Seven is furious that the international calendar for 2020-21 was flipped on its head, with limited overs matches between Australia and India that are exclusive to Foxtel starting the season, rather than the original plan of having the Test series, which Seven shares with Foxtel, kicking off the campaign.
The debt-laden network’s decision to go to court is aimed at gaining access to emails associated with CA’s decision making over fixturing, including correspondence between Australian officials and their counterparts in India, as well as Foxtel executives and state governments.
Seven is unhappy that the Big Bash League will next week start in hubs in Canberra and Tasmania, which it argues may not have been necessary despite state government regulations over COVID-19.
If successful in proving before court that CA breached its $450 million contract with Seven, of which Seven pays $70 million in cash per year, the network could be awarded tens of millions of dollars in damages or look to terminate its deal, which has three years to run. Foxtel’s deal also has three years to run, having paid the bulk of its overall $1.18 billion contract with Seven.
Seven has been angered at CA repeatedly issuing force majeure notices when the cricket body has changed the schedule of different competitions and series, the network arguing the game caved in to India’s demands and didn’t need to alter the make-up of the men’s international summer because of COVID-19.
The network argues the fourth Test, in Brisbane from January 15, will be held at a time when many people are back at work and ratings are down.
BCCI president Sourav Ganguly has told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald that his team needed to return home in late January to prepare for its home series against England.
CA and Seven are awaiting a final call from an independent arbitrator tasked with determining what value Seven’s cricket rights should be worth in a summer of upheaval. But that process is unlikely to bring the two parties together because CA officials have made it clear that the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration does have not jurisdiction over its television contracts. If the expert finds that Seven should pay significantly less, CA is unlikely to agree with it.
CA has offered Seven a 20 per cent discount on its rights for this summer, which amounts to about $15 million, but the sport wanted those savings split over the rest of the contract, meaning a markdown of $3.75 million a year. Seven rejected this.
On top of being aggrieved about the international changes, Seven executives have cited a clause in the contract that demands that the quality of the season must be at least the equal of the previous summer, arguing the BBL this summer will not measure up. Seven argues that CA cannot use COVID-19 issues as an excuse.
CA chief executive Nick Hockley has insisted his organisation will put up a high-quality summer, and has pointed to strong ratings for Foxtel in the opening two one-day internationals and the Women’s Big Bash League. CA has allowed BBL teams to sign three international players this season, up from the customary two, but the lack of Australian stars continues to hurt.
The issue was set alight in Seven’s annual general meeting in August when Seven’s managing director James Warburton took aim at the competency of the CA executive. The feud has been simmering since, with Warburton’s latest shot coming on Saturday.
“There aren’t many sports that would launch their season behind a paywall. We have got a process we are going through to maximise the season and to be fairly compensated for the value reduction caused by the changes to the schedule and other changes,” Warburton said.
“It’s a shame that the cricket administration have kept their head in the sand. They really don’t value us as a broadcaster, preferring to outperform to the BCCI [Board of Control for Cricket in India], who they are terrified of.”
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Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.
Chris Barrett is Chief Sports Reporter of The Sydney Morning Herald.