The unthinkable is just about to happen. A summer without live free to air cricket. Kerry Packer must be turning in his grave.
Sports fans face the prospect of a summer without Test cricket on free-to-air television after the Seven Network signalled it was considering terminating its broadcast agreement.
Seven West Media chief James Warburton described negotiations between the media company and the sport’s governing body as a “train wreck”, saying Cricket Australia was the “most incompetent” body he had ever dealt with.
Seven and Fox Cricket contribute about $200m a year to the game and are not even halfway through a $1.2bn broadcast deal.
The standoff comes after the AFL negotiated a discount with broadcasters when COVID-19 restrictions blew its season apart. The NRL came to a similar deal.
Cricket Australia argues that the Big Bash, the Test summer and the limited-overs series will ago ahead. But Seven and Fox are concerned about the quality of the Big Bash, saying they had been promised better this summer, yet fewer senior players will be available.
“It’s the most incompetent administration I’ve ever worked with,” Mr Warburton said on Friday. “It’s a train wreck. We are forced to consider all our options, including terminating the contract. This is not an acceptable product and we will not support the season. Cricket Australia have an obligation to deliver a competition of no lesser standard than the past.
“We paid a huge price and were promised the world. There is an obligation to deliver the best quality to the broadcasters. The BBL has been under huge pressure and Cricket Australia promised a full review and a reboot, they even called it BBL 2.0 for 2020-21.
“Eight of the top 10 all-time run-scoring batsmen who have played in the BBL will be unavailable for the competition. Nine of the 10 all-time wicket-taking bowlers will be unavailable for the competition.”
But Cricket Australia refused to give ground. “Cricket Australia greatly values the relationship with our broadcast partners,” it said in a statement. “While disappointed by comments made in the media today, CA remains committed to delivering a full and compelling summer of cricket.
“With the Australian men’s team having already landed safely in England for their return to international cricket, we want to reassure fans here in Australia and around the world that we are well advanced in delivering our home summer of cricket.
“We continue to navigate our way through the challenges presented by COVID-19 with the support of all our partners, including governments, sponsors, biosecurity experts, state and territories associations, and the Australian Cricketers Association.”
Channel 10 is understood to have offered $950m for the rights during the last contracting period but was outbid at the last minute.
The first summer of the new deal saw an Australian side play without Steve Smith or David Warner; the second was a flat spot in the cycle with Pakistan and New Zealand touring; but with the home team back at full strength and India due for four Tests, the 2020-21 season was to be the one that delivered.