Broadcast deal may leave cricket viewers on sticky wicket
Channel Ten was paying $20m a year for rights to the Big Bash, which also expired in February, while production costs for an expanded competition in 2018-19 could be upwards of $12m a year.
Production costs are a major additional cost factor that TV networks must consider in acquiring broadcasting rights to a sport, such as cricket. Tennis Australia produces the Australian Open itself, meaning Nine, which recently acquired the broadcast rights for five years from 2020, will only pay these fees for the two week grand slam event and other major summer tennis tournaments in Australia. Nine paid $60m a year for the rights, up 50per cent on what Seven is currently paying.
A Seven/Foxtel consortium for cricket rights may shut Ten out of broadcasting any of the summer sport.
While relations between Seven and Fox have been strained for some time, they are not as poisonous as the feeling between Ten, now owned by American giant, CBS, and the Murdoch controlled Fox network.
CBS’s gazumping of a proposed Lachlan Murdoch/Bruce Gordon bid to rescue Ten from receivership has caused antipathy between the two US-based owners.
Cricket Australia, which earlier rejected a combined Nine/Ten bid, anticipated a 100per cent increase in rights fees to $1billion over five years. However, it was then hit with a double whammy of its own – the pre-mediated ball tampering scandal in Cape Town and Nine’s decision to buy rights to what was once Seven’s summer of tennis.
Nine, which will have no summer sport offering in 2018-19, ahead of acquiring the tennis, may still bid for cricket but it would clash with the Australian Open on its main channel.
Cricket Australia, which effectively lost a pay war with the Australian Cricketers’ Association last year, will require at least $150m a year in broadcasting rights fees to meet the players’ negotiated demands.
Like NRL clubs, which forced the Australian Rugby League Commission to guarantee them a lucrative annual grant, the ACA forced their headquarters body into agreeing to a CBA which may be unsustainable.
However, the ARLC and NRL clubs made their agreement after a $1.9 billion TV rights deal had been negotiated, while the cricket rights are yet to be sold.
One sign of a diminished demand by broadcasters for the sport is a recent deal Cricket Australia did with India, selling Tests and ODI’s to broadcasters for $16m, half the fees of the previous contract.
Ratings for the once highly popular Big Bash have levelled out, while interest in Tests and ODIs in Australia (other than the Ashes) has declined. However, Fox needs a summer sport to counter an embarrassing decline in rating for FFA’s A-League matches.
Colin Smith, Director of Global Media and Sports, provided an observation: “Cricket Australia now has a major task to rebuild its culture both on and off the pitch, play attractive successful cricket and maximize its media rights revenues. If they further alienate their passionate fans by forcing them to pay for their game on TV, this will be another challenge for the Management and Board of Cricket Australia”.
Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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