Nine digs deep to keep its 'summer wallpaper'
Richie Benaud will not be disappearing from Channel Nine's cricket coverage after the network forked out a colossal sum to retain television rights for Australia's home international matches, but Channel Ten has promised fresh new faces to front its Big Bash League broadcasts. The two free-to-air stations will have a share of the cricket schedule this summer after a deal was finalised on Monday to provide a monstrously large boost to Cricket Australia's broadcasting revenue for the next five years.
James Sutherland, the CA chief executive, said the deals were worth a total of A$590 million over five years, an increase of 118% on the previous agreement, which he not surprisingly declared "an outstanding result" for Australian cricket. CA has also agreed to work with Channel Nine on a $60 million digital rights joint venture, for mobile and broadband coverage of international cricket, and the network's CEO David Gyngell said that was an especially exciting aspect of the deal.
However, while Gyngell said there was never any doubt that Nine would retain the rights it has held for more than 30 years, having to pay such a hefty price was "an ouch moment". The network was forced into outlaying more than it intended due to Channel Ten's bold bid to poach all of the cricket rights. Gyngell said that ultimately he was comfortable with the decision, which will also eliminate the traditional coverage "blackouts" in the host city.
"As long as the management team we have got is at Channel Nine we won't be losing cricket," Gyngell said. "It is Australia's national game. It is wallpaper over summer. It is a much bigger sport than the ratings always say it is because people are at holiday places, campsites, all sorts of things. The exciting thing for us is we're partnering with Cricket Australia on the digital rights. Digital rights is going to be television everywhere. That's where the world is going.
"Cricket is in our DNA and we're very proud of it. A lot of people would say we over-invest in it from a broadcasting point of view but it has defined our network ... It is wallpaper. You walk in off the beach, off the farm, wherever you are in the summer and you go 'what's the score, who's doing what?' That is a very deep thing for us. We were never going to not do that."
Part of that "wallpaper" over summer has been the ongoing presence of Benaud, Bill Lawry, Ian Chappell and until his death late last year, Tony Greig, in the Channel Nine commentary box. Gyngell said the network and its commentary team would continue to evolve, but he did not envisage any major changes as a result of the new deal.
"I can't imagine cricket without Richie," Gyngell said. "Richie will do cricket for as long as he wants to do cricket. We'll never be telling Richie what he can and can't do. I'm always honoured to be in his presence as a person and I'm always interested in hearing what he has to say. Bill is in the same space. We've got a dozen commentators and they're all a range of ages and they've come through in different periods."
While Test, one-day and Twenty20 international cricket will not be changing stations, the BBL will for the first time be broadcast on free-to-air television instead of Fox Sports on pay TV. Hamish McLennan, the CEO of Channel Ten, said the network was thrilled to be entering the cricket market and to be showing every BBL match live, even though it had missed out on securing the international rights.
"We always thought from the beginning that David and Channel Nine had the last right of refusal and they were most likely to exercise that," McLennan said. "We put a very healthy bid on the table. We saw a great opportunity around the Big Bash and we're really delighted that we've got a format we can do something with and that will grow.
"We see that there are some opportunities to bring some fresh, new faces onto the Ten broadcast, but it's too early to announce what we're going to do. But we are looking at a range of candidates and we'll be announcing that in the next months. I'd say the vast majority will be from a cricket background."
Ten will also broadcast the Women's National Cricket League T20 final as part of a double-header with the BBL finals but it appears to have little interest in the Ryobi Cup or the Sheffield Shield. However, Sutherland said Cricket Australia was still exploring options regarding the Ryobi Cup, which has previously been broadcast on Fox Sports, and one possibility was squeezing the entire tournament into a short period at the start of the season.
"We're certainly considering various possibilities with Ryobi and that may or may not be directly related to broadcasting opportunities," Sutherland said. "There's also team performance aspects of it that are an important consideration. There's no doubt we've done a little bit of work on considering a window in October for the Ryobi Cup to launch the season if you like and I think that has been reasonably well received. There's always pros and cons with this sort of thing but we see it as a good opportunity to get into Shield cricket through the middle part of the summer."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here