Channel Ten makes bold play for TV rights
Channel Nine may be closer to losing the television rights to international cricket in Australia than at any time in the past 33 years, after their rival Ten made a bold combined bid for both international and BBL matches as a way to revitalise the recently moribund network.
Following the conclusion of an exclusive negotiating period between Ten and Cricket Australia, ESPNcricinfo understands Nine have been made aware of the scope of Ten's bid, which for international cricket alone is believed to comfortably outstrip CA's seven-year, $315 million deal with Nine that expired at the end of summer.
This news will be the cause for hurried additional meetings by Nine executives over the next month, as they weigh up the cost of retaining rights they have not been seriously challenged for since their former impresario Kerry Packer used the World Series Cricket breakaway to win exclusive access to all officially-sanctioned international cricket in Australia in 1979. Nine have always retained the rights to the last bid, but the strength of their resolve is now to be tested.
Nine may yet come through with the cash required to trump Ten, but the latter is already set to claim free-to-air rights to the Twenty20 BBL for next summer and beyond, having been attracted to the revamped competition through its eye-catching television ratings on Fox Sports over the past two seasons.
It was a result that required a significant financial outlay by CA and the states to generate. These costs were obscured somewhat by the annual windfall provided by the T20 Champions League, whose exorbitant TV rights, participation fees and prize money were negotiated by CA and the BCCI in the afterglow of the inaugural IPL in 2008.
Were Ten to win the rights to international cricket they could be expected to show most of the BBL on their digital multi-channel One, an option CA would likely find attractive over pay television because it would be available in a far greater number of households than Fox Sports.
Though CA's relationship with Nine has been a mutually beneficial union over many seasons and both parties remain comfortable with one another, there is a growing view that a change of television rights holder would reflect cricket's desire to remain vital in an increasingly fragmented and competitive sporting landscape.
There is little fear at CA that a move from Nine to Ten would result in a reduction of television audience figures for the game, despite the Australian public's instinctive association of cricket with the network of Packer, Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry and Ian Chappell.
While the BBL and international matches are in demand, little interest exists in the domestic limited overs competition or the Sheffield Shield, though there remains a chance the competitions could still find partial television coverage.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here