Broadcasters Channel 7 hit out at Cricket Australia (CA) on Thursday after its ongoing dispute took a turn for the worse following India skipper Virat Kohli’s decision to withdraw from three of the four Tests. Kohli’s absence has left Channel 7 at a major disadvantage but it has given a major boost to its rivals Fox Sports.
Channel 7, a free-to-air, holds the rights for the four-match Test series while Fox Sports, a pay channel, has the rights to broadcast the two white-ball series — three T20Is and as many ODIs. Both channels will, however, be able to broadcast the first Test, a pink-ball affair to be played at the Adelaide Oval, where Kohli will play.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on Monday granted Kohli paternity leave, allowing him to return home after the first Test to be with wife Anushka Sharma who is due for delivery around that time.
It will mean that while Fox Sports will get to broadcast 14 days of cricket with Kohli — six white-ball series games, a warm-up match, and the day-night Test — Channel 7 will broadcast only the five-day first Test featuring one of the best batsmen in the world. Channel 7 will have to broadcast the remaining 15 days of Test cricket sans talismanic Indian.
Kerry Stokes, chairman of Seven West Media, which owns Channel 7 was quoted by The Age as saying in the company annual general meeting, “Our company loves cricket. We couldn’t be more excited about cricket, the people who play it and the games and watching Australia represent us at the middle of the oval.”
Stokes told investors at Seven’s virtual AGM that CA administrators have let them down.
“It is outside the oval and at the administrative offices where we have some issues. The company paid a lot of money — a record amount of money — for a quality product and that hasn’t been delivered to us, and nor have they offered us anything in return to make up for what they haven’t delivered, and will continue to push your company’s rights to achieve a fair outcome,” he said.
According to reports in the Australian media, both channels, Channel 7 and Fox Sports had built their promotion on Kohli who is one of the top selling sports personalities in the world.
“Football superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and basketball icon LeBron James are the only international athletes on earth with a bigger marketing and social media footprint than ‘King Kohli’, and his ‘limited time only’ summer has now put a premium on every game he plays on Fox,” a report in The Australian newspaper said.
“Both networks have based their summer promotion almost entirely on Kohli, and while Channel 7 will now have to re-cut their advertising to reflect the fact he’s missing the last three Tests, including Boxing Day, Fox Sports will double down on ramming home the fact they’re the home of a megastar with a social media reach of more than 100 million people.”
It may be noted that Channel 7 has been involved in a dispute with Cricket Australia and had threatened to pull out of a $450 million deal.
The dispute emerged after the channel sought a cut in annual fees as the BCCI forced a change in the tour schedule, bringing the two white-ball series to the start of the season and Tests to the back-end, with only one Test before Christmas and the final two Tests running through second and third week of January when the holiday season ends and many people are back at work.
They also sought a cut due to less crowds in international season during Covid-19 pandemic and availability of less international stars in the Big Bash League (BBL) as Australia named a 27-member squad for Test squad and its ‘A’ squad which will play next month when the BBL starts.
As per India’s original schedule, the T20Is were to take place in October, as a pre-cursor to T20 World Cup, and the Tests were to start on December 3. The ODI series was to happen around mid-January.
However, now the tour is scheduled to commence with the three ODIs at the Sydney Cricket Ground (November 27, 29) and Manuka Oval, Canberra (December 2). That will be followed by the three-match T20I series at Manuka Oval, Canberra (December 4) and the SCG (December 6, 8).
After that, India will then begin the defence of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with the pink-ball Test in Adelaide from December 17. It will be followed by Tests at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (December 26), the SCG (January 7) and the Gabba (January 15).