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Seven ramps up Cricket Australia dispute with Federal Court action

Seven has escalated its dispute with Cricket Australia, commencing Federal Court action yesterday in a move the sporting body has labelled “disappointing”.

The free-to-air broadcaster’s decision puts its $450 million cricket deal at risk, which it first sought to end back in September due to an alleged breach of contract.

At that point, Seven had said the Big Bash League would suffer due to top players being unavailable, and reportedly pushed Cricket Australia to axe the BBL altogether.

Following Seven’s latest legal move, Cricket Australia reinforced the position it has taken throughout the altercation: despite COVID-19’s impact on the sport, it is fulfilling its obligations to its broadcast partners and will continue to deliver a “thrilling summer of cricket”.

“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,” Cricket Australia’s interim CEO, Nick Hockley, said.

“We remain confident in our contractual position.”

Seven – which declined to comment – has filed an affidavit and an application for discovery to access emails between Cricket Australia, the Board of Cricket Control for India (BCCI), Foxtel, and state governments to prove the sporting body breached its contract.

Reportedly, the TV company thinks the summer cricket schedule was unfairly influenced by the BCCI, rather than solely shaped by the pandemic’s effect on live sports, giving the BCCI and Foxtel an advantage.

The original summer schedule was changed, pushing a three match one day international (ODI) series to a late November start, followed by the Twenty20 series. Importantly for Seven, a four day test series against India was delayed and the limited overs matches will air on Foxtel and Kayo; the first men’s international cricket on Seven won’t be until 17 December.

“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,” Hockley continued.

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

“Similarly, the rebel 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.”

The first and second one day internationals drew a high of 400,000 and 448,000 viewers, respectively, on pay TV service Foxtel. When the Kayo audience was added on, the second match’s viewership jumped to 585,000, the third-most watched sports program in Australian subscription TV history.

Seven’s $82 million a year deal with Cricket Australia still has four years left to run after buying the six-year rights for $450 million in 2018, but it wants to pay less, similar to the agreement it reached with the AFL earlier this year. Cricket Australia’s offer of a 20% discount given the onset of COVID-19 was rejected, and the issue will be decided by an independent arbitrator in the coming weeks.

Hockley was adamant that the organisation is “more optimistic than ever that this season’s KFC BBL will be one of the best on record”.

“We continue to have tremendous respect for the hardworking people across Channel Seven’s cricket and news broadcast teams and congratulate them on the substantial increase in ratings cricket has delivered them to date this season,” he said.

“We have, and will continue to, fulfil our obligations to our partners and supporters by scheduling a brilliant summer of cricket, despite the cost and complexity of doing so given the current public health situation.”

Nine dropped its cricket deal in 2018 after holding the rights for decades to pursue the tennis rights, while Network 10 was reportedly approached earlier this year regarding the BBL rights, but declined to progress discussions according to reports in The Sydney Morning Herald.

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