It's a sticky wicket for broadcasters as cricket rows erupt
Nine's top-rating drama from last year, Howzat!, depicted Kerry Packer's audacious bid to take control of Australian cricket in the 1970s.
It might be telling that, 35 years later, cricket's relationship with the Nine network looks likely to be broken in favour of the television network now associated with James Packer - Ten. The straggler among Australia's commercial television networks has lobbed a massive $500 million bid for the broadcast rights to all forms of the game, while Fairfax Media revealed on Friday that Nine was entangled in legal action with Cricket Australia.
Nine, which as the incumbent broadcaster has the right to match the offer of any other bidder, has until early next month to decide whether it wants to match Ten's offer.
It is not known if Cricket Australia's action in the Victorian Supreme Court complicates matters.
"We have a 32-year relationship with Cricket Australia and I'm very confident that we will be able to resolve any issues between us sensibly and through direct discussion," Nine's managing director, Jeff Browne, said on Friday.
The court has set May 31 as the date to hear the matter, just six weeks before the first Ashes Test between Australia and England starts at Trent Bridge on July 10. The legal file has been sealed by order of a judge, because of commercially sensitive material it contains.
It is understood the action is designed to clarify the status of cricket's Big Bash league and whether it is subject to Nine's last right of refusal given this popular form of the game did not exist at the time of Nine's deal.
Another issue is whether Nine is deemed to have matched Ten's offer if it does not agree to broadcast the domestic competition - something it has no interest in.
Under the terms of the existing agreement, Cricket Australia cannot force a broadcaster to screen live coverage of its domestic one-day competition, the Ryobi Cup, or the Sheffield Shield final.
Nine sources labelled the legal clarification by Cricket Australia a "sideshow", saying it is disappointed with the games being played by Cricket Australia's lawyers, given the network has no interest in the Big Bash league. Cricket Australia is expected to focus on the domestic cricket issue, and will argue in court that Nine has not matched the offer made by Ten, due to its stance on domestic cricket.
Nine is looking to retain the current forms of cricket it broadcasts: Test matches, one-day internationals, and Twenty20 cricket.
Ten, which declined to comment on what it is offering for the cricket rights, is believed to have offered $400 million over the five years for the forms of cricket currently on Nine, plus a further $100 million for the Big Bash league.
Nine and Foxtel paid out $300 million under the previous five-year rights deal that did not include the Big Bash league. Nine will need to match the $400 million to retain its current line-up. Nine insiders said it was 5050 whether it would decide to match Ten's offer.