Will cricket cash in on broadcast rights?

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Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland - had a mixed week. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

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Last Wednesday night there was a fantastic cricket match on at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

You may or may not have been watching. You may have not even known it was on. It was however, the Australian domestic 50 over cup final, or the Ryobi Cup as it is officially known.

The game was a thriller between Victoria and Queensland. The underdog Bulls showed the same fighting spirit that the Brisbane Heat had in the Big Bash, taking home the cup by the barest of margins, a solitary run.

Fox Sports was the host broadcaster for this match and the tournament in general. This left many fans to resort to online streams or Twitter to find out the latest scores as there was also no radio coverage. But with cricket’s broadcast deal up for grabs in the next few months, how long will it remain like this?

This set of broadcast negotiations is set to be the most interesting since Kerry Packer and Channel 9 came up with World Series Cricket, with all of the major commercial networks all in contention.

The last TV deal was seven years ago. A lot has changed since then. Channel 9 are no-longer the powerhouse network with Seven overtaking them. Ten are still the poorer cousin, however they are prepared to throw everything at Cricket Australia to win the rights. Also in their sights is the Australian Open.

With the new era of digital multi-channels, fans should expect more cricket on the television. Should Channel 10 get the nod, tragics would hope that the Ryobi Cup would also make the move across and screen on ONE.

How about the Sheffield Shield as well? I’m sure many would rather watch the Shield than weekday afternoon TV shows, which normally consist of imported American content.

Cricket Australia have done their best to try and please fans by running online streams of Shield matches from their website in recent seasons, but it’s still not the same. A daily highlights show on ONE would warm the hearts of every cricket fan in this country. It would also rate better than ‘Pro Bull Riding’.

What is almost a guarantee is that the Big Bash will be on free-to-air television. If Cricket Australia are serious about making this competition bigger it will happen. They will also need to combat the A-League, which is also making its free-to-air debut on Friday nights next season.

Ratings on Fox also suggest that the Big Bash rights will be sold for a large amount due to the way the Big Bash is marketed; to a bigger audience which includes women and children.

Due to the anti-siphoning list, international Test, one day and Twenty20 matches cannot be sold to Fox Sports, so there are no concerns. This is a different case in England, where the laws were reformed and Sky Sports now broadcasts all England matches.

Not much will change then, apart from inside the commentary box.

If Channel 9 do not regain the rights, it would be hard to see the winning network contracting experienced callers such as Bill Lawry, Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell. Should Channel 7 win, would some of their AFL commentary team get involved?

There are so many questions but unfortunately little or no answers. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The possibility that for the first time in 33 years another network could be covering cricket is this country is a weird thought. No matter what happens, your summer in front of the TV will never be the same again.

All we can hope for is that the competition between the networks will enhance the viewing of the armchair critic.

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