CA, Seven deal ‘makes about as much sense as a screen door on a submarine’: Willee

Late yesterday afternoon, 30 June, reports emerged Seven has launched Federal Court proceedings to terminate its mega-contract with Cricket Australia. Following the story, Spinach general manager Ben Willee told Mumbrella he’s “not surprised in the slightest that it’s blown up”.

“I would say the current deal between Cricket Australia and Channel Seven makes about as much sense as a screen door on a submarine.”

“The key issue is that Cricket Australia took the money and took their most valuable high rating properties, which are One-Day International cricket and T20 International Cricket, and put that behind the paywall. So that’s a massive coup for Foxtel, but that’s actually bad for cricket.”

Seven is looking to ditch its mega-cricket deal

“There is a delicate balance between free-to-air and pay-TV. Free-to-air has to be used with your best product, for the biggest games, and to recruit new users to the code, to recruit kids and to have family viewing, and not having that on free-to-air puts enormous pressure on the deal immediately, and it leaves very little margin for error.”

A statement provided to Mumbrella yesterday read: “Seven West Media Limited (ASX: SWM) through its subsidiary Seven Network (Operations) Limited (Seven) has filed court proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia against Cricket Australia (CA) in relation to multiple quality and standard breaches by CA of Seven’s Media Rights Agreement with CA (MRA).”

Willee said “the part no one is talking about, is that TV stations are their own biggest clients. When you’ve got big events, you’ve got that massive opportunity to use it to promote your own shows”.

Spinach’s Willee: FTA has to be used with your best product.

“What we’ve seen is MAFS has taken the crown from My Kitchen Rules by using the tennis to promote that show, and cricket should be a vehicle for Seven to promote their shows, and it hasn’t been as good.”

The argument that looks to be levelled by Seven will centre around the quality of the Big Bash League, as Willee points to the inability to lure big international players, COVID, and the salary cap as limiting factors for the quality of the game, with the added scheduling from CA meaning Seven can’t capitalise on ratings.

“It’s in a bad deal in the first place that was never going to survive the pressure of COVID, and I am not surprised in the least that both parties are having a big argument about it.”

Contrasting the current situation, he highlights Supercars’ past decision to move content behind a paywall and “take the money” as another example of how the sport didn’t get an audience or growth as a result.

“Sports broadcasters need to be very aware of that balance, and especially the AFL needs to be aware of that because the money is very intoxicating and just because you get more money, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for the sport.”

“Sport needs that balance of free-to-air and then the money from pay-TV. So I would argue the AFL are following this one incredibly closely too, because there are a few lessons to be learned.”

Seven and Nine swapped cricket and tennis in 2018

The AFL broadcast rights are seemingly on the horizon, in one of the most sought-after deals in recent history, with international and local players vying for both the FTA and subscription rights.

Willee commented that Australia’s unique love of sport is evidenced by being “one of the few countries in the world that has legislation for certain sports staying on free-to-air TV. That in itself is a message for how much we love sport.”

In 2018 Nine and Seven swapped summer sports rights, with Nine dropping its cricket deal after holding the rights for decades to pursue the tennis rights. Seven then committed to a six-year contract with CA, then first looking to bring it to an early end two years later. 

With Nine seemingly pleased with its end of the stick, CEO Mike Sneesby hinted that the network could look at adding Cricket back to its portfolio on top of tennis in February.

Willee added: “Of all three of the main sports, be it tennis, AFL, and cricket have significant benefits, but it’s pretty easy to argue that tennis and AFL have greater benefits than cricket. Part of that is because cricket hasn’t necessarily been managed properly.”

With tennis tied up for now, and the AFL potentially being looked at by all three of the main FTA networks domestically, on top of some international streaming players, Willee added, “all three networks would give their right arm to have AFL and/or tennis”.

Tennis and AFL are clear of the cricket in value, according to Willee.

He continued, what needs to happen is Cricket Australia stand up, learn valuable lessons from this, and make changes that will improve its ratings and make it more valuable to a broadcaster.

“It might be a case of second mouse gets the cheese,” he added.

Ultimately, he said “I don’t think it is in anyone’s interests to have a termination. More often than not in this situation, it doesn’t benefit anyone to have a long protracted court case.”

While ratings have dipped in recent interrupted seasons, the Big Bash League has previously proven to be a consistent rating hit throughout summer for networks, with Ten’s coverage having been lauded in the past. The network declined to give a firm statement to Mumbrella yesterday on whether it could make a play now, yet the network has consistently said it will look at all appropriate sports rights when they arise.

Most recently, Paramount ANZ chief sales officer Rod Prosser told the Mumbrellacast: “As these rights come available, we will look at them very seriously [in relation to football], but that extends across all sporting rights as they come available. If it makes strategic sense, and the code fits with the business and our values […], 100% we will always take a good look.”

On whether Seven would be better off without cricket entirely, Willee suggested that under the right circumstances, they would be more than happy to hang on to it.

“I think they’d be very happy to have it, but they’d be happy to have it on their own terms, which is a balance between cost and value.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.