The Cricket Australia (CA) governing body has announced that the domestic Big Bash League (BBL) Twenty20 competition will be reduced in size as part of a new AUD1.51-billion ($1-billion) broadcast deal with current rightsholders Channel Seven, the commercial network, and pay-television operator Foxtel.
The seven-year deal, running from 2024 to 2031, will see the BBL reduced in size from 61 games to 43 per season in an attempt to address reduced crowds and TV ratings.
CA said the shorter season will allow the competition to be played within the school holidays and improve the availability of national team and overseas players.
CA’s chief executive Nick Hockley said: “We’ve been listening to the fans, listening to the players, we are seeing it this season with the BBL, it’s primetime nights in the heart of the summer holidays and what this allows us to do is tighten things up.
“It allows us to get the best players in, it sits really nicely next to our new future tours program.”
The announcement today (January 3) included confirmation that Seven would end its legal battle against CA, which was brought over a perceived lack of quality in the BBL over the last few seasons due to international player availability. Both sides will cover their own legal costs.
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The bidding process for the new cycle of rights saw reported interest from most major broadcasters in the country, including fellow commercial network Channel 10 and parent company Paramount, as well as free-to-air network Channel Nine.
However, Foxtel and Seven ultimately retained the rights for a further seven years beyond the end of their current six-year deal.
The AUD1.51-billion price tag represents an increase of 10.5% per year on the previous deal, which saw the broadcasters pay AUD1.2 billion to hold the rights from 2018 to the end of 2023.
Foxtel’s new AUD140 million per year deal is made up of almost AUD130 million in cash and AUD10 in contra, which includes free advertising and promotion of cricket.
Seven, meanwhile, will pay AUD65 million a year, escalating by 2% each year, as well as AUD7 million a year in contra. Its fee, which is 13% less than the current agreement, could increase if the BBL meets certain benchmarks.
In a statement, Hockley said: “The quality and reach of the Foxtel Group and Seven's cricket production is first class, and the outstanding service they provide cricket fans was a strong consideration in our decision to continue with this successful partnership.
"The breadth and quality of cricket to be played in Australia over the coming summers is extraordinary and we are looking forward to working with our partners to not only televise the games but to promote and grow cricket by encouraging more kids to pick up a bat and ball."
Under the deal, all Australian home men’s Test matches, and Australian women’s internationals between 2024 and 2031 will be shown by both Seven and Foxtel, as well as their streaming platforms.
The deal includes two five-test Ashes home series against England and two five-test home series against India. The women’s international program will also increase, with home multi-format series against India, England, and South Africa in the first three years of the deal.
The white-ball internationals of the Australian men’s team will remain behind a paywall on Foxtel and Kayo, while tests and the majority of the BBL will be available FTA on Seven and 7plus.
All 43 matches of the BBL and WBBL will be broadcast on Foxtel’s dedicated cricket channel and Kayo, which includes 10 home and away matches for each team plus three finals. Foxtel will also cover 10 BBL games exclusively.
Seven, meanwhile, will cover 23 WBBL matches and 33 BBL matches, including both finals, on its linear channel and streaming platform.
James Warburton, Seven West Media managing director and chief executive, said: “A comprehensive package of digital rights to the cricket for 7plus will ensure that for the first time, our viewers will be able to access cricket, live and free, in a way that suits them.
“Our combined broadcast and digital rights for both cricket and the AFL means Seven and 7plus will be the home of sport all year round.”
The new deal comes four months after Seven and Foxtel struck an AUD4.5-billion deal to extend their broadcast contract with the Australian Football League from 2024 to 2031 – the biggest sports rights deal in the country’s history.
Addressing the network’s fractured relationship with the governing body during the deal’s unveiling at the Sydney Cricket Ground earlier today, Seven’s head of network sport Lewis Martin said: “There’s no doubt our relationship has been tested and there’s nothing left unsaid I can assure you.
“We’ve had our issues with Cricket Australia, and we’ve reset. They were challenging times, no doubt about it.
“One of the key things that kept us constant was that we were united in both the love and for the ambition to grow the game. That was critical and that’s why we are all standing here today.”
Last month (December 19), it was reported Seven had offered to drop its legal case against CA to retain the rights to the next cycle.
In late 2020, Seven took Cricket Australia to an independent arbitrator seeking a substantial cut to the AUD82 million per year it is paying the governing body. However, the process concluded with the arbitrator ordering that Seven should only receive an AUD5 million discount when the broadcaster sought a rebate of AUD70 million.
Seven’s acquisition of home test and BBL rights in 2018 was part of a wider deal through which Foxtel and its streaming service Kayo also snapped up various Australian cricket packages, in a deal worth AUD1.2 billion in total.
The 2022-23 BBL started on December 13, 2022, and will end on February 4, 2023.