Cricket Australia has delivered the schedule for the blockbuster Border-Gavaskar series between India and Australia, but a bizarre behind-the-scenes dispute continues.
Outside of The Ashes, it’s the biggest series in world cricket, and yet Cricket Australia and it’s free-to-air broadcast partner, Seven West Media, are still in a contract war which has been playing out for months.
Yesterday CA announced the four-Test series would begin in Adelaide on December 17 before the remaining three Tests were played in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
It’s arguably the most mouth-watering contest in Test cricket as the number one nation, Australia, takes on India at number three in the follow-up to a brilliant series in 2018.
India won that series in Australia 2-1 — its first in Australia — as the home team began a rebuilding process in the aftermath of the sandpaper affair.
The series saw the emergence of India’s fast bowler, Jaspit Bumra, and the steely batting of Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored an astonishing 521 runs to be named player of the series.
Throughout, India’s captain Virat Kohli was at his imperious best, while new Australian skipper Tim Paine toed “the line” of tough but fair as he set about imprinting his leadership on Australian cricket.
It’s great fodder.
And so, you would now expect that the free-to-air broadcaster, Channel Seven, would be rolling out the ads featuring a snarling Virat Kohli, a diving Steve Smith and a pulling Marnus Labuschagne.
Seven silent on when promos will air
The ABC understands that Seven has been recording the summer’s usual promos using Australia’s elite cricketers.
“We’re full steam ahead,” Cricket Australia’s interim CEO, Nick Hockley, said.
But when asked, a spokesman for Seven couldn’t give the ABC a date when those promotions would be first put to air.
In recent months, Seven West Media’s chief executive, James Warburton, has been waging an open war with Cricket Australia (CA), calling it a “bumbling, stumbling administration” and “a train wreck”, while questioning the pulling power of the Big Bash and demanding a reduction in its rights payments.
CA officials have privately asked why Seven West has been talking down the very product it effectively owns.
The dispute is all about money for a company that lost $444 million last financial year.
In 2018, Seven West Media agreed to pay $450 million over six years for the rights to broadcast Test matches and the BBL in what could be the last of the big free-to-air TV deals for Australian sport.
It was arguably too much to secure the rights from the long-term owner, Nine, and Big Bash broadcaster, Ten, while also giving up one-day internationals to Foxtel.
Earlier in the year, the company’s share price hit an all-time low of six cents, whereas in 2018 it was worth more than a dollar and in 2007 more than $13.
The share price has since recovered slightly but is still tracking near its five-year low.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of a one-day series against New Zealand and a one-off Test against Afghanistan along with the uncertainty around the summer schedule.
It led Seven to go on the attack over its cricket contract as it sought a price reduction, but CA’s attitude was: A deal’s a deal.
Seven said it wasn’t getting what it paid for, but Cricket Australia played it’s “force majeure” hand, arguing the COVID-19 pandemic was an act of God.
The contract negotiations are still in arbitration at the Australian Chamber for International and Commercial Arbitration for Independent Valuation, although CA believes that body doesn’t have the authority to settle the contest.
‘We’re going to deliver our part of the bargain’
CA officials were bemused when Seven West recently refused to pay a $25 million rights instalment in full and then quietly paid the balance without any fanfare.
In Seven West’s recent pitch to advertisers, Warburton said: “We paid for and expect a first-class product and will hold Cricket Australia accountable to provide that quality this summer.”
When asked at the launch of the schedule this week why CA and Seven hadn’t settled their differences, Hockley said: “We’re working in very positive collaborative discussions with them.”
“We love cricket and we welcome the announcement of the changes to the international summer,” the Seven Network’s head of sport, Lewis Martin, told the ABC.
Despite the dispute, Seven has been broadcasting international cricket already this summer — the Australia vs New Zealand women’s one-day and Twenty20 internationals, which have attracted good ratings.
It’s a bizarre situation. Behind the scenes is a contract war with no end in sight. In public, both sides are in furious agreement about how much they love the game. But what they also love is the mighty dollar.