Foxtel and Fox Sports 'withdraw bid' for Australian cricket rights
Foxtel, the Australian pay-television operator, and Fox Sports, the subscription sports broadcaster, are reported to have withdrawn their bid for the rights to top-level cricket played in the country, meaning that the national board is likely to have to accept a lower offer from a free-to-air broadcaster.
Cricket Australia had set a target of up to A$1 billion ($769 million) for Australia's home matches and the Big Bash League Twenty20 competition over the next five years, but looks set to fall short after Foxtel and Fox Sports, which are in the process of merging, pulled out, according to The Australian newspaper.
It is claimed that Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland contacted Fox Sports late on Friday local time in a bid to salvage talks, but that his approach was unsuccessful.
Nine Network and Ten Network, which shared the rights before and have launched a joint bid for the next contract, and rival Seven Network remain in the running.
It had earlier been reported that Foxtel had offered between A$800 million and A$850 million for the rights, but also that chief executive Patrick Delany had denied the bid was that high.
Such a windfall would have been a boost to the governing body, which launched its tender last month, and will have been concerned about the impact on the value of the next deal of a recent ball-tampering scandal involving the Australian men's team.
The Foxtel offer was said be for all Australia’s home matches in the test match, one-day international and Twenty20 international formats, with the provision that test matches could be simulcast by a free-to-air television network.
The ambitions of the merged Foxtel-Fox Sports will be restricted by Australian anti-siphoning rules which stipulate that high-profile sporting events including home test matches and one-day internationals have to be shown on free-to-air television if there are bids for the rights from that sector.
It appears that Cricket Australia will now have to turn to a commercial broadcaster, which will be able to offer a larger audience, albeit the financial terms are expected to be less favourable.
The free-to-air bids received to date are thought likely to be no higher than A$600 million, and the governing body requested new offers after it was dissatisfied with the joint proposal from Nine and Ten.
It is understood that Seven has already resubmitted its bid, and will have budget to spare after losing the rights to tennis’ Australian Open from 2020 onwards to Nine.
Nine director of sport Tom Malone said last week that the broadcaster was “still keen to pursue a relationship with cricket,” despite its new five-year, A$300-million deal with Tennis Australia.
Nine is the long-time home of Australia’s home matches and has been paying A$490 million for the rights over the last five years, while Ten shelled out A$100 million for the BBL, and the increasing popularity of the Twenty20 competition was thought likely to drive an increase in the value of the contract in the next cycle.
On the current state of negotiations, Cricket Australia told the Sydney Morning Herald that it was “currently undergoing a confidential process, and when we have finalised our rights, we will look to make an announcement on this.”
Meanwhile, Cricket Australia chairman David Peever has insisted that the position of the long-serving Sutherland is not under threat, and that there will be no "witch hunts" at the organisation in the fallout from the cheating scandal.
The governing body has launched an independent review of its culture after Australian captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft admitted to ball-tampering during a recent test match in South Africa, and were banned from international and state cricket for a year, in the case of Smith and Warner, and nine months, in the case of Bancroft.
The affair has raised questions about the future of Sutherland, the chief executive since 2001.
However, Peever said today that the 52-year-old had the "full support" of the board and had done an "outstanding" job dealing with the crisis.
Peever told reporters: "I think we're all going to come under the microscope in terms of what is occurring back in the organisation that might have contributed to this. But I can tell you this, circumstances like this are not the time for witch hunts."
Several commercial partners, including test match sponsor Magellan, have ended their support for Cricket Australia in the wake of the scandal, and some reports claimed that it could wipe A$200 million off the value of the next broadcasting contract.