Windfall TV deal gives cricket new life

If cricket is the wallpaper of summer, Richie Benaud is part of the furniture and Channel Nine expects the doyen to continue into a rights deal that gives the sport unprecedented firepower to capture the nation’s brightest young talents.

Cricket Australia on Tuesday announced a $590 million bonanza from the sale of its domestic rights that will also give networks Nine and Ten, the new broadcaster on the block, unprecedented power in shaping the game.

Nine splurged $450 million for international cricket, Ten will be the new, free-to-air home of the Big Bash League for $100 million and CA will control its digital rights in a $60 million joint venture with Nine.

Nine chief executive David Gyngell claimed the network would never have walked away from the sport that has been in its DNA for more than three decades, but CA boss James Sutherland said there were times it seemed all cricket would end up on Ten.

”Cricket is in our DNA and we’re very proud of it. A lot of people would say we over-invest in it from a broadcasting point of view but it has defined our network … It is wallpaper,” Gyngell said.

”I can’t imagine cricket without Richie. Richie will do cricket for as long as he wants to do cricket. We’ll never be telling Richie what he can and can’t do. I’m always honoured to be in his presence as a person and I’m always interested in hearing what he has to say. Bill [Lawry] is in the same space.”

Retired champions Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey are also in demand for commentary roles.

Nine and Ten wasted no time in exerting their financial muscle. Gyngell confirmed Fairfax Media reports that the network would seek a bigger say in scheduling, including a push to play the first Test in Perth rather than Brisbane to capitalise on the prime ratings period. But his personal distaste for the rotation policy did not lead Nine to seek assurances on selection.

”I don’t agree with the rotation policy, but obviously not enough to not buy the cricket,” he said.

Ten’s wish-list includes a desire for Australia’s international stars to be available for the Big Bash, which would require a re-think of the calendar or a series of compromises with Australian team management.

Sutherland said the deal was ”an outstanding result for Australian cricket” and that he would listen to CA’s broadcast partners on matters of scheduling.

”We always look at good ideas that people have about creating an optimal program. Just because we’ve done it a certain way in the past doesn’t mean that that’s the way we should always do it in the future,” Sutherland said.

The deal will mean a major boost for grassroots and club cricket, and Sutherland said it would give the sport the clout to compete with the AFL and NRL at junior level.

”I don’t think people realise how much cricket has to offer for talented young athletes, and this may well highlight that a little bit more,” he said. ”We haven’t had the firepower to really focus on that in the past … we now have that opportunity.”

Ten boss Hamish McLennan promised to put a new spin on cricket although members of the Fox Sports commentary team are likely to be considered.

”We’re committed to investing a lot of money so it looks great on screen, and we see there are some opportunities to bring some fresh, new faces onto the Ten broadcast,” he said.

Asked whether he was resigned to having little access to Test players, McLennan added: ”We’ve talked to James and his team about that. We’d like some big names as part of the broadcast and we’re pretty sure that that will happen.”

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