Fans of Radio 5 Live’s perennial cricket show Test Match Special are distraught at the news that the BBC has been outbid by commercial rivals TalkSport for the exclusive live, free-to-air radio coverage of this year’s England overseas Tests against the West Indies and Sri Lanka.
The result ends a 13-year association between the Test coverage and the BBC, which was last outbid for an overseas tour in 2005, also by TalkSport.
Scott Taunton, chief executive of Wireless Group Limited, which owns TalkSport, said “Winning these prestigious rights is a great victory for TalkSport and its first-class coverage. England’s overseas tours are sure to lure large audiences of fans as we cement TalkSport’s position as the fans’ favourite for sporting news, analysis and live coverage.
“I’m delighted that we will be with England fans for every ball of the day throughout these winter tours, with our own expert line-up of cricketing stars.”
But fans of the 60-year-old Test Match Special had a different view, with some calling it “the worst possible news for cricket coverage” and saying they were “almost in tears”, while others imagined how TalkSport’s association with betting sites would affect coverage.
I'm sorry but this is the worst possible news for cricket coverage. @talkSPORT cover football and darts really well but the cricket commentary is light years behind @bbctms
So we’ll have this to look forward to all tour: “Here’s Broad running in – you can get odds of 25/1 that this delivery will be a wicket at https://t.co/pq6MsKcZuj…. and it goes through to the keeper” Wonderful…. 😞
Others criticised the England and Wales Cricket Board for allowing the rights to go to a commercial channel – but Test Match Special presenter Jonathan Agnew urged them not to blame the ECB, tweeting: “I know our loyal @bbctms listeners will be very disappointed and I’m very sorry. I hope I can still provide news coverage on BBC. To be clear, it has nothing to do with @ECB_cricket. SL and WI Board decision”.
Well done @ECB_cricket . Take away hands down the best commentary on radio in @bbctms who have been doing it for decades & give it to these guys. Wonderful. You wonder why cricket popularity is in decline when your constantly making poor decisions. Keep up the great work 👍🏻
I think the response to this tweet speaks volumes. I know our loyal @bbctms listeners will be very disappointed and I’m very sorry. I hope I can still provide news coverage on BBC. To be clear, it has nothing to do with @ECB_cricket. SL and WI Board decision https://t.co/dMFh8fmbxL
In a statement, the BBC said it had tabled “a competitive bid” for the rights and insisted its other coverage meant it was “still the home of cricket on the radio”.
“We put forward a competitive bid for these tours but it was unsuccessful on this occasion,” said the statement. “We’re disappointed because we know how much cricket fans value our coverage.
“We are still the home of cricket on the radio, as we demonstrated during the Ashes last winter. This summer all England’s matches will be live on Test Match Special, and we have a long term deal for all England’s home internationals through to 2024 as well as rights to the next three Ashes series, both home and away.”