Toxic TV fight: Seven’s email demand to CA

Lawyers have fired the first shots in a court battle between Cricket Australia and Seven West over the broadcast deal for the summer game schedule.

The fight in the federal court comes after Seven made its displeasure known after seeking a $70m reduction on its $82m outlay for the deal to cover the sport.

Cricket Australia had already reportedly offered a 20 per cent discount on the rights to the 2020-21 cricket season, which would have seen the broadcaster $15m better off. But the deal was reportedly rejected by Seven.

The pre-discovery hearing on Monday saw Seven's lawyers seeking access to documents and correspondence between Cricket Australia, its staff and outside parties.

The broadcaster is claiming changes to the timing of one-day matches and Big Bash games diminished the "quality" of the cricket material bought by the broadcaster.

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Seven shares rights to broadcast test matches with Foxtel.

Lawyers for Seven said the diminution of the "spectacle" of the games through crowd restrictions and changes to scheduling that saw some games played at lesser stadiums reduced the attractiveness of the cricket, and as a consequence, audiences.

"Sporting events of their nature need to have a quality and standard that will keep consumers, spectators and viewers coming back for more," David Thomas SC said.

"These are spectacles designed to appeal to viewers and advertisers both through the quality and conduct of those matches."

Seven claims the rescheduling, which saw no tests played in November, cost the network millions in lost revenue.

Yet despite the attempt by the broadcaster to seek relief for a cricket season that had been disrupted by the pandemic, ratings for the four test India versus Australia series were buoyant.

Lawyers for Cricket Australia attempted to stymie attempts by Seven to access "thousands and thousands of emails".

Cricket Australia has argued a "force majeure" clause in its contract with Seven forced the schedule change. Cricket Australia lawyer Jeffrey Gleeson QC argued the rescheduling of the tests did not trigger the compensation clauses in the broadcast agreement with Seven, noting the number of games played did not fall below the threshold set out in the deal.

Mr Gleeson said Cricket Australia did acknowledge the change to scheduling to delay games by two months had the potential to "have an impact on the quality and standard of the game of cricket" as drawcard players might be unable to attend.

 

"(Seven's lawyer) doesn't say or refer to a single player who as a result of these changes didn't play in Australia who otherwise might have," he said.

"I accept if he had done so it would be pretty hard to say it didn't touch on the quality or standards."

As Seven's lawyers fronted up in court, the broadcaster was smarting from a stinging defeat after an independent expert decided the changes to the cricket season warranted only a $5.3m discount.

That same arbitrator said the broadcaster would be entitled to a further $3m discount if the Afghanistan test was rescheduled.

The deal between Seven and Cricket Australia, which has several seasons more to run, has grown increasingly toxic.

Seven has previously insisted it could look to terminate its deal with Cricket Australia.

The hearing continues on Tuesday.

Originally published as Toxic TV fight: Seven's email demand to CA


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