Channel Seven pay up in broadcast battle with Cricket Australia

Test cricket and the Big Bash are the two major products for Channel Seven Getty Images

Channel Seven have backed down from an earlier threat to pay only one partial instalment of their broadcast deal with Cricket Australia for the whole summer, as talks between the network and the governing body graduated to board level ahead of a looming deadline.

CA's accounts were topped up by the payment of an additional A$10 million on Wednesday, the remainder of the $25 million instalment that had been due to be handed over by Seven on September 15, despite the company's insistence that it would not be paying another cent for the season.

Both parties have until October 3 to reach a compromise before Seven insist that their complaints about the broadcast deal, signed in conjunction with Foxtel for A$1.18 billion in April 2018, must be independently assessed and the contract revised accordingly.

Seven's voice in the dispute, which over the past two weeks have seen it clearly in breach of payment requirements to CA, has largely been taken by its chief executive James Warburton, who replaced Tim Worner in late 2019 and recently announced the network had signed a multi-year deal to air the Supercars motor racing format of which he was previously chief executive.

However, it is believed that recent discussions graduated to be between the respective boards of Seven West Media and CA. Seven's directors include its multibillionaire chairman Kerry Stokes and his son Ryan, and also the former Essendon chairman and financial advisor David Evans, who has also served as the head of CA's own investment committee.

Seven's directors' report, part of its extensive financial reporting for the 2019-20 financial year, indicated that the organisation expected live sporting coverage to be a key part of its recovery from both the struggles of the Covid-19 pandemic and also the wider issue of significant debts and a long-running drop in its share price.

This contrasted with some of Warburton's more outlandish statements, attacking CA while also indicating that Seven wished to get out of its cricket deal entirely. These inflammatory words have run in the face of an improving advertising market in the second half of 2020, and another set of promising broadcast audiences, albeit in lower rating afternoon slots, for Seven's coverage of the women's T20I series between Australia and New Zealand in Brisbane over the past five days.

CA's interim chief executive, Nick Hockley, has been accompanied by the Sydney-based CA director and former Foxtel chief executive Richard Freudenstein in meetings with Warburton, though Freudenstein has recused himself from meetings with Foxtel's current chief Patrick Delany.

Most of the umbrage between Seven, Foxtel and CA has revolved around the bloated size and shape of the Big Bash, which expanded to a 14-game home and away season under the terms of the 2018 deal, having seen teams play just eight games a tournament as recently as 2016. Seven's part in the overall deal is weighted towards paying more for the BBL than for international cricket, a ratio that runs contrary to CA's own strategic imperatives about maintaining the primacy of the international game.

Some of Seven and Foxtel's concerns about the BBL and player availability were recently assuaged when a scheduled ODI series between Australia and New Zealand in late January was postponed so it would no longer clash with the domestic T20 tournament. Australia's T20 side will instead travel to New Zealand in late February and early March.