Cricket vs The Block: How the TV war broke out
Channel 7 is threatening to sue Cricket Australia for "many millions of dollars", claiming it was subservience to India and inducements from state governments - not COVID-19 - which drastically altered the summer schedule.
In an affidavit filed to the Federal Court as part of a 'pre-discovery' process, Channel 7 Head of Sport Lewis Martin outlines his belief that Cricket Australia has breached its contract with the free-to-air network.
Channel 7 claims it has suffered significant commercial damage because Cricket Australia changed its original schedule, which included three Test matches before Christmas, to a new schedule with only one Test in that key ratings period where they would be up against Channel 9's The Block.
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Instead, six white-ball matches against India - all exclusive to Fox Sports - were put to the front of the schedule, pushing two Test matches until after Christmas and delaying the start of the BBL.
Martin also claims CA failed to deliver on a key promise to produce a "BBL 2.0" - a phrase the Channel 7 executive attributes to former Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts from a meeting earlier in the year.
Crucial to this plan, which Martin says was a joint understanding between CA and broadcasters, was to give the BBL a "fast start" by launching on the same day of the originally scheduled first Indian Test on December 3 to give the domestic competition the biggest build-up possible.
Cricket Australia reacted angrily to the accusations on Tuesday, with interim chief Nick Hockley standing by CA's legal position and taking aim at Channel 7 for "using the media" to talk down the game.
At the time of publication, Cricket Australia said they had not received the affidavit and insiders say they're not afraid of a court battle with Seven
Channel 7 say they believe the disclosure of key documents could also help them ascertain whether or not financial incentives were given to CA by the Tasmanian Government to start the BBL tournament in Tasmania - "the least preferred location for BBL broadcasting by Seven."
The network claims it would be "commercially irrational unless CA were otherwise incentivised, presumably by arrangement with the Government of Tasmania."
The affidavit was filed on the same day that news emerged that both parties had agreed on an independent expert to decide in a separate arbitration process, on the new value of the TV rights.
Cricket and the broadcaster have 20 days to reach an agreement in that process.
But at the same time in the Federal Court, Channel 7 are seeking the disclosure of confidential documents to prove that it was the BCCI - and its October-November billion-dollar IPL tournament - that was the real driving force behind the schedule changing, rather than Cricket Australia's claims of a Force Majeure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Warburton has alleged previously that Cricket Australia is "terrified of" the BCCI."
In the BCCI, Channel 7 alleges that CA executive Peter Roach told them during a meeting on August 7 that the reason for the swapping around of formats was because: "The Indians won't quarantine twice."
The Affidavit includes text messages between Channel 7 chief executive James Warburton and CA interim chief Nick Hockley, and a fiery exchange between another CA executive Stephanie Beltrame and Martin.
On September 8, 2020, Seven alleges a text message was sent from Hockley to Warburton which is quoted in the Affidavit as saying: "Can also explain white ball which is driven by the BCCI?"
Martin writes: "I interpreted that to mean that Mr Hockley was suggesting the scheduling (changing) … was at the request of the BCCI."
At an August 7 meeting, Martin alleges Roach explained to him the reason for the white ball matches being switched to the start of the summer were because of India's quarantine desires.
"The Indians won't quarantine twice. They want their Test players and white ball players to quarantine together at the same time, and then after the white ball matches are played, the white ball players can go home and the Test players will stay in Australia."
Seven is asking was it the BCCI's ability to dictate to CA, or the pandemic which prompted the changes?
The network makes it clear its primary concern is with the decline of the BBL, as it points to a clause in their contract with CA which purports to producing competition at a similar or higher standard to the previous year or to comparable world competition.
Martin alleges there was a joint understanding from CA and Seven at the time to reinvigorate the BBL and lift its ratings, with a key facet of that plan to launch the Big Bash on the same day as the first Test against India on December 3. Those plans were ultimately abandoned.
Cricket Australia's original schedule included Twenty20 matches against the West Indies and India which were meant to lead-into October's World Cup, which was cancelled due to COVID-19.
The West Indian T20s were postponed, while the Indian T20s were moved to December where they start on Friday exclusive to Fox Sports.
In a conversation between Martin and Beltrame - CA's executive general manager of broadcast and commercial - on November 12, Martin claims the following exchange took place.
Cricket Australia issued a statement on Tuesday defending its own position and condemning Seven's approach.
"With so much positivity around Australian cricket it is disap Seven West Media has again chosen to use the media to talk our wonderful game down," said CA chief executive Nick Hockley.
"CA has maintained all along our commitment to delivering a thrilling summer of cricket and on behalf of all involved, be that governments, partners, players and staff, I'm proud to say we are doing just that. We remain confident in our contractual position.
"In the most challenging environment sport has faced, with the support of our friends at BCCI, CA has ensured that the much-anticipated series with India can go ahead safely.
"The first two men's ODIs between Australia and India set viewership records and is a great indicator of the level of interest in the upcoming Test Series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, which includes the first-ever day-night Test against India.
"Similarly, the WBBL has been an absolute triumph with regular season matches setting new audience records and both semi-finals rating almost one-third more than their corresponding games last season.
"… We continue to have tremendous respect for the hardworking people across Channel 7's cricket and news broadcast teams and congratulate them on the substantial increase in ratings cricket has delivered them to date this season.
"We have, and will continue to, fulfil our obligations to our partners and supporters by scheduling a brilliant summer of cricket, despite the cost and complexity of doing so given the current public health situation."
Channel 7 also points to a specific example in the changed BBL schedule of the Melbourne Renegades having to play the Sydney Sixers in Hobart rather than at the SCG, as was originally scheduled.
At the time the BBL schedule was amended, Seven says "ordinary travellers from Melbourne to Tasmania were subject to mandatory quarantine but there had been an announcement that travel from Melbourne to Sydney would not be subject to any restriction for anyone from November 23.
Seven is questioning whether the potential for financial arrangements between the Tasmanian Government and CA might have been prioritised by Cricket Australia over its contractual obligation to deliver Seven the best schedule to the best of their abilities.
Cricket Australia decided to launch its BBL season with a hub in Tasmania, despite Seven claiming it told the governing body that Tasmania was its least preferred BBL venue.
Originally published as Cricket vs The Block: How the TV war broke out