Cricket World Cup final on free-to-air channels if England make it through their semi-final on Thursday.
The broadcaster, under pressure to boost flagging cricket audiences, said it was keen to broadcast a “once in a generation” sporting moment to as wide an audience as possible as England attempt to reach the final on home soil for the first time since 1979.
England’s 31-run win against India attracted a peak audience of 1.78 million and an audience reach of 3.45 million, a fraction of what a free-to-air television audience could achieve on a Sunday. The cricket final at Lord’s takes place on Sunday, July 14, posing a potential ratings showdown with the BBC, which will be broadcasting the Wimbledon final.
Sky’s announcement comes just three days after England’s defeat by the United States at the Women’s World Cup semi-final attracted the biggest British audience of the year.
Critics have long expressed concern over the steady decline in cricket audiences since England won the 2005 Ashes on Channel 4. However, captain Eoin Morgan and the ECB have both insisted this summer they have no problems with the arrangement with Sky, which recently agreed to pay £1.1 billion for the rights to show all of England’s home matches and domestic games from 2020 to 2024.
Stephen van Rooyen, chief executive of Sky UK and Ireland, said: “We are proud to be the broadcaster for a home Cricket World Cup – one of the world’s biggest and most exciting sporting events. Our aim has always been to celebrate what could be a ‘once in a generation’ moment of a home team in a big final on home soil. So, if England reach the final, we will make the match available to everyone so the whole country can be part of a rare and special big sporting moment.”
England’s semi-final opponents and venue will be confirmed at the end of the group stage, with both semi finals live on the dedicated channel “Sky Sports Cricket World Cup” next week.
Should England not make the final, the match will remain available only across Sky Sports channels.
Sky Sports told The Telegraph it has yet to decide how it would broadcast the final for free, but an option is to follow the precedent set by BT Sport, which has attracted bumper audiences for the Champions League final by making it available on YouTube. Combined digital and TV figures of 11.3 million were recorded for the the men’s Champions League final last month.
A peak audience of more than 11.7 million tuned in to England’s heartbreaking Women’s World Cup semi-final defeat. Line of Duty, the popular peak-time BBC drama, recorded a live audience of less than 10 million for its finale, while ITV’s biggest audience of the year is currently Britain’s Got Talent, which reached peak figures of just under 11 million.
Another option for Sky Sports will be to allow Channel 4 to screen live coverage. The terrestrial broadcaster already has rights to highlights packages, but is currently due to screen the British Grand Prix on July 14.