LONDON — The U.K. government has moved to guarantee that all World Cup soccer games remain free-to-air in Britain in its new list of “crown jewel” sporting events, but has opened the door for cricket to migrate to pay television.
In general, the new list — which details all sports events that must be available live on free TV — strengthens the hand of the British terrestrial webs.
Besides reaffirming that the World Cup, the Olympics, Wimbledon tennis and other events cannot be sold exclusively to pay TV, the list adds European Football Championship Finals, the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final and the Rugby Union World Cup Final to that protected category.
Chris Smith, the culture secretary, said that he was also looking at qualifying-round soccer matches, the games that determine whether a country makes it into a finals tournament.
The new British list is now broken down into a Group A and a Group B. Group A is free-to-air and Group B — which includes cricket matches involving the English team — is available to pay TV as long as certain conditions are met, such as highlight packages being made available to the terrestrials.
The BBC is traditionally home to cricket in the U.K., but satcaster BSkyB will almost certainly outbid the corporation for the live broadcasting rights in future. BSkyB, however, is not pleased with the introduction of Group B, arguing that the previous voluntary system on pay television sports, such as with telecasts of Premiere League soccer, worked well.