Cricket media rights in Australia are undervalued but Cricket Australia (CA) is optimistic of striking “a great deal” for its next domestic broadcast contract, according to the national governing body’s chair Lachlan Henderson.
“We’ve got a great product, we’ve got a revitalised [Big Bash League] this year, we’ve got a future tours programme that includes more India and England cricket – on the metrics I see, cricket currently is undervalued in terms of its media rights,” Henderson told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH).
Henderson cited CA’s new seven-year, US$250 million rights pact in India with the Disney-owned Star pay-TV network as cause for optimism.
“You’ve seen the cricket deals done internationally, the deals that impact us positively such as the Asian media rights and the ICC rights – there’s a lot of interest in cricket worldwide and in Australia, and now we have a period of time where we look forward hopefully to uninterrupted summers and great viewing and commercial opportunities,” he continued.
CA’s chair also rejected claims that the Australian Football League’s (AFL) record-breaking AUS$4.5 billion (US$3.03 billion) rights deal with Foxtel and Seven Network had reduced the broadcasters’ ability to pay big money for cricket.
Regardless, a shakeup in the broadcast mix may be coming when CA goes to market at the end of its current six-year, AUS$1.2 billion (US$809 million) deal with Foxtel and Seven, which was signed in 2018.
“We’re bullish about the future in terms of media rights for cricket. The AFL deal is a really good one for the AFL, and cricket will work hard to make sure we get a great deal,” said Henderson.
The rise of streaming services as major rights players in Australia could help bump up prices and provide an extra digital component. According to The SMH, a potential option would be for men’s and women’s international cricket to be available on free-to-air (FTA). The BBL, meanwhile, may go down the over-the-top (OTT) route, making it more appealing to the younger, digital-savvy audiences that the tournament wants to attract.
The SMH notes that Test cricket’s audience in Australia share has grown by 45 per cent over the past four years, bucking downward trends in almost every other segment of broadcasting in that time.
Equally, according to The SMH, the BBL and WBBL remain the most-watched men’s and women’s domestic leagues in Australia when measured by average audience. That said, viewing figures for the men’s tournament have trended down from its 2017 peak.
In February 2021, Seven reportedly suffered a ten per cent drop in its average national audience for the 2020/21 BBL regular season.
In contrast, the fifth Ashes Test clocked up one of the highest domestic broadcast audiences in the sport’s history. The match on Seven and Fox Sports reached an average broadcast audience of 1.43 million viewers across the three days.
“We’re open to the models that will be the best fit for the next round of rights,” Henderson said. “That is different to the past, and in terms of what packages people could put forward, it’s not just free-to-air, it’s not just pay TV, the streaming is another aspect.
“But clearly there’s a commitment to free-to-air as well and maintaining significant free-to-air cricket.”
CA has enjoyed a productive period with Foxtel, but its relationship with Seven has been volatile. The commercial network’s owner, Seven West Media (SWM), has filed court proceedings citing ‘quality and standard breaches’.
For its next rights contracts, the onus is on CA to strike a balance between big money and solid partnerships. The former is also particularly pertinent given the need to keep up with overseas Twenty20 leagues.
There are other financial options for the organisation to consider. Last November, it was reported private equity investment was a viable route for CA, having held talks with Silver Lake earlier in the year.