECB have been approached for comment.

Analysis by Amol Rajan, BBC media editor

For devotees of Test Match Special – an international club comprising hundreds of thousands of people, if not more – the sound of Jonathan Agnew and his colleagues isn’t just part of summer. It is the summer. That is why today’s news has caused shock and dismay. Fans need to be aware it could be a harbinger.

For TalkSport, this is a huge coup. Their plan is to expand domestic cricket coverage, of which they have none so far; and their use of big-name former Test match stars such as Darren Gough and Steve Harmison shows they have some of the personnel in place already. I suspect that, with a heavy heart but an eye on their bank statements, some of the current TMS team will be invited to go over to the new station for these two tours.

TalkSport have every incentive to send a strong signal by poaching big talent, and some of these commentators will be acutely aware that their income is seasonal – though they will be very wary of annoying comrades at the BBC.

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Shikhar Dhawan (right) plays a shot for IPL team Sunrisers Hyderabad

Cricket is very attractive to advertisers and – around the world – becoming more so. The gambling industry puts a lot of advertising into sport. In India, hundreds of millions of fans have become addicted to the latest form of the game, Twenty20, played in the Indian Premier League (IPL). That makes cricket an increasingly lucrative and attractive market over the medium term.

For listeners, who still get to follow the cricket, this needn’t be a disaster. But it is a warning to the BBC. Competition is only going to get tougher, as the likes of Amazon and Facebook finally move – as they have long threatened – into sport, just as BT have in recent years, taking on Sky.

For administrators, the question is whether the bigger audience at the BBC makes it worth taking less money from their lower bid. Clearly, these overseas boards would rather have the cash.

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