Broadcast deal at risk as Seven Network takes Cricket Australia to federal court

Sport

Cricket Australia has hit back at the Seven Network, claiming it is talking the game down after the broadcaster lodged paperwork in the federal court.

In an extraordinary 24 hours that puts at risk their $450m deal, the free-to-air broadcaster on Monday evening lodged an application to see emails between CA, the Board of Cricket Control for India, Foxtel and state governments. The broadcaster believes CA was beholden to the BCCI, giving into its wishes to start the tour with the ODI and Twenty20 matches, which are broadcast solely on Foxtel.

“It appears to me that CA’s scheduling decisions may have been motivated by CA’s broader interests in relation to the BCCI, Foxtel and also a positive incentive given to CA by the State of Tasmania,” Seven’s managing director Lewis Martin wrote in the affidavit, published by Nine and seen by AAP.

The Covid-19 pandemic heavily disrupted the original summer schedule and CA shifted the three-match ODI series to a 27 November start, to be followed by the Twenty20 series starting on Friday.

Crucially, that meant the four-match Test series with India was pushed back and the first men’s international cricket to be shown on Seven this year will not arrive until 17 December

CA has maintained throughout the dispute that it has and will continue to deliver a summer of high-quality cricket, despite the disruption caused by the pandemic. Seven disagrees and is seeking to prove a breach of contract.

Cricket Australia responded with a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon.

“With so much positivity around Australian cricket it is disappointing that Seven West Media has again chosen to use the media to talk our wonderful game down,” Nick Hockley, Cricket Australia’s interim CEO, said.

“CA has maintained all along our commitment to delivering a thrilling summer of cricket and on behalf of all involved, be that governments, partners, players and staff, I’m proud to say we are doing just that. We remain confident in our contractual position.

“In the most challenging environment sport has faced, with the support of our friends at the BCCI, CA has ensured that the much-anticipated series with India can go ahead safely.”

Seven West Media has been contacted by Guardian Australia for comment.

Viewing figures so far have been strong with record numbers tuning in for the Women’s Big Bash League and the two ODIs already played.

Saturday night’s WBBL final between the Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Stars was the third most watched WBBL game in history, pulling in almost 429,000 viewers. That was despite Seven only showing it on its secondary channel 7mate, a move that frustrated several within CA.

Sunday’s ODI audience of 585,000 for the clash between Australia and India made it the most watched cricket match in Foxtel’s history.

“The first two men’s ODIs between Australia and India set viewership records and is a great indicator of the level of interest in the upcoming Test Series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, which includes the first-ever day-night Test against India,” Hockley said.

“Similarly, the WBBL has been an absolute triumph with regular season matches setting new audience records and both semi-finals rating almost one-third more than their corresponding games last season.”

Seven’s latest move puts in jeopardy the $450m rights deal between the two organisations, of which the TV network pays $70m per year.

It is separate to the one before an independent arbitrator, through which Seven is trying to push down the price of its rights for this year. CA had already offered a 20% discount due to changes caused by the pandemic but that was rejected.

A finding from that arbitrator is expected within weeks. However, that may not be final given it is understood CA could question the power of the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration.