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Opinion

Channel 7 exposed as desperate and naive in cricket’s messy TV stoush

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3rd December, 2020
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“Trump-like” was the way a cricket official referred to the Seven network’s latest ill-conceived barbs in cricket’s increasingly messy TV battle this week.

The comparison was apt.

The debt-ridden broadcaster’s attempts to reduce or rip up its contract with Cricket Australia have come straight from the US president’s playbook.

They’ve aired grievances publicly, thrown good-faith negotiation out the window and shown a distinct inability for self-reflection on the off chance it may be them, not others, that have erred.

But not to be.

Seven’s unwavering strategy is to double-down and double-down again until they get what they want (in this case, wholesale changes to the $450m broadcast deal it signed in 2018). But the truth is, it might not come.

No matter how much they try to wrangle their way out of their $70m a year deal with CA, a binding contract is there for a reason.

CA aren’t without fault in this increasingly messy battle, but having already offered a 20 per cent discount on this summer’s broadcast rights — a markdown of around $15 million — that Seven has rejected, it cannot do much more.

This week the broadcaster filed papers in the Federal Court, seeking access to the governing body’s communications with, among others, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and fellow broadcaster Foxtel.

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Seven believes Cricket Australia has favoured both (crucially, at its expense) in providing an unfair summer schedule.

The Kerry Stokes-controlled network is not happy with many things: the schedule against India (principally, starting the summer with Foxtel-only ODIs and T20s rather than Tests), the Big Bash starting in Canberra and Tasmania hubs (which it dismissed as “commercially irrational”) and the supposed unavailability of star players in that tournament.

Glenn Maxwell looks on in disbelief

(Photo by Jason McCawley – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

But Seven want more money shaved off (or, as it seems, the contract ripped up altogether) despite the fact the originally agreed upon schedule will largely be delivered, minus a Test against Afghanistan and some white-ball games against New Zealand.

While Seven might have thought lodging a sworn affidavit from head of sport Lewis Martin might help their cause, it has exposed them as even more arrogant and embarrassingly naive than they’ve already shown this year.

In the 25-page document, a text exchange with senior Cricket Australia staff in August showed Martin aghast at the “radical departure” from the summer schedule released in May.

That release, as it was, was highly unstable anyway due to COVID-19.

Seven knew this.

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At the request of the BCCI — who wanted all their players to quarantine together — the new schedule would see all white-ball games played before the Test series, and push the first Test of the summer from December 3 to December 17.

This incensed Seven, which had sought to coincide the Brisbane Test with the BBL season opener for a “fast start” to the summer.

It urged Cricket Australia to just cancel or postpone the T20 series with India starting tonight, but Cricket Australia would not budge, saying coronavirus has forced them into the change.

“It’s a worldwide pandemic for god’s sake Lewis, nobody should know that more than you,” Cricket Australia broadcast and commercial executive general manager Stephanie Beltrame said according to the document.

But Martin and Seven are having none of it.

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In another Trumpian tantrum, they’ve said the fixture change was a result of “CA’s broader interests in relation to the BCCI (and) Foxtel”.

“I did not understand why Cricket Australia would agree to such a request (from the BCCI) in light of its obligations to Seven under the MRA (media rights agreement),” Martin said, oblivious to cricket’s hierarchy and, in turn, their place in it.

“I was suspicious that these changes seemed to me at the time to give an exceptionally advantageous cricket season starting broadcast platform to Fox Sports Australia Pty Limited (Foxtel), which would have the exclusive rights to broadcast those matches.”

Or maybe, just maybe, that’s how the games fell in an unprecedented year?

Nope, it’s poor Seven that’s been hard done by again.

The surprise at granting BCCI favour is, above all, embarrassingly naive.

As cricket journalist Melinda Farrell put it, “Seven executives being outraged that the BCCI has hefty influence on India tours is kinda like walking into the ocean and being indignant that water is wet.”

There’s little secret that the BCCI dictate terms when it comes to bilateral series.

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Sometimes they do so with an iron fist, like when it refused to play pink-ball Tests or made Australia tour in the middle of last summer.

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Other times, like in this case with quarantining, their requests are more reasonable.

Either way, their demands are invariably met.

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That this is a surprise to Seven says they mightn’t have done their due diligence.

Secondly, Martin’s claims of Foxtel favouritism only furthers the “woe is me” stance.

If Seven valued international ODI and T20 cricket, they had every chance to bid for them during the 2018 rights negotiations.

But they didn’t bother.

And that’s too bad.

A court case is not likely until next year, meaning a toxic relationship could exist between the game’s governing body and its only free-to-air partner throughout the summer. This is clearly not healthy, and won’t benefit the game.

While Nine’s production and on-air talent grew stale in its final years of cricket broadcasting, it never expressed a level of contempt for the game resembling what Seven has shown in recent months.

What Cricket Australia would do for a return to those days.

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For their part, Cricket Australia is steering clear of public slanging matches and are steadfast in their belief they will deliver what was set out in the contract.