Nine’s sport survives as Gyngell pulls a Houdini act
Channels Seven and Ten can stop circling cricket and rugby league coverage after Nine boss David Gyngell pulled an Houdini act yesterday to save the station from receivership, and even worse, collapse.
In arguably the biggest day of his life, Gyngell’s Tuesday started and finished with visiting wife Leila McKinnon at Prince of Wales Hospital following the birth of their first child – a son.
In between, Gyngell emerged smiling broadly from a two-day crisis meeting with a rights $3.2 billion debt erased, and to use his words – “We’re ready to rock and roll”.
What a turnaround from last weekend, when Nine was a basket case, with the cricket and NRL television rights decidedly shaky.
Both are safe, and in fact Nine has again become a formidable station thanks to Gyngell’s negotiating skills.
From a purely selfish point of view, that’s a huge relief to both cricket and the NRL.
Had Nine gone belly up, the NRL’s billion dollar plus contract would more than likely gone down the tube, with Ten ready to pounce.
Nine still has this summer to cover the cricket under a contract which expires in March, had Nine not survived yesterday, Seven was ready to pounce there as well.
And icon Richie Benaud would have been cut off at the pass. Now he can call it a time when he sees fit, and deservedly so.
The just turned 82-year-old was one of the strong men with Kerry Packer, when the then Nine owner high-jacked cricket in 1977. Nine took over the official coverage of cricket in Australia in 1979 from the ABC, with Benaud at the helm.
35 years on, and Benaud is still there with Bill Lawry, Ian Chappell, and Tony Greig of the original commentators.
Interest will now centre on Lawry, Chappell, and Greig’s futures after March, when the entire commentary team’s contracts expire at the same time as the television rights are renegotiated.
There has been a lot of viewer criticism of late over the commentary standard, but not from me. I still enjoy the unbridled passion of Lawry, and the on-going spats between Chappell and Greig that goes back even further than World Series Cricket.
And between them a priceless wealth of knowledge.
Whether Englishman Mark Nicholas is worth persevering with is open to debate, other than an Ashes series.
The newer members of the team – Mark Taylor, Ian Healy, and Michael Slater will be OK, all three have improved out of sight in recent seasons, Slater especially as the newest of them all.
Ray Warren is in much the same category with rugby league calling as Benaud is with the cricket. Widely recognised as the voice of rugby league, Warren at 69 has been calling league since Nine won the rights in 1992.
Now Warren can call a halt when he sees fit, also deservedly so.
And the contracts of Peter Sterling, Phil Gould, Wally Lewis, Brad Fittler, Darren Lockyer, and Andrew Johns were shored up yesterday.
Peace reigns, and as the king of tautology, the late Rex Mossop, would have said, “We can revert back to the status quo as it was before”.
Thanks to David Gyngell, the son of Bruce Gyngell, the very first face on Australian television when black and white kicked off in 1956 in time for the Melbourne Olympics.
Bruce died in 2000, aged 71. He would have been very proud of what his son achieved yesterday.
In sporting terms, well played under intense pressure.