Billion dollar broadcast deal signals new era for Australian cricket

Alex Broun 14/04/2018
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Cricket Australia is making a bid for the next generation

In a month to forget for Cricket Australia, CEO James Sutherland has somehow pulled a rather large rabbit out of his hat – announcing on Friday a new broadcasting deal for cricket in the nation worth AUD$1.2billion (US$931.7million) over six years.

Of course that is not a huge amount compared to the BCCI’s deal for IPL of Rs16,000 crore (US$2.5billion) over five years but for CA it is quite a windfall, especially since the game has been branded a national disgrace by the PM since the ball-tampering scandal.

It shows whatever stain Messrs Smith, Bancroft and Warner have left on the sport – the lifeblood of Australia’s national summer game is still pumping strongly.

But what is just as interesting as the figures is the deal itself – starting with who it has been signed with.

After 40 years covering cricket, since Kerry Packer’s infamous World Series Cricket revolution, Channel 9 no longer has any cricket broadcast rights.

It’s lucky for those working at Channel 9 that Mr Packer is not with us any longer or heads would be rolling this morning.

Similarly Channel 10, who did a fantastic job turning the Big Bash League into Australia’s most popular cricket tournament, have also been axed – in a very unkind fashion.

In their place come Fox Sports and the Seven Network.

Fox are the big winners as they now have the rights to telecast every home cricket match Australia plays from the start of October 2018.

They have shown men’s overseas matches for the past 20 years – but now they can finally broadcast home games as well.

But for CA this is not just about money – though of course that helps. The move is also about being seen to be more inclusive and doing more to win over a new generation of fans – even more important in the wake of the events in Durban and Cape Town.

But Fox Sports have to keep up their end of the bargain.

Yes they get the blue ribbon events, like the Test series with India next summer – but they will also have to broadcast events with a smaller level of interest – women’s international for instance, which will be simulcast on Fox Sports and on free-to-air on the Seven Network.

In a similar vein both Fox and Seven will simulcast 23 Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) matches while, in what CA called a “boon for state cricket” domestic List A and first-class matches will return to television screens, with 13 domestic One-Day Cup matches and the Sheffield Shield Final to be broadcast on Fox Sports.

Fox Sports will also televise the annual Prime Minister’s XI and Governor-General’s XI matches.

These matches will not rate highly, and of course production costs will be high, but to get the cherry on top – Fox Sports also needs to bake the pie.

One of those cherries is men’s ODIs and Twenty20 in Australia but the real win for Fox Sports however is the BBL, the most successful new sporting tournament in Australia in the last 20 years.

Fox have the right to televise the entirety of the BBL – 16 matches exclusively.

To fit in all this new content Fox will launch their new channel Fox Cricket, along the lines of Fox League (NRL) and Fox Footy (AFL).

There will be a new Super Saturday format as well as a host of talk-shows.

All of this has grabbed the headlines – of course – but the really interesting developments are in the details.

To quote the CA release: “Fox Sports has also secured the digital rights to all cricket in partnership with Cricket Australia’s digital arm, Cricket Network, giving fans the chance to stream live matches on any device.”

The reality is that cricket had fallen behind League, AFL, the Premier League and US sports in offering more versatility in how to watch games.

They were in danger of losing younger fans who choose to experience their sport in a more flexible and mobile format, rather than sitting back on the sofa listening to the dulcet tones of Bill Lawry. (81-year-old Lawry was a Channel 9 stalwart and very hard to see either Fox Sports or Channel 7 picking up his contract.)

The public face of the game will also change with Nine’s Mark Nicholas and Mark “Tubby” Taylor set to be replaced by younger and more “inclusive” faces.

Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany has promised “a revolution of energy, quality and commentary” – more than welcome to those who have endured the same tired voices at Nine for almost half a century.

Australia is a very different nation to what is was in the 70s but with the exclusively white, male commentary team you could be excused for thinking you were stuck in a time warp.

What this means for cricket globally is that the game is in surprisingly good health.

Rather than turn people off – the drama and scandal of the recent South African series seems to have re-ignited interest.

CA have entrusted Fox and Seven to re-kindle that interest. The players as well must play their part.

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