Channel 7’s TV cricket war turns ugly

The ongoing feud between Cricket Australia and broadcast partner Channel 7 has taken an ugly turn.

As reported by News Corp’s Ben Horne and Peter Lalor, Seven have filed an affidavit in Federal Court, claiming CA breached its $450 million contract with the free-to-air network.

Following the coronavirus lockdown, CA drastically altered the schedule for the 2020/21 summer of cricket, which Seven claims has caused significant commercial damage.

The lone Test match against Afghanistan was postponed, along with a T20 series against the West Indies and an ODI series against New Zealand.

CA also pushed back the highly-anticipated four-Test series against India to accommodate for six short-format fixtures, which were exclusive to Foxtel.

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The reshuffle meant a large portion of the Big Bash League along with one of the India Test matches was pushed back to after Christmas, which has had a “huge impact” on Seven.

Steve Smith of Australia.Source:Getty Images

In the affidavit, Channel 7 Head of Sport Lewis Martin claimed these scheduling changes were not instigated by COVID-19, but rather from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Channel 7 alleges CA executive Peter Roach said in a meeting the reshuffle was approved because the BCCI wanted their Test and one-day squads to conduct their mandatory two-week quarantine together, rather than in two separate windows.

As revealed in the report, Martin alleged himself and CA executive general manager of broadcast and commercial Stephanie Beltrame had the following text message exchange.

Martin: “Those six white-ball matches have meant 50 per cent less BBL prime time matches pre-Christmas, competing schedule with Australia A, no players, less Test matches pre-Christmas, surely you must see how that’s impacted us?”

Beltrame: “We have a 10-match bilateral agreement with BCCI.”

The Daily Telegraph reported Seven wants access to emails and other communication between CA and the BCCI, believing CA altered its summer schedule because of India’s wishes.

As COVID-19 changed the sporting landscape across the globe, Seven chased a discounted deal on the cricket, with reports emerging the network could walk away from the sport altogether.

Seven has already rejected a 20 per cent discount offered by CA to be spread over the course of the broadcast deal.

Seven chief executive James Warburton has previously called CA “the most incompetent administration I’ve ever worked with”, the bad blood stemming from concerns about the quality of players available for the BBL this summer.

Those concerns undeniably amplified after The Evening Standard reported Jonny Bairstow would be named in England’s Test squad to face Sri Lanka in January, meaning the wicketkeeper would be unavailable for the BBL.

Australia’s Pat Cummins misses a catch.Source:AFP

CA chief executive Nick Hockley released a statement on Tuesday in response to Channel 7’s remarks.

“With so much positivity around Australian cricket it is disappointing that Seven West Media has again chosen to use the media to talk our wonderful game down,” Hockley said.

“CA has maintained all along our commitment to delivering a thrilling summer of cricket and on behalf of all involved, be that governments, partners, players and staff, I’m proud to say we are doing just that. We remain confident in our contractual position.

“In the most challenging environment sport has faced, with the support of our friends at BCCI, CA has ensured that the much-anticipated series with India can go ahead safely.

“The first two men’s ODIs between Australia and India set viewership records and is a great indicator of the level of interest in the upcoming Test Series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, which includes the first-ever day-night Test against India.

“Similarly, the WBBL has been an absolute triumph with regular season matches setting new audience records and both semi-finals rating almost one-third more than their corresponding games last season.

“We continue to have tremendous respect for the hardworking people across Channel 7’s cricket and news broadcast teams and congratulate them on the substantial increase in ratings cricket has delivered them to date this season.

“We have, and will continue to, fulfil our obligations to our partners and supporters by scheduling a brilliant summer of cricket, despite the cost and complexity of doing so given the current public health situation.”

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