Seven and Cricket Australia arbitrator’s impartiality called into question

Seven West Media reportedly sent a legal letter on Friday asking for the arbitrator appointed to mediate its dispute with Cricket Australia (CA) be removed over a potential conflict of interest.

Justin Jameson, the chief executive of Venture Consulting, should no longer decide whether Seven can pay less for its $450 million deal with the sporting body, the media company argued, because his company published a report delving into the relationship between free to air networks, streaming platforms, and sports rights.

Jameson was appointed to arbitrate the dispute that has stretched on for months as Seven tries to secure a discount from Cricket Australia. In December, the James Waburton-led company began Federal Court proceedings over Cricket Australia’s alleged breach of contract, concerning the summer cricket schedule and quality of the line-up.

But in a new statement, Cricket Australia said it had “delivered on its promise to deliver a full and outstanding summer of cricket, which resulted in huge year-on-year increases in linear television audiences”.

“To do so, CA incurred costs of around $30 million to ensure the men’s and women’s international series, the WBBL and BBL were protected from the issues presented by the pandemic, COVID hot spots and border closures,” a spokesperson said.

“Seven West Media instigated this process which CA participated respectfully albeit under protest. The independent expert was appointed impartially by ACICA [Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration] with approval by Seven West Media.”

Cricket Australia offered the broadcaster a 20% discount on the $82 million a year deal, which still has three years left to run, at the onset of COVID-19, which was rejected.

It’s not the only sports deal Seven has negotiated, or is looking to negotiate. Mid-last year, it reached a new agreement with the AFL, and, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, entered into a new deal with Supercars given Foxtel’s Kayo is airing some races for free.

Cricket Australia added that men’s international cricket increased year-on-year linear TV audiences, and the KFC Big Bash League had a record-breaking audience of 44.82 million across the tournament, growing its linear TV and streaming viewership. The Women’s Big Bash League is also the top women’s sporting league, Cricket Australia asserted.

“CA has made good on its commitment to deliver a full schedule for its partners this season,” interim CEO Nick Hockley continued.

“There can be no doubt we are seeing a wonderful summer of cricket, and we can’t thank everyone enough for pulling together to make cricket happen this season.

“The 2020-21 season will forever be remembered for the spirit of cooperation, challenges overcome and thrilling cricket across all formats.”

The sports rights battle has heated up with the launch of Kayo Freebies and the streaming platform’s netball deal, the launch of Stan Sport with the rugby union, and Amazon Prime’s acquisition of swimming rights.

Seven’s CEO Warburton told Mumbrella recently that Stan and Kayo are “selling packages, which no doubt will be in loss. How long and how sustainable will it be?” But Nine boss Hugh Marks was happy with the product’s launch. The first rugby game of the season had 200,000 viewers – triple the audience of last season’s corresponding game. 97,000 metro viewers tuned in on free to air multi-channel, 9Gem, and a reported 150,000 nationally, meaning the remaining 50,000 watched via Stan Sport.

“We’re really pleased. When you’ve got a sport that’s able to multiply its audience by a factor of three times, as opposed to 30%, you’ve gotta be happy with those numbers,” he told Mumbrella.

“That puts us ahead of expectations, which is really exciting.”

Nine dropped its cricket deal in 2018 after holding the rights for decades to pursue the tennis rights, leading Seven to commit to the six year contract.


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