Seven: Cricket deal in line with anti-siphoning rules
Seven Network, the Australian commercial broadcaster, has insisted that the new two-way rights deal for international and domestic cricket played in the country does respect anti-siphoning rules intended to ensure a certain level of free-to-air coverage of major sports events.
Last Friday, it was announced that Seven and Fox Sports, the pay-television sports broadcaster that is in the process of merging with subscription-based operator Foxtel, had won the rights for the next six years in a bumper deal with Cricket Australia worth nearly A$1.2 billion ($932 million).
Seven will show live all men’s home test matches and women’s internationals, plus 43 matches per season from the Big Bash League, the inter-city Twenty20 competition, and 23 from the Women’s BBL.
Fox Sports will broadcast the same games, and in addition will hold exclusive rights to the Australian men’s one-day internationals and Twenty20 internationals, and an additional 16 BBL games.
Until now, all the men's home matches were available free-to-air on Nine Network, the commercial broadcaster that has been the main broadcaster of Australian cricket for the past 40 years.
The switch of the home one-day internationals and Twenty20 internationals to pay-TV has prompted some calls for government intervention on the basis that these matches are on the anti-siphoning list of events that have to be offered to free-to-air broadcasters first in any tender process.
However, Tim Worner, the chief executive of Seven West Media, claims that as it has the rights to games, but is choosing to allow Fox Sports to show them exclusively as part of the deal, means that it meets the rules, and is similar to the arrangements in place for Australian Rules Football’s AFL and the National Rugby League.
He told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper: “It’s not a list that means certain events will end up on free TV or not – it’s the same list for NRL and AFL.”
Australian communications minister Mitch Fifield has already said it was “for Cricket Australia to explain how the arrangements they have entered into are in the interests of cricket fans and participants.”
Seven will be paying A$450 million and Fox Sports A$732 million in their six-year deals, the latter of which includes exclusive digital rights.
The previous five-year deals with Nine, for Australia home matches, and Ten Network, another free-to-air commercial broadcaster, for the BBL, were worth A$490 million and A$100 million, respectively.
Worner denied claims that Seven could lose up to A$30 million per year in its cricket contract, saying: “The first thing the losers do is come up with a hundred reasons why it’s a bad deal.”
He added that savings will be forthcoming from a joint production and advertising operation with Foxtel-Fox Sports, saying: “Two huge production set-ups won’t make any sense. The fact of the matter is, we’re very aware of what Ten wrote in the Big Bash League and what Nine used to write.
“We’re going to be the only network selling both those properties [BBL and Australia matches] and the response from advertisers has been excellent. For the first time there will be no sales team from Nine and no sales team from Ten fighting against each other for advertisers.”
Worner also played down its lack of digital rights, saying that for tennis’ Australian Open (which is passing to Nine in 2020) online viewing on Seven platforms accounts for only 1 per cent of the audience.
He added: “We made a considered decision on what we felt [digital rights] were worth, and they’re obviously worth a lot more to Foxtel.”
Meanwhile, Foxtel is confident that the addition of Australian cricket, some of it exclusive, to its summer schedules will be a major driver of new subscriptions.
The premium Fox Sports package presently costs A$39 per month.
Chief executive Patrick Delany told Fairfax Media: “We’re making 10,000 sales a week on that so we’re getting a great response. The beauty of this deal is that over those summer months we’ve not only had customers leave us because of the sports, so now they’ll stay, but we can make some more customers.
It is estimated that around a third of Australian households presently have access to Foxtel.