CA maintains fixture focus after Seven criticism
Cricket Australia responds to broadcast partner's frustrations ahead of a summer like no other
28 August 2020, 08:20 PM AEST
Cricket Australia has expressed disappointment at public comments from free-to-air broadcast partner Seven West Media's Chief Executive James Warburton but reaffirmed its commitment to "delivering a full and compelling summer of cricket".
The ever-changing raft of travel restrictions and national and state government coronavirus protocols means CA has already been forced to amend the men's and women's international schedules released last May, and is yet to confirm the full list of domestic fixtures.
As the strict quarantine requirements to be faced by players and event staff travelling to and from a variety of global and national destinations becomes clearer, CA is juggling myriad scheduling scenarios to maximise availability of the game's stars and deliver a complete summer.
The delay in confirming amendments to the schedule for a season due to begin in a month with women's white-ball matches between Australia and New Zealand prompted Warburton to raise the prospect of "terminating" the six-year broadcast contract Seven West signed with CA in 2018.
He also highlighted the prospect of players being unable to transfer freely between international teams and their KFC Big Bash League franchises due to COVID19 restrictions as carrying implications for broadcasters given "the quality obligations are paramount".
"Cricket Australia greatly values the relationship with our broadcast partners," a CA spokesperson said today.
"While disappointed by comments made in the media today, CA remains committed to delivering a full and compelling summer of cricket.
"With the Australian men’s team having already landed safely in England for their return to international cricket (from next week), we want to reassure fans here in Australia and around the world that we are well advanced in delivering our home summer of cricket.
"We continue to navigate our way through the challenges presented by COVID-19 with the support of all our partners, including governments, sponsors, bio-security experts, State and Territories Associations and the Australian Cricketers’ Association."
Warburton told an investor call earlier this week that discussions about the final shape of the summer's schedule, which has already seen the proposed ICC T20 World Cup postponed due to the ongoing pandemic and planned men's series against Zimbabwe and West Indies shelved, as "frustrating".
But he went further today, claiming Seven's contract under the $1.18 billion broadcast rights deal that also included Fox Sports (majority owned by News Corp) was in jeopardy because of the continued uncertainty surrounding cricket scheduling.
"We are forced to consider all our options including terminating the contract and we have put them on notice," Warburton told News Corp.
"This is not an acceptable product and we will not support the season.
"Cricket Australia have an obligation to deliver a competition of no lesser standard than the past."
Warburton had earlier drawn comparisons to dealings with the Australian Football League, with whom Seven West Media is also free-to-air broadcast partner.
"Like we have done with the AFL, our obligation then is to really deliver something for the fans and the players and to put our best foot forward for all of our commercial partners as well," he said.
When the COVID19 outbreak forced the AFL to suspend its season after the opening round last March, and subsequently announce a reduced fixture of 17 rounds (down from the usual 22) plus finals, broadcasters successfully sought a revised deal.
The AFL's new deal reportedly delivered Seven a saving of $87 million and included a two-year extension to the existing five-year agreement through until the end of 2024.
In addition to the 23 per cent reduction in the number of games played in 2020, the playing time of matches was also trimmed by 20 per cent as a concession to the coronavirus restrictions that have impacted global sport worldwide.
The national football competition has also been forced to announce its 2020 fixture a few weeks at a time (with venues for next month's final round of matches still yet to be confirmed) as evolving state border closures dictate where games can be played.
That constant fluidity of the playing schedule has seen multiple matches played during the course of a single day at Gold Coast's Metricon Stadium several times in recent weeks.
While the AFL competition caters for 18 clubs from five Australian states, CA's initial men's and women's international schedules featured seven touring teams playing across three formats (Test, ODI and T20I) at a dozen venues nationwide.
Adding to the complexity of the cricket schedule is the complementary need to deliver a full season of domestic fixtures including Marsh Sheffield Shield, Marsh One-Day Cup, Women's National Cricket League and the men's and women's Big Bash tournaments.
Not only do these competitions traditionally require free flow of players across state borders, the nature of cricket means traffic and turnaround times must be carefully managed at venues to ensure the quality of pitch preparation required for matches at elite levels.
CA's interim Chief Executive Nick Hockley expressed confidence in being able to deliver a full schedule of international and domestic men's and women's matches despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic.
"Bio-security and health and safety of the players throughout the summer is absolutely the number one priority," Hockley said this week.
"And creating hubs and concentrating content as the other sporting codes have done during the winter is something we’re likely to have to do, certainly in the early stages of the season.
"We are hoping the situation improves and clearly it’s going to be a busy and full summer, for both the international playing group and also the domestic group and the W/BBL.
"Everyone's working around the clock and we're getting amazing support from our partners, from governments, and the pieces are now really starting to fall into place.
"Our partners, and particularly our broadcast partners are across the latest information and as soon as we've got a bit more certainty around the approvals for quarantine arrangements and the like then we'll be making some announcements on what the particular dates of the summer are."