A summer of cricket without the Nine Network? It’s unthinkable, former Australia bowler Rodney Hogg says.
The prospect was raised by analysts at investment bank UBS on Wednesday, who called the television network’s commitment to live cricket into question.
In a note to clients, UBS said “the existing cricket deal costs Nine circa $100 million per annum. We estimate the existing deal likely only generates gross revenues of $60-70 million.”
UBS added that Nine should ask for more cricket [like the Big Bash League] from Cricket Australia, for no extra money, or walk away from the current deal, which expires next year and currently sees them broadcast Tests, one-day internationals and Twenty20 internationals involving Australia on free-to-air television.
But Hogg, who took 123 wickets in 38 Tests for Australia, says he can’t imagine a summer of cricket without Nine, which has broadcast the sport over summer since 1977.
“When you think of Test cricket, you just think of Channel Nine,” he told The New Daily.
“You think Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, Mark ‘Tubby’ Taylor … if they aren’t doing the telecast, it just changes the entire landscape of cricket in Australia.”
Hogg says that with an Ashes series on the horizon, he expects Nine to retain the rights, but appreciates that other Test matches featuring lower-profile nations are a tougher sell.
“It’s a bit of a concern for Test cricket. It goes beautifully with the Ashes, but with other series, there’s not as much money to be made,” he said.
“The public doesn’t want to see thrashings anymore, they want to see good, hard-fought games. Test cricket needs evenly matched teams.
“The longer the game goes, the more the weaker teams don’t stack up.
“T20 goes for two hours and one batsman from the weaker team can come out and score 120 and you get an upset.”
Last November, Nine Network head of sports Tom Malone said: “Any future deal that we do, we want everything.
“We want Test matches, we want one-dayers, we want [international] Twenty20s and we want the Big Bash.”
The highly successful Twenty20 Big Bash League tournament has been a bargain buy at $20 million per year for cash-strapped Network Ten, which is not expected to bid for the rights to Test cricket.
The Seven Network is already heavily committed to live sports deals, including the AFL.
Hogg says Ten’s coverage of the Big Bash has outstripped Nine’s efforts with international T20 matches, and he praised Ten’s innovations, including employing female commentators and an emphasis on entertainment alongside analysis.
“It’s a much easier game to comment on, there’s much more happening,” he said.
“But they’ve done it brilliantly. People want to be entertained when they watch T20, but with Test cricket, there are no gimmicks.”
On the prospect of Test cricket going to pay TV, Hogg says there is a precedent.
“In England in the past few years, a kid couldn’t watch Test cricket on free-to-air,” he said.
“[If that is the case] there’s definitely fewer people watching and less young people being brought to the great game of Test cricket.”