This time last month, Cricket Australia was in crisis mode, reeling in the aftermath of the Cape Town ball-tampering fiasco that threatened to derail its negotiations for the next cycle of broadcasting rights to Australia’s most loved sport. Yet now, CA CEO James Sutherland and his board are instead breathing an enormous sigh of relief after agreeing with Foxtel and Seven the most lucrative and revolutionary media rights deal in the game’s history. What it means for the future of the sport will remain unclear for some time; if nothing else however, it has proven at least this: a month is a very long time in sport.
Under the new arrangements, Foxtel and Seven will together pay Cricket Australia $1.2bn million over six years to broadcast between themselves all forms of the game for the next six years. In comparison, CA’s most recent deal, with Nine and Ten, was worth $120 million a year. By any yardstick, the huge uplift reveals a significant gamble by Foxtel, the party responsible for paying the majority of the rights fee, and for broadcasting every single ball of the Australian summer of cricket (with Seven simulcasting Test matches and most BBL matches).
The key players
On its surface, the new deal is the most efficient outcome for each of the main negotiating parties. Cricket Australia, seemingly bereft of leverage following the Cape Town ball-tampering fiasco, managed to secure the billion dollar deal it so desperately needed to meet its generous revenue sharing arrangement with contracted players. Foxtel, fundamentally a pay TV operator seeking relevance in an unsettled media landscape, has paid handsomely to secure exclusively all digital rights to cricket, signalling its critical focus on its over the top (OTT) transmission. Meanwhile, Seven, who will from 2020 no longer broadcast the Australian Open, has found the perfect way to plug the upcoming “gap” in its summer sports coverage.
For at least one of the outgoing incumbents too, there’s a silver lining. Nine, which was losing up to $40 million a year on its cricket coverage, has freed up significant capital, some of which it can now use to fine-tune its production of the Australian Open. Ten’s future in Australian sport, however, becomes more uncertain, as the now CBS-backed network finds itself sidelined from broadcasting the BBL which it helped transform into the cash cow it is today.
What it means for fans
Many fans have expressed concerns regarding the new arrangements, with limited overs fixtures on home soil set to disappear from FTA television for the first time.
But it’s not all bad news. Firstly, it’s not going to be expensive. The era of fixed-term, high-cost subscriptions is all but over, and it’s likely Foxtel’s hand has already been forced; although OTT distributors such as Netflix and Amazon present a significant threat to traditional pay TV operators, embracing that same model is ironically the only way for Foxtel to remain relevant. This means we can expect to see Foxtel offer more affordable “league pass” style subscriptions to the cricket, for instance for access to a particular BBL team’s matches, or an online-only cricket pass targeted at younger audiences.
And in any case, we’re still much better off than England, which recently welcomed back to FTA television – with great fanfare no less – just 12 matches of live English cricket, and that too after a 13-year hiatus. Even so, most of the upcoming live FTA matches are domestic T20s; English viewers who wish to watch live home test matches or ODIs are forced to shell out at least $75 a month for at least 18 months.
This means we can expect to see Foxtel offer more affordable “league pass” style subscriptions to the cricket
What it means for cricket
Purists will be most satisfied with the new rights deal; in a first, all home and away test matches involving Australia will be available on FTA television, securing the immediate future of the game’s most important format, while promising a refresh to Nine’s increasingly tired and myopic coverage. At the other end lies the BBL, which is also far from doomed; the majority of the tournament is set to remain on FTA transmission. Administrators will also be aware that the format managed to thrive even when it was broadcast exclusively on pay TV in the previous rights cycle.
In the twilight zone, however, lies one day international cricket, the sport’s most threatened format, which will disappear from FTA airwaves altogether. Pessimists will point to the Hyundai A-League, which sits behind Foxtel’s paywall and has failed entirely to grow its viewership or attendance at games. Fans can take comfort, however, in English cricket, which has not collapsed on itself despite its recent moratorium on all FTA live cricket.
In short, despite the seemingly seismic upheaval, there’s plenty to look forward to; for cricket lovers, a refreshed broadcast and helping to secure the game’s future may well justify a small access fee.
Where can I watch my cricket?
All Test matches involving Australia, home and away: live on Seven and Foxtel
The 2019 Ashes: live on Nine
Limited overs matches
All ODIs and T20Is involving Australia: exclusively live on Foxtel
ICC CWC 2019 and 2020 World T20: live on Nine
Big Bash League
43 BBL matches: live on Seven and Foxtel
Remaining 16 BBL matches: exclusively live on Foxtel
23 WBBL matches: live on Seven and Foxtel
Remaining 36 WBBL matches: live streamed through cricket.com.au and CA Live App