Australian cricket's broadcast battle has a court date, with March 15 now set down as the day the Federal Court will begin hearing Seven West Media's attempt to pry extra documentation from Cricket Australia as it tries to make the case that the Big Bash League's place in the summer was changed due to India's wishes rather than issues around Covid-19.
The ongoing dispute has not interrupted the schedule of contract payments from Seven to CA, however. ESPNcricinfo understands that the network's December instalment dropped as expected into CA's accounts this week, after Seven had refused to pay the full amount of its previous contracted instalment for around two weeks earlier in the year.
Frosty relations between Seven and CA
hit something like rock bottom after the recent release of an affidavit undersigned by the network's head of sport, Lewis Martin, which featured detailed recollections of private discussions between him and CA executives in the cricket operations and commercial departments.
"I expect that Seven's damages claim may be for many millions of dollars," Martin wrote, "given the significance of cricket coverage to Seven's advertising revenue and the magnitude of the scheduling changes made by CA."
Seven's legal action is parallel to a request for independent assessment of the value of the free-to-air broadcast rights it won in 2018 as a A$450 million portion of the A$1.18 billion deal signed alongside Foxtel after intense competition with the Nine and Ten networks who had jointly held the rights between 2013 and 2018.
That case is currently before the Australian Chamber for International and Commercial Arbitration, but CA has already flagged that it has no contractual requirement to recognise its outcome, pushing matters further towards court and possibly a breach of contract case.
For now, Seven is seeking a pre-discovery action to compel CA to release correspondence between the governing body, the BCCI and Foxtel, given the claims of the network's chief executive James Warburton that the fixture was changed from its original dimensions - announced on May 28 - due to requests from India to flip the white and red-ball segments of the tour.
Seven's claims also include the allegation that CA scheduled the start of the BBL in Tasmania, against the network's wishes, due to a financial inducement from the state government to do so. This accusation has been emphatically denied by both Cricket Tasmania and the state government itself.
"The Trump-like allegations concerning the Tasmanian State Government are patently absurd and untrue," the CT chairman Andrew Gaggin said. "The Tasmanian Government has certainly provided an incentive. Its proactive and responsible Covid-19 policies have ensured that Tasmania is one of the world's safest places and the perfect location to host the start of the Big Bash.
"However, let it be clear that no financial incentive was provided by the Tasmanian Government to Cricket Australia for BBL matches to be played in Tasmania. The Tasmanian Government continues to be a great supporter of all cricket in Tasmania."
CA is confident in its contractual position, and the dispute is ongoing while Seven continues to broadcast the summer alongside Fox Cricket. Nick Hockley, the interim chief executive of CA, has outlined how the governing body will keep working alongside Seven on an operational level, though disappointed by the public nature of the dispute.
"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 before the affidavit was released. "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.
"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."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig