Sydney: Australia's Ten Network television has offered Cricket Australia Aus$500 million (US$505 million) in cash for coverage rights over the next five years, sparking a legal battle, reports said on Friday.
The bid is well above the $45 million Nine Network has paid annually over the last seven years for international matches and the $12.5 million FoxSports Australia has paid for the Big Bash T20 tournament and other domestic games.
The Australian Financial Review said free-to-air channel Nine, which has broadcast live cricket since 1977 as Kerry Packer built his television empire on international coverage, has four weeks to match the offer.
However, negotiations between Cricket Australia and Nine have broken down and the ruling body has filed a writ against the network, Fairfax Media reported. The Sydney Morning Herald said it was believed Nine is willing to match the offer made by fellow free-to-air station Ten, one of whose major shareholders is Packer's billionaire son James.
The rights include future Ashes series against England. But talks reportedly collapsed over domestic cricket coverage. Nine, which has a clause in its contract that allows it to match any bid from a rival, has refused to screen domestic cricket apart from the popular Big Bash League, the daily said.
Cricket Australia lodged the writ in the Supreme Court of Victoria state on Monday, the report said. A judge ordered the sealing of the legal file because of the commercially sensitive material it contains.
Cricket Australia, which derives about 80 per cent of its income from television rights, will reportedly argue in court that Nine has failed to match Ten because of its refusal to broadcast domestic cricket.
"When you have been partners for more than 30 years, you have to be backed into a corner to take such dramatic action as a law suit," the Herald quoted a party close to the negotiations as saying. "Talks broke down, and this was the only course available. "Neither the networks nor Cricket Australia have officially commented on the case.