Seven West Media has sought official arbitration in its bid to secure a cut in its annual fees with Cricket Australia but the sport's governing body could call the network's bluff and head directly to court.
As Australia's Test skipper Tim Paine joked on Tuesday he did not know who would televise cricket this summer, Seven upped the ante in its pay war with CA, lodging paperwork with the Australian Chamber for International and Commercial Arbitration.
The network has sought an independent expert to determine the rights value of this summer's fixture, including a four-Test series against India and the Big Bash League. As it stands, that figure is $75 million in cash plus $7 million in free advertising but Seven argues the campaign ahead, impacted by COVID-19 restrictions and the alleged scheduling demands by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, will lack the quality it had signed on for.
India is set to tour Australia this summer but no dates have been set.Credit:Getty
Seven notified CA of its move in writing, with CA declaring on Tuesday to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald that it was too soon to say what its next move would be, other than to continue to prepare for the season ahead.
The chamber will nominate an expert although CA has the right to reject any involvement. There is no time frame on how long the hearing would take but once both parties have presented – should CA do so – the expert has 20 working days to make a binding deliberation.
That the decision will be binding and threatens to cost CA tens of million of dollars if Seven is successful had broadcasting sources claiming CA was considering bypassing arbitration and launching a case of breach-of-contract against Seven in the Melbourne Supreme Court.
This then gives CA the protection of appealing if it was to lose the case, while also potentially having the option of taking out an injunction that would delay a final verdict until the end of the summer – meaning Seven would be contractually bound to broadcast the entire summer even it wanted to hit the escape button.
"The ball is in Cricket Australia's court," a broadcast source said.
Seven's managing director James Warburton had already threatened to drop a push for a discount and head to the courts to terminate its $450 million, six-year deal. Foxtel, the sport's pay-television arm, also has concerns about the BBL but has left Seven to set the pace in public. Sources say Foxtel, who contributed the bulk of the overall $1.18 billion deal in 2018, does not want to lose its rights.
Nine Entertainment Co and Channel Ten, cricket's former broadcasters, have kept an interested eye on proceedings. Nine's chief executive Hugh Marks has left the door open to regaining the Test rights should they be available at a fair price.
Seven has said it will continue to broadcast matches despite the ongoing fight, and it has been true to its word through the women's white-ball series against New Zealand. But the uncertainty of what lay ahead in terms of broadcasting and an international fixture that has yet to be released was not lost on Test skipper Paine before he left his home state of Tasmania to fly to South Australia where this weekend's Sheffield Shield season opens in a bio-secure hub.
"I think we'll wait this week to see where we are playing the Test matches and who is televising it and all that is going on, just trying not to waste too much energy on that," he said.
Seven has delivered on its first of four financial instalments to CA for the season ahead.
The debt-laden network's claims focus on CA's decision to switch the white-ball series against India from January to the start of the season, the change of dates for the Tests, with only one Test before Christmas and the final Test finishing in mid January when many people are back at work, and concerns over the depth of talent in the BBL and atmospherics of matches that will be held in hubs.
CA has yet to publicly release its revamped fixtures for the BBL and international summer, as it awaits final approval from the Queensland government over biosecurity issues because India is set to quarantine in the northern state. The governing body had released its initial BBL fixture in July but that was dropped after CA triggered the force majeure, or "Act of God" section, in its broadcast contract, this focusing on the fallout of COVID-19.
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