The Cricket Australia national governing body is under fire from free-to-air (FTA) network Channel Seven, one of its major domestic broadcast partners, which is taking legal action to terminate the media rights deal between the two.

Seven, which holds rights to home test matches played by the men’s and women’s national teams as well as to the domestic Big Bash League (BBL) Twenty20 competition, has said it is taking Cricket Australia to the Federal Court of Australia in an attempt to have the agreement terminated two years ahead of schedule.

Now, Seven has filed court proceedings against governing body, claiming that it is in breach of various parts – mostly related to product quality – of a contract that was struck in 2018, is worth AUD450 million ($309.7 million), and is due to run through to 2024. At that point, Seven took the FTA rights to Australian test cricket away from FTA rival Channel Nine, which had held them unbroken for around 40 years.

The news, first reported by Australian media earlier this week, has now been confirmed by Seven in a statement.

Cricket Australia, meanwhile, has said in its own statement published earlier today (June 30) that it is “astonished” by Seven’s position, and that it will fight the action “strenuously”.

This marks the lowest ebb of Cricket Australia's relationship with Channel Seven – a relationship that has been rocky since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, when Seven West Media chief executive James Warburton referred to Cricket Australia as “the most incompetent administration I have ever worked with.”

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In Seven's statement, the network accused Cricket Australia of “multiple quality and standard breaches …. of [the] media rights agreement …”

The statement confirmed that Seven will seek “a court declaration that Seven is entitled to terminate the media rights agreement on the basis of material contract breaches by Cricket Australia which were not remedied” and also “damages arising out of past breaches.”

The broadcaster has however stated that while these legal proceedings are taking place, it will continue to fulfill its coverage obligations in terms of broadcasting test and BBL action.

Seven has also claimed that it has attempted to go through an ‘informal dispute resolution procedure’ but that this failed to resolve the dispute.

Seven’s biggest issue with Cricket Australia for several years has been a perceived lack of quality in the BBL. The competition struggles to attract top-bracket overseas stars due to the time of year and also does not always feature Australian national team players, who when it takes place in December and January are more often than not away representing their country.

Earlier this year, it was reported that BBL games during the 2021-22 campaign were watched by 450,000 fewer people on average than in 2016 when each fixture brought in an average of 1.1 million viewers. 

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 had been seeking a rebate of AUD70 million.

Seven argued at that point that the pandemic had, in various ways, had an impact on the quality of the BBL, with Cricket Australia’s position being that the fact they managed to play out the entire domestic season in 2020-21 meant a major discount would be unfair.

The governing body, meanwhile, has said that it “delivered two very successful seasons in 2020-21 and 2021-22, including every BBL and Women’s BBL game … and highly acclaimed international schedules, despite the enormous challenges presented by the global pandemic.”

It added: “Cricket Australia remains enormously proud of the efforts of the Australian Cricket family including players, match officials, sponsors, stadium operators, host governments, staff, and volunteers whose hard work, dedication, and expertise allowed us to deliver two exceptional cricket seasons in unprecedented circumstances.”

Seven’s acquisition of home test and BBL rights in 2018 was part of a wider deal through which pay-TV heavyweight Foxtel and its streaming service Kayo also snapped up various Australian cricket packages, in a deal worth A$1.2 billion in total.

Ten, another FTA network, was the competition’s domestic broadcaster in those days, before the aforementioned 2018 deal.