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Seven sues CA for not being centre of cricket universe

Broadcaster miffed by changes in the calendar but it only has itself to blame for mounting debt

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Seven wanted a "fast start" to the Big Bash this year, but that was never going to happen with India touring Australia

Seven wanted a "fast start" to the Big Bash this year, but that was never going to happen with India touring Australia  •  Getty Images

If there is anything consistent running through the affidavit filed in Federal Court by Seven West Media as part of its campaign for broadcast rights discounts to the deal signed with Cricket Australia in 2018, it is a growing body of evidence that the network is but one piece of a global cricket calendar made even more complex than usual by Covid-19.
The remarkable thing about all this evidence, however, is that at no stage have Seven's head of Sport, Lewis Martin, or his chief executive James Warburton and multibillionaire chairman Kerry Stokes, seemed to have reached the realisation that the cricket world simply does not revolve around them in the same way a reality TV show they commissioned might.
By alleging that there is an inherent breach of contract in CA's need to work with other parties, such as India's powerful BCCI, fellow rights holders Foxtel and federal and state governments including that of Tasmania, the network has revealed that in its current debt-ridden state, perspective is sorely missing.
The BCCI got priority in scheduling over Seven's desire for a "fast start" to the Big Bash League? The world's biggest cricket nation does so every time it wants a change to the schedule, but this season is playing a day-night Test away from home for the first time in its history - live on Seven.
Foxtel got the chance to launch the season with white-ball games against India that Seven doesn't have the rights to? They weren't so valuable when Seven signed the deal in 2018.
And the Tasmanian government was afforded the chance to host a block of BBL games over the protests of Seven because of production costs? The clue is in the title, Cricket Australia.
Undoubtedly, the public airing of such private dirty laundry is embarrassing for all concerned. Certainly CA's head of commercial Steph Beltrame, head of cricket operations Peter Roach and head of the BBL Alistair Dobson couldn't have imagined their conversations with Martin being quoted verbatim in publicly available court documents. It all carries more than a passing resemblance to some of the unsavoury claims publicised in 2013 during the ex-coach Mickey Arthur's pursuit of a fairer contract settlement after his sacking as coach of Australia.
At the time, it was well known that Michael Clarke and Shane Watson were not on the best of terms, but the Fair Work Commission documents had the captain claiming that his former deputy was a "cancer" on the team. It's the sort of affair that stays with the participants, and provokes a deep loss of trust.
Nevertheless, the overwhelming impression is of a broadcaster that, having signed a A$450 million deal that did not offer it even a single ball of exclusive cricket content over six years, has come to the realisation that the negotiation in 2018 did not result in the bonanza required to pull it out of what is now a long-running debt spiral.
The sale of all cricket in Australia to a subscription broadcaster in Foxtel has had numerous spin-off effects unforeseen at the time, but the biggest one has been the increasing level of discontent at Seven about the cricket it has to broadcast, specifically the BBL. This discontent appears to have risen in blithe ignorance of the realities of international cricket, and CA's own approaches to managing the same while also scheduling domestic leagues for men and women.
Any cursory glance at the history of the BBL prior to 2018 would have told Seven's negotiators that it was already trending down even before a vast expansion to a 14-game home and away season, and that it had never secured the services of the top Australian players for more than a handful of games at the fringes of the Test, ODI and T20I schedules. Likewise, the international season is an ever-changing beast, so much so that CA's own financial modelling is based around a four-year cycle that generally includes one visit each by India and England.
In other words, to sign up with cricket was to get a very different product than that offered by the Australian Open tennis, for so long Seven's summer staple. By contrast to cricket's moving feast over several months, the year's first Grand Slam affords two weeks of major event broadcast audiences immediately before the start of the "official ratings period" that networks stake their annual advertising revenue upon.
That, clearly, is the type of product that Seven tricked itself into thinking it was getting with CA, meaning that if chairman Stokes wants an explanation for why cricket has not panned out as planned, he should perhaps look in the mirror, given he personally finalised the deal alongside his son Ryan and the former chief executive Tim Worner a little over two years ago.
Seven were, by all accounts, agitating for changes to their deal with CA even before Covid-19 scythed through the plans of so many from March onwards. What's happened since is a reminder that sport in general and cricket in particular must operate according to the demands of many partners, not just one indebted broadcaster.
To prove the point, the Australian Open itself is now likely to be moved out of its traditional, broadcast friendly slot. As Beltrame put it in her conversation with Martin: "It is a worldwide pandemic for god's sake."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig