The Nine Network and Cricket Australia will soon announce a new long-term contract that will trumpet a breakthrough for viewers. The days of the blackout in cities where matches are not sell-outs will be over, though not until the end of the 2005-2006 season next March.

Of course it could end now, but Nine and Cricket Australia have done a cosy deal that will see advertisers effectively footing the bill for this apparent largesse and that has to be sold to the states.

It’s all a matter of compensation to the cricket authorities and grounds around Australia – or rather it’s mostly about the MCG in Melbourne and the Victorian state cricket authorities. The compensation will be for the money lost from people preferring to stay at home and not watch at the ground.

The problem basically concerns one-day games and Test matches played in Melbourne.

Unlike Sydney and Brisbane, Melbourne is tough to sell out. Sydney, Brisbane and even Adelaide can sell out the first two to three days of a Test and the various one-day games because the grounds are relatively small. The SCG in Sydney for example takes around 44,000 people.

But Melbourne? Well at 90,000, when finished at the end of this year, the MCG is just too big for a sell out, even in the city that claims to be the most sports mad in Australia.

So to get the MCG and Victorian State Cricket mobs onside, Cricket Australia is negotiating a compensation package. That (and smaller packages for the other states – no-one will be left out) will come from the undisclosed amount Nine is paying in the new agreement.

And how will Nine pay for this? By charging advertisers more by pointing out that there will be no blackouts and that all games will be live.

Most money will be paid to the MCG and the troubled Victorian Cricket Association to win their approval. The compensation will allow Nine to broadcast live in the second biggest advertising market in the country.

The first series to be played under the new format and broadcast rules will be the Ashes when the Poms tour here in 2006-2007.

While it’s been pitched as being good for viewers, the real winner, as always, is Nine. If it couldn’t see a way to make more money after paying out more money, then it wouldn’t be done.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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