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ODI and WBBL final draw more than one million viewers

For Foxtel, the subscription broadcaster, the second ODI had its third-biggest viewership of all time

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
It was a big weekend for cricket  •  Getty Images

It was a big weekend for cricket  •  Getty Images

A combined average audience of more than a million Australian viewers tuned into the weekend double of the WBBL final on Saturday night and Australia's second ODI against India on Sunday evening, a set of numbers made still more notable by the fact neither match was aired on a primary free-to-air channel.
As the Seven network argues ever more fervently that it is due a discount in its broadcast rights fee, the audience of nearly 429,000 for the WBBL decider between the Sydney Thunder and the Melbourne Stars, followed by an average of some 585,000 for the second SCG match between the teams of Aaron Finch and Virat Kohli, have made it patently clear that cricket's broadcast pulling power is anything but waning.
Sunday's figures were a new record for ODI broadcasts on Foxtel, surpassing the 544,000 who tuned into the 2015 World Cup final at the MCG, and behind only the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final and final as the highest rating sports broadcasts in the network's entire history.
They are also comfortably the largest figures returned by the subscription network since it won the exclusive rights to broadcast men's ODI and T20I matches in Australia as its A$750 million part of the A$1.2 billion deal with Seven as Cricket Australia's broadcast partners - the same contract Seven is trying every means at its disposal to reduce in value from the A$450 million it signed up to pay.
There was believed to be another flashpoint between CA and Seven over the WBBL final itself, as the governing body was surprised when the broadcaster stepped back from an earlier discussion in which it was believed to be agreed that the decider would take place on Seven's primary channel provided it was contested between major market teams from Sydney and Melbourne. As if to add further murk to the situation, Seven then scheduled the film Frozen, beloved by a young female audience, at the exact same 7pm timeslot in which the WBBL final strove to reach the same market space.
Most of Seven's criticism has been directed at the BBL, which it claims has not delivered value despite costing at least 50% of the total value of the rights, alongside the WBBL, women's internationals and men's Test matches.
But the arguments made by Seven's outspoken chief executive James Warburton - with the backing of the network's multibillionaire chairman Kerry Stokes - existed well before the deal was struck: namely the fact that many of Australia's best players do not take part in the BBL much if at all due to the constraints of the international schedule, including ODI and T20I series such as those currently being played against India.
Much public anger was heard at the time when CA revealed it had allowed these matches to be hidden behind a paywall, with the passive assent of the federal government despite "anti-siphoning" legislation requiring all Australian men's internationals at home to be broadcast free-to-air.
Certainly Foxtel were happy to have secured guaranteed fixtures in which viewers would see the likes of David Warner, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins showcasing their more expansive and entertaining sides, while knowing there was little guarantee CA would be able to wrangle those same players to take part in the BBL. As of this moment, only Starc of the aforementioned quartet has a BBL deal for this season, and Warner has stated bluntly that he will not return to the tournament until his international days are over.
At the same time, the CA board's decision to chase as much cash as possible from the 2018 deal, to the point of accepting Seven as a partner over Ten - who had successfully broadcast the BBL between 2013 and 2018 - for a difference of just A$2 million a season, has left them in a situation where their current free-to-air partner is chasing discounts that will amount to significantly more than the amount they may have lost by maintaining a relationship with Ten.
Either way, current deliberations between CA, Seven and the Australian Chamber for International and Commercial Arbitration are taking place at a time when the nation's appetite for live cricket could not be much clearer. Only the headline figure of a major event on a prime free-to-air channel is lacking.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig