21 Dec

Cricket Australia (CA) considered terminating its broadcast deal with Seven West Media and offering the Test match rights to rival television network Nine Entertainment Co during the legal wrangle with the Kerry Stokes-controlled media company. 

Seven has taken CA to Federal Court over claims it breached its broadcast rights contract and is separately fighting the organisation in the Australian Chamber for International and Commercial Arbitration over whether there should be a reduction in the value of the rights for the summer. The consideration of an alternative broadcast partner by CA is another indicator of increasing hostility between the two companies. 

Two industry sources familiar with the conversations said CA had spoken to Nine multiple times about whether it would consider taking on the broadcast rights to Test matches as early as January. Certain Test matches are under anti-siphoning laws and must be broadcast on free-to-air television. The informal talks took place on the basis that Seven could default on the instalments it is required to pay CA every quarter, which would give the sport grounds to terminate the existing contract. 

A CA spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald it remained committed to delivering for its partners, but declined to comment specifically on any informal talks. 

"Despite the public health and logistical complexities presented by the pandemic, CA continues to deliver a safe and successful summer that has enthralled fans across the country and broken records along the way," the spokesperson said. "This is possible due to the support of our wonderful partners and we look forward to continuing our work together." 

The relationship between Seven and CA erupted in August when the TV network's chief executive James Warburton publicly slammed the cricket body for the lack of detail in its summer plans. Seven has since taken CA to arbitration and is seeking a significant cut (about 20 per cent) to the A$70 million (US $52.4m) annual fee it pays as part of its claim, and has not ruled out terminating its contract with three seasons remaining. 

Seven’s biggest issue is that cricket administrators prioritised the wishes of the governing body the BCCI and pay TV broadcaster partner Foxtel. Seven executives are frustrated that the international calendar for 2020-21 was flipped on its head, with limited-overs matches between Australia and India that are exclusive to Foxtel starting the season. The Australian Financial Review reported in November that Foxtel, which has the exclusive digital rights and all Big Bash League matches, one day Tests and T20 matches, signed a revised deal with the cricket. 

Nine, owner of this masthead, and Ten were the previous rights holders of the cricket but lost them in a A$1.18 billion (US $883m) six-year deal struck in 2018 with Foxtel and Seven. The informal talks with Nine stopped after Seven paid a A$12.5 million (US $9.4m) instalment to CA last Tuesday, but were ongoing up until that point. Seven offered to offload the Big Bash League (BBL) to Ten early in the year. Once Seven expressed frustration with CA, Nine and Ten informally discussed a return to broadcast the sport. The issue for Ten is that it would only want to air BBL matches exclusively, and Foxtel currently has all the rights. 

Nine and Ten declined to comment. 

If the cricket rights did move to Nine, it is unlikely it would pay the same amount Seven pays for the rights, because it and Ten paid A$550 million (US $411.5m) over four years to broadcast matches between 2014-2018. It would also clash with Nine's tennis schedule and would be an additional cost to the recently acquired rugby union rights, netball and the NRL. 

Cricket sources previously said the sports administrator had accused Seven, in its affidavit, of wanting to reset its six-year broadcast rights deal without significant reason. Seven has paid its instalments up until this point, but if it defaults and CA decides to terminate and strike an alternative deal, it may try to sue its broadcast partner for the price difference. 

John Stephenson  


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