11 Oct

Cricket Australia (CA) has urged Seven West Media to not head to arbitration but the network remains adamant it will pursue this avenue in its bid for a major cut in its rights fees for the season ahead.

A day after Seven raised the temperature by lodging paperwork with the Australian Chamber for International and Commercial Arbitration (ACICA) calling for the appointment of an independent expert, CA chief Nick Hockley and Seven managing director James Warburton spoke about what lay ahead.

CA remains supremely confident in its legal position, adamant there are no grounds in its contract with Seven for the need to bring in ACICA as the third umpire or for an independent rights expert to value the broadcast deal.

The governing body will wait until it is told by ACICA whether the matter can be heard by the arbitrator before deciding its next course of action. But Seven said on Thursday both parties had been notified by the ACICA that the case will go ahead and an expert apppointed.

CA has offered Seven what has been described as a good-will discount to its broadcast fee but a source familiar with the matter has indicated it applies to this season only, and not the final three years of the rights deal.

Senior figures at CA believe Seven, for all its bluster about the quality of the Big Bash League and the sport's administration, still want the nation's summer game on its airwaves, albeit not at the price agreed upon in 2018.

Hockley wants Seven to drop arbitration but Warburton insists the network will proceed with its fight to prove why the BBL and international campaign involving India is not worth the A$75 million (US$54.4m) in cash it is due to pay.

Seven argues the quality of BBL action will not be as strong as it expected, claiming a drop off in talent and COVID-19 restrictions forcing the BBL to be held in hubs will mean the overall package does not meet two key standard-of-play clauses in its contract.

The network is also frustrated by a late decision to switch the white-ball matches against India to the front of the season, leaving it without international men's content through November as these matches are shown only on Foxtel.

While CA is arguing arbitration is not the right avenue, to stop this it will need to head to the Supreme Court in Melbourne seeking an injunction before the expert finishes his binding review of what the season's content is worth.

Seven has rejected a 20% cut offered by CA, with industry figures suggesting the network wants at least a 40% reduction - if not more. Seven has refused to disclose its desired figure but, should the two parties find common ground, is open to CA spreading the cut over the remaining four years of the contract.

Seven has not ruled out dropping the BBL once this summer is done or even fully terminating cricket, having signed a six-year, A$450 million (US$326m) deal in 2018.

Broadcast sources say the best way for Seven to leave cricket would be if the fight heads to court, as it could prosecute a breach-of-contract argument against CA.

Foxtel, cricket's pay-television arm, is closely monitoring Seven's bold plans but does not want to lose cricket as this is its premier summer offering.

Should Seven walk away from cricket, it would leave the network without a major sport over the holiday period, having relinquished rights to the Australian Open to Nine, the publisher of this masthead.

John Stephenson


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