The latest development in the Seven-CA feud is significant not just because the network has gone down that route but because of what might be made public as a result of it.
Seven’s request for documents concerning CA’s amendment of the international and Big Bash League schedule for the 2020/21 season stands to potentially lift the lid on some of the game’s most crucial relationships.
Among the emails Seven wants ahead of claiming CA breached its contract with the fixture changes this summer are those between Australian officials and their counterparts from the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India, including its president Sourav Ganguly, the ‘Prince of Kolkata’.
The network’s lawyers are also eager to see correspondence between CA and Foxtel, believing the interests of India and the News Corp-owned pay television provider were favoured over Seven’s in the limited-overs portion of the men’s international season being placed before the Test series.
They also want to view emails between state government and health agencies and CA executives and staff to ascertain whether the Big Bash League really needed to operate in a travelling bubble rather than something more closely resembling a regular home-and-away season.
The results should make for compelling reading but the airing of CA’s laundry could well be highly embarrassing.
Most fascinating may be the back-and-forth between CA executives and board members and BCCI office bearers and senior staff. India’s financial might has made it cricket’s undisputed superpower in the 21st century, with the fees paid by Star India and Sony for television rights helping prop up the game around the world and topping up the bank balances of many Australian players.
CA would maintain it is an equal, not a subordinate, to India in the global game’s hierarchy but it is not often that the BCCI doesn’t get its way. That was the case when the Indian Premier League was shifted to a window from September to November, ensuring the men’s Twenty20 World Cup in Australia was postponed.
Seven believes CA also acquiesced to India’s demands, at the network’s expense, in putting the white-ball games before the Tests this summer so the tourists could return home to prepare for a series against England.
As it turned out, Australia’s second one-day international against India at the SCG on Sunday was a ratings bonanza for Foxtel, the most-watched ODI in the history of the subscription TV outlet and its third highest ever sports event.
The figures meant that a combined audience of more than a million tuned in to see Steve Smith’s exploits in Sydney and the Women’s Big Bash League final on Saturday night, which was shown by both Seven and Foxtel, despite neither being screened on a primary free-to-air channel.
The ratings are music to the ears of executives at CA, who will argue they demonstrate there is still great value in live cricket for broadcasters and that Seven, burdened by debt, is simply trying to back-track on the terms of the six-year deal it agreed in 2018.
As relations with Seven have soured, cricket’s top brass have lately been of the view they should not be terrified by an existence without the FTA network should it follow through on a threat to terminate.
A separation looks increasingly like the end game – but expect some fireworks along the way.
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Chris Barrett is Chief Sports Reporter of The Sydney Morning Herald.