Cricket rights discussions heat up as Seven threatens to walk away and Foxtel signs new deal

The ongoing rights discussions around cricket have taken a dramatic turn as Seven CEO James Warburton threatens to walk away from Cricket Australia.

Foxtel and Seven partnered in 2018 on a six-year deal with Cricket Australia. Worth $1.18bn, Seven contributes around $82m annually as part of the agreement, but Warburton voiced frustration last week about Cricket Australia’s (CA) handling of the sport during COVID-19.

Warburton’s frustration was initially brought about by the travel restrictions placed on cricket players and staff which is likely to impact the summer’s Big Bash League, with CA looking to put players in a bubble before international games which would inhibit their ability to take place in the BBL season.

Seven isn’t convinced that CA can provide a viable product, particularly when it comes to BBL

These restrictions triggered Warburton to warn that the broadcaster could ‘terminate’ its broadcast contract with CA. CA responded by saying it was ‘disappointed’ in his comments.

“Cricket Australia greatly values the relationship with our broadcast partners,” a CA spokesperson said.

“While disappointed by comments made in the media today, CA remains committed to delivering a full and compelling summer of cricket.”

CA went on to say it was still able to deliver a summer of cricket and that it would ‘continue to navigate’ through the challenges the pandemic was putting on the sporting body. The ICC T20 World Cup has already been postponed and the planned men’s series against Zimbabwe and the West Indes has also been shelved.

In comments made to The Australian, Warburton said CA had been ‘put on notice’.

“We are forced to consider all our options including terminating the contract and we have put them on notice,” Warburton told the title.

“This is not an acceptable product and we will not support the season.

“Cricket Australia have an obligation to deliver a competition of no lesser standard than the past.”

He furthered his comments, doubling down in his attack on CA.

“What a bumbling, stumbling administration. ‘Don’t worry’, they say, ‘we will deliver a full BBL season. We’ve got good news, we can 100 per cent tell you who can’t play because we know they are in a hub we’ve created for our International white ball games.’ The only problem is we actually have no idea who will play the BBL. How stupid to schedule International Cricket against the BBL and drain the resources of a competition already under pressure,” he told the publication.

Seven renegotiated its deal with the AFL earlier this year, saving $70m, because of the pressures brought about by COVID-19. Nine also reviewed its deal with the NRL, seeing significant savings under the new agreement.

CA’s view is that it hasn’t offered the same reduced capacity as the AFL and the NRL. It has also put forward that its schedule is much more complex, with seven touring teams across three formats and a dozen venues.

CA’s interim CEO Nick Hockley has said a full schedule of cricket will still be provided.

“Bio-security and health and safety of the players throughout the summer is absolutely the number one priority,” Hockley said.

“And creating hubs and concentrating content as the other sporting codes have done during the winter is something we’re likely to have to do, certainly in the early stages of the season.

“We are hoping the situation improves and clearly it’s going to be a busy and full summer, for both the international playing group and also the domestic group and the W/BBL.

“Everyone’s working around the clock and we’re getting amazing support from our partners, from governments, and the pieces are now really starting to fall into place.

“Our partners, and particularly our broadcast partners are across the latest information and as soon as we’ve got a bit more certainty around the approvals for quarantine arrangements and the like then we’ll be making some announcements on what the particular dates of the summer are.”

Amid the conversations, Fox Sports has signed a new multi-year agreement with the English Cricket Board which will bring English international cricket to Australian fans starting with Australia’s T20 and One Day International Tour of England.

Fox Sports executive director Steve Crawley said: “After a break of almost six months, it will be great to see Australia’s cricket team back in action on Fox Sports against the old foe.

“Anytime Australia and England face-off, the series comes with a special mix of history and anticipation. The T-20 and ODI series will see Australian stars like David Warner, Steve Smith and Pat Cummins come up against World Cup hero Ben Stokes, Eoin Morgan and Tom Banton, one of the rising stars of English cricket. It’s going to be an action-packed fortnight of the very best international cricket.”

Foxtel hasn’t spoken out about the rights and its understood the subscription TV business has currently chosen to support CA in the debate.

Warburton’s attack on CA mirrors that of Nine CEO Hugh Marks before the NRL rights were renegotiated. Both CA and the NRL parted ways with their CEOs during COVID-19, as did Rugby Australia.

Seven tried to hand the BBL back to Ten earlier this year. Seven has also reportedly tried to land a deal with V8 Supercars, following Ten’s decision to walk away from the sport.

The postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics saw Seven’s sport broadcast slate hit hard this year and industry sources say there is widespread belief the event won’t go ahead in 2021 either. Should this happen, Seven stands to pocket $50m in refunded rights.

If Seven does walk away from the rights deal it’s likely CA will pursue the matter in court. Nine stepped away from cricket two years ago, choosing to throw its support behind the tennis, while Ten, which was credited with building the BBL to the event it is today, hasn’t shown interest in the sport to this point.


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