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BBL finale set to be given clear air for broadcasters by shifting New Zealand series

A change to the schedule could allow more of Australia's international stars to appear in the tourament

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Pleas to give the Big Bash League greater prominence in the summer's calendar appear to have been heeded by Cricket Australia, with the scheduled late January limited-overs visit of New Zealand likely to be pushed further into February to ensure the domestic T20 tournament has clear air at a vital time for its free-to-air broadcaster Seven.
Though only one of many moving parts to a season fundamentally affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the ODI matches between Australia and New Zealand set down for January 26, 29 and 31, plus a T20I on February 2, are understood to have been a sore point in terms of their intermingling with the back end of the BBL, currently set to conclude its regular season on January 26, with the finals running up to February 6.
This crossover would make it impossible for a host of prominent Australian players to take part in the BBL's final throes, not least the presently uncontracted trio of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and David Warner, but also the likes of Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis.
By shifting the New Zealand series, CA would create around three weeks of space in which international representatives would be able to take part in the BBL, though there is also a scheduled tour of South Africa to contend with later in February. New Zealand also has scheduled commitments to host Bangladesh in February, before Australia arrives for a T20I series in March.
Seven's desire for more prominence and better player availability for the BBL, particularly in the late January period used as a "launch pad" to promote other broadcast offerings for 2021 while also competing with the high rating Australian Open tennis on Nine, has raised one of the intractable problems created by the A$1.2 billion rights deal struck with the FTA network alongside the pay TV provider Foxtel in 2018.
As part of the deal for which it paid around A$750 million to Seven's A$450 million, Fox Sports and its digital offshoot Kayo gained exclusive rights to Australian men's ODIs and T20Is, plus a portion of exclusive BBL matches. Last summer, Fox and Seven both lost out when the BBL was shorn of Australian players in mid-January due to an ODI tour of India, while Fox's limited-overs games were pushed to the very margins of the season.
Nevertheless, CA has retained a strong desire to keep a major portion of cricket on FTA in order to maximise the game's audience size, a strategic goal that dovetails neatly with the growth imperatives that drove the creation and expansion of the BBL.
While the governing body is understandably reticent to enter into a content-level negotiation with either Seven or Foxtel, given the near inevitability of a discounted price being the result, it is believed to have indicated to both networks that it will be shelling out considerably more cash to attract a higher calibre of overseas players to the next BBL - an aim that will be aided by Australia's standing as one of the safest venues in the world to play elite sport in the time of Covid-19.
This fact was underlined by the England limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan when he pointed out that the BBL was now an attractive prospect for northern hemisphere white-ball cricketers seeking to find a bridge between the end of their home season and the next IPL.
"A lot of the guys we have in the squad at the moment are young guys coming through, and when you're at that stage of development in your career, six to eight to twelve months is actually quite a considerable amount of time," Morgan said. "I think the challenge for those guys is actually getting the opportunity to go away and play.
"The IPL is going ahead, and we have a long tour to India which actually frees up guys to play a full Big Bash and then potentially put their case forward to be selected in an IPL in the new year. So, trying to expose them to a lot more white-ball cricket can accelerate their development as opposed to just sitting at home, not playing anything and wondering about what next summer will look like for us."
Whatever the exact identities of the overseas players who end up taking part in the BBL, a schedule offering more hope for Cummins, Warner and Starc to take part in the domestic event would be music to the ears of executives at both Seven and Foxtel.
Seven's chief executive James Warburton, a week after hammering CA's management as "incompetent", struck a much more conciliatory tone after his scheduled meeting with his opposite number Nick Hockley on Friday.
"We had a constructive meeting with Cricket Australia," Warburton said. "No decisions were made but we have agreed to keep talking."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig