Channel Seven launches legal action against Cricket Australia in bid to terminate $450m TV rights deal
Channel Seven has launched legal action against Cricket Australia in a sensational bid to terminate its $450 million TV rights deal, accusing the sport’s governing body of multiple contract breaches as well as misleading and deceptive conduct.
The network claims Cricket Australia’s failures in scheduling, administration and player management have directly led to a decline in quality and standards of its prime time summer showpiece Big Bash League over the past three years.
The broadcaster says this has resulted in the loss of advertising revenue and of the “halo” benefits derived from premium programming.
The quality and standard of the BBL has progressively fallen each year over the term of the MRA.
After unsuccessful attempts at mediation, Seven is now seeking a Federal Court declaration that permits it to scrap its six-year contract to screen Test cricket and the BBL after just four years, and the payment of unspecified damages.
“The SWM (Seven West Media) proceedings will seek both: A court declaration that Seven is entitled to terminate the MRA (media rights agreement) on the basis of material contract breaches by CA which were not remedied. And damages arising out of past breaches,” a Seven statement said.
Seven’s court bombshell follows an earlier successful legal bid to get access to internal CA documents on its decision-making.
The broadcaster is now citing now citing them in support of its accusation CA has failed in its obligation to deliver a BBL competition equal to the best in the world and no less a product than previous rights holders enjoyed.
One of its main gripes is the decision to change the launch date of the 20/21 BBL which meant it was no longer tied with the the First Test against India, denying the tournament a crucial “fast start” that would flow on to better ratings.
Seven says this was compounded by CA’s decision to schedule eight of the first 12 BBL matches at small stadiums in Tasmania.
The statement of claim refers to an internal email from CA’s Big Bash general manager Alistair Dobson bemoaning the alternative scheduling options as “unmitigated disasters for the BBL” and saying the Tasmanian decision “significantly compromised the entire BBL season”.
Seven is also highly critical of CA’s decision to schedule three Men’s One-Day Internationals in India while the BBL was continuing in January 2020 and its move to put Australia A practice games up against the BBL schedule — all of which made key players unavailable for their BBL teams.
The statement of claim says CA’s repeated representations to Seven about its 20/21 schedule were “misleading or deceptive” under consumer law because CA was in discussions with Indian authorities and “in fact intended to change the schedule of international matches for the 2020/2021 season”.
Seven also hit out at the decision to allow grade cricketers and “a schoolteacher” to play in the BBL when stars such as Steve Smith were forced to sit out matches and also the failure of BBL to keep pace with rival leagues with its salary cap and international representation.
“The quality and standard of the BBL has progressively fallen each year over the term of the MRA”, the claim asserts.
Cricket Australia issued a statement strongly defending its performance and decision-making during “the enormous challenges presented by the global pandemic”.
“In the circumstances, CA is astonished that Seven has brought this unwarranted action which will be strenuously defended,” it said.
Seven has two summers left to run on its deal. However, it is believed the case is unlikely to be finalised in time to impact on the upcoming season featuring the West Indies and South Africa.
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