Sea change, dawn of a new era or new broom. Whatever you want to call it, we are witnessing cricket continuing to transform itself for the future, admittedly at times doing so haphazardly, lurching forward with major deals and back with idiotic player incidents.
In early April cricket-loving Australians heard about the new billion-dollar broadcast deal Cricket Australia had signed with Foxtel and Channel Seven. And perhaps with greater interest, many realised that this would end a 40-year tradition of free-to-air cricket on Channel Nine.
Can cricket stay healthy in Australia, even with some of its content behind a paywall? What does this all mean for cricket fans, of yesterday, today and tomorrow?
A deep-dive into the foundations of the broadcast deal, reveals a tri-partied partnership that serves the business and cultural aspirations for all concerned, especially cricket for the long term.
Cricket Australia, Foxtel and Seven have all put a priority on the principles of diversity and inclusion, as a way to broaden their audience base, so you can expect more women’s cricket.
The Australian Cricket Strategy released in 2017, emphasises the “critical importance of women and girls to the sustainability of cricket in Australia going forward”. In talking about the deal, Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland pledged the new deal would include an “unprecedented” level of coverage for women’s cricket”.
After this deal, all home internationals played by Australia’s national women’s team will be shown on free-to-air television for the very first time.
Both Seven and Fox Sports will broadcast all of Australia’s home Tests, ODIs and T20Is every summer for the next six years. And in another big step forward for the women’s game, more than a third of WBBL matches will be shown on free-to-air television via Channel Seven.
Twenty-three of the 59 matches will be shown by both Seven and Fox Sports, while the remaining 36 games will be live streamed on cricket.com.au and the CA Live App.
The deal meets Foxtel’s business and social agenda, which sets a priority on investing in young people and grassroots sport, and as Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh has said, “inclusion and accessibility for as many Australians as possible”. This includes closed captions on selected programming to customers streaming Foxtel Now, live and On Demand, to PCs and Macs using the Chrome and Safari browsers as well as to iPads and iPhones, with more to come. This will clearly benefit Cricket Australia in its quest for reaching diverse new audiences, including new fans participating on their mobile devices.
Channel 7 are renowned for staging big sporting events well – the AFL Finals Series, the AFL Grand Final, the Melbourne Cup, the Rugby League World Cup, the Australian Open, the Olympic Winter Games and the Commonwealth Games. A partnership with Cricket Australia may be a valued one for both parties.
And with the men’s Tests, all women’s internationals as well as 43 KFC BBL matches and 23 Rebel WBBL games will be shown on both networks. It looks like there’ll be a changing of the commentator guard as well. It might be goodbye to some iconic names of cricket that three or four family generations have grown up with – all master cricketers with technical expertise and characters with a lifetime of war stories and anecdotes, who have gone on to calling the game.
We’ll have to wait and find out the new talent line-up. Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany said it was too early to speculate on commentator’s yet but indicated that the network would be focusing on “young and inclusive” in combination with some experienced heads. “You’ll hear different commentary teams (on Fox and Seven), and consumers will have choice under this deal,” Delany said. “And that’s one of the great things for fans and growing Australia’s favourite sport”. Delany seemed pretty certain that there would be women on the Fox team saying when asked “of course”.
With so much competition in the sports and entertainment market, finding and maintaining market share is a tricky business, even for our national sport of cricket. This deal may be just the tonic Cricket Australia is looking for to hurdle the cultural divide of ‘blokeyness’ and stamp a newly transformed brand of inclusiveness on its sport, and in the process, sustain its market share.
The question is… will it still be cricket? One thing’s for sure, summer is going to feel a bit different.