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Pretty uneasy meeting when new ECB chairman Ian Watmore sits down with Sky Sports

Last year a father of four from Nebraska, T Scott Marr, woke up after his family had decided to switch off his life support machine.

‘We said our goodbyes before extubating him, all the monitors were shut off and we waited by his side,’ said Marr’s daughter Preston.

So that must have been a pretty awkward meeting when T Scott opened his eyes, looked at his loving family, and asked what the hell they thought they were doing with that plug wire. An uncomfortable moment, certainly, but perhaps not quite as uneasy as the day when Ian Watmore sits down as chairman of the ECB with the company that bankrolls his sport: Sky.

Ian Watmore (pictured) was appointed the ECB's new chairman back in February this year

Ian Watmore (pictured) was appointed the ECB's new chairman back in February this year

Ian Watmore (pictured) was appointed the ECB’s new chairman back in February this year

For we now know Watmore spent the final months of his tenure at the Football League attempting to replace the broadcasters behind their backs, in cahoots with a cabal of clubs. A number of owners — in particular Mel Morris at Derby — were not happy with their television deal and, instead of soothing this disquiet, Watmore didn’t deter any breakaway talk. There was talk of a new television agreement with Sky’s rivals, or a more damaging split to form Premier League II.

What the elite would have said, or done, about this diluting of their project does not matter. The fact is, Watmore was party to the skulduggery. He must have been aware of the letter dated November 9, 2018, in which 15 clubs threatened to split, and he would have known the potentially ruinous consequences if Sky sued. The conclusions of an investigation by law firm Gateley would have made Watmore’s position untenable, had he not already stood down citing ill health.

The uncovering of this report, then, raises some very discomfiting questions for Watmore and the ECB, involving issues of trust and professional reputation.

A number of owners - in particular Mel Morris at Derby - were not happy with the Sky TV deal

A number of owners - in particular Mel Morris at Derby - were not happy with the Sky TV deal

A number of owners – in particular Mel Morris at Derby – were not happy with the Sky TV deal

Would the counties wish to be in business with an executive who so brazenly took sides, splitting stakeholders and shareholders, in his previous job? How will Sky feel now they know the man behind the attempted Championship coup is their partner on cricket’s latest brainchild, the Hundred?

Cricket is as divided now as the Championship clubs were over their television contract. The Hundred was warmly received by some counties, distrusted by others. There have even been rumours that some would like to break entirely from the long-form game.

Equally, there are divisions on broadcast commitments, with influential figures believing cricket has suffered from not being on terrestrial television. The counter-argument is that Sky’s investment of £1.1billion entirely funds investment in the grassroots and growth projects. Take that away and cricket is impoverished, dying, or dead.

It is a minefield of tactics and opinion, and into it now walks a man whose last act as a sports administrator was to proceed against the interests of a significant chunk of member clubs — nine in the Championship, plus 48 below — and negotiate against cricket’s biggest allies in the broadcast industry. A figure who the ECB employed largely as a safe pair of hands — he is a respected civil servant and administrator, no doubt of that — now appears quite the risk.

The ECB have been partners with tevelvision broadcasters Sky Sports for over a decade

The ECB have been partners with tevelvision broadcasters Sky Sports for over a decade

The ECB have been partners with tevelvision broadcasters Sky Sports for over a decade

There have been talks of splits and breakaways in cricket for years now — the Hundred is the biggest one, with regional teams formed from amalgams of the counties — and it would be rather unhelpful to think the chairman might move in these tense circles while being cheerfully capable of his own plotting.

Watmore was appointed to his new role in February, with the counties due to ratify the arrangement next month, but now there are questions. It is known the EFL hushed up the reasons for Watmore’s departure, but what, if anything, did the ECB know, and what have they told the counties? Did Watmore inform the ECB board of any history before his exit, or will these revelations have come as a surprise to them, too?

An ECB statement on Monday night talked of a rigorous process and ‘claims’ that now needed to be ‘reviewed and understood’. So it certainly does not appear to have been common knowledge. As well as their obvious embarrassment, the ECB’s greatest fear must be that, now alerted, the counties and Sky are bound to take a keen interest in Watmore’s route to Lord’s.

And his route out of it, if they draw the same negative conclusions.

WHAT IAN WATMORE SAID ON THE SKY TV DEAL

‘I became chair of the EFL commercial committee in 2018 and inherited a difficult contract situation over the new TV deal, which had been developing over the previous year,’ Watmore said.

‘The League was split down the middle over the deal and I sought discussions with a leading representative to explore ways we could overcome this impasse. That meeting, and conversations within it, were shared with the board and executive colleagues at the time.

‘In the event, all work to bring the deal to a successful outcome was delivered on, when it was signed after a unanimous vote by the EFL board on which I sat.

‘My resignation from the EFL role was taken after medical advice in November 2018. Since then, I have willingly participated in reviews by the EFL into the overall rights sale process and my role within it. During my short period at the organisation I operated with honesty and integrity and until today I have not heard any reports from the EFL that their view is any different.’

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