Murdoch, Seven Grab Cricket From Nine in A$1.18 Billion Deal

(Bloomberg) -- News Corp.’s Foxtel and Seven West Media Ltd. clinched the rights to air Australian cricket for A$1.18 billion ($918 million), wresting the national sport from Nine Entertainment Co. for the first time in four decades.

Under the six-year deal, Seven will air international Tests and some Big Bash League matches simultaneously with Fox Sports, which will also broadcast international one-day and T20 matches, Cricket Australia said in a statement Friday. Seven said separately the rights would cost it A$450 million in cash over the six years. Its shares soared.

Read details of the cricket broadcast carve up here

The agreement is the biggest change to the sport since late billionaire and broadcaster Kerry Packer set up World Series Cricket in the late 1970s and aired renegade matches on Nine. For generations of Australians, the television channel has since been synonymous with free cricket coverage.

The move completes a shake-up of Australia’s major summer sports broadcasting, with Nine last month snatching rights to all premium tennis matches, including the Australian Open, from Seven West.

Read here about Nine’s successful bid for tennis in Australia

The move makes a subscription-based pay-television operator, Foxtel, the home of Australian cricket for the first time. Broadcasters in Australia are built on sports rights, and News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and Seven West, backed by billionaire Kerry Stokes, now have a centerpiece as they attempt to draw viewers from Netflix Inc. and other streaming companies.

“It’s going to guarantee us audiences,” Seven Chief Executive Officer Tim Worner said at a press conference.

Seven shares jumped 13 percent to 58.25 Australian cents, valuing the company at A$878 million. Nine fell as much as 4.4 percent, before rebounding to be little changed.

Seven and Foxtel get a game in turmoil and a national team seeking to rebuild after one of the sport’s biggest scandals. In March, captain Steve Smith and two other players admitted to ball-tampering in an attempt to cheat in a test against South Africa, and were banned for up to 12 months.

“We’ve got some rebuilding to do,” Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said at the press conference. “Cricket’s been through a tough couple of weeks.”

Click here to read about the backlash to sports stars behaving badly

In a separate statement, Nine said it couldn’t indicate the impact the loss of the cricket rights on next year’s results.

Network Ten, the Australian free-to-air-broadcaster that was bought by CBS Corp. last year, said in a statement it was disappointed its bid for the cricket rights was rejected. Ten aired Big Bash League matches, and turned the shortest version of the game into a family-oriented spectacle that became one of the most popular sports broadcasts in Australia.

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