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Sky and BT Sport locked in competition as ECB deadline looms

The England and Wales Cricket Board’s media-rights sales process for international and domestic cricket for the five-year period spanning 2020 to 2024 is set to close tomorrow (Wednesday), with competition between pay-television broadcasters Sky and BT Sport reportedly set to push the contract past the £1bn (€1.13bn/$1.26bn) mark.

Final offers will need to be submitted between 9am and 10am tomorrow. An Invitation to Tender document was distributed last month, offering media rights for all matches played under the auspices of the ECB in the UK and Ireland, including England international men’s and women’s matches, county cricket competitions, the women’s domestic Twenty20 competition and the new men’s T20 league that is set to launch in 2020.

The process offers opportunities for all broadcasters, platforms and distributors to bid for live cricket, highlights and clips, for audio-visual, audio and digital use. Five packages of rights are available, including one for exclusive digital content on social-media channels.

The ECB currently receives £75m annually from Sky for exclusive coverage of all live cricket in England. In January 2015 Sky agreed a two-year extension, from 2018 to 2019, to its partnership with the ECB, covering exclusive live rights to England’s home fixtures, county matches, women's and age-grade cricket.

However, UK newspaper the Guardian said that the battle between Sky and BT for the majority of the rights is too close to call, with an announcement expected early next week at the latest.

The ECB is targeting at least eight matches per season from its new T20 league to be shown free-to-air and is said to have met executives from all major terrestrial channels, including public-service broadcaster the BBC and media and entertainment company Discovery Communications.

The Guardian said that the five-member panel tasked with determining the rights contracts recognise the value of returning live cricket to the BBC after an 18-year absence. The newspaper added that Discovery never considered bidding in the tender process.

BT Sport already has a presence in the cricket market having dislodged Sky as the live rights-holder for the next Ashes series between England and Australia in 2017-18. BT Sport secured the exclusive rights as part of a deal with the Cricket Australia governing body that runs for five years, from 2016-17 to 2020-21.