Women’s cricket in Australia will receive vastly expanded coverage on the ABC after the national broadcaster was retained as a radio rights holder by Cricket Australia, alongside the signing of new deals with Crocmedia and Macquarie Media.
There had been speculation that the ABC’s place as the longtime radio broadcaster of Australian cricket – a relationship going back 80 years – was at risk, as the announcement of the new deals took longer than initially expected. However, CA’s outgoing chief executive James Sutherland was on Friday able to announce the expansion of the ABC’s coverage as part of a suite of options that will also maintain the recent policy of also using commercial networks.
Crocmedia, owner of the Melbourne Radio station SEN and also a network of syndication deals with regional stations, will provide its own coverage alongside Macquarie, which had held rights since 2013. Triple M, the FM network that had been home to commentators such as Kerry O’Keeffe and Isa Guha in recent summers, pulled out of the race for rights earlier in the year, citing costs.
“We are excited to announce our new radio rights deals with the ABC, Macquarie Media and Crocmedia, which will deliver comprehensive coverage of international and Big Bash cricket to fans across Australia,” Sutherland said. “We were very disappointed by inaccurate reporting this week suggesting that the ABC would no longer broadcast cricket. It undermined our commitment to the ABC and the ABC’s longstanding commitment to cricket.
“Never for a minute had it crossed our minds that the ABC was not a staple in the Australian cricketing summer. Radio has long been an important part of how people enjoy cricket in Australia over the summer, and the breadth and depth of these agreements ensures that people will be able to tune in to the cricket action regardless of where they are. In addition to continued commitments around the broadcast of women’s international matches, it is pleasing to have secured radio coverage for all WBBL matches, a clear sign of the rapidly growing interest from fans for the competition.
“We are also excited to announce a new radio rights deal, which sees Macquarie Media return as a valued radio partner and Crocmedia also coming on board to complement cricket’s radio footprint via their extensive regional syndication network. We are now looking forward to working together with these partners to deliver fantastic coverage of our game and promote cricket to all Australians.”
The importance of widely available radio coverage has arguably grown as a result of the A$1.18 billion television and digital deal signed with Fox Sports and the Seven Network in April. Under that deal, men’s ODI and Twenty20 international matches will be hidden behind Fox’s paywall, a first in the history of Australian cricket. While Foxtel is commonly said to have a place in 30% of Australian households, its sports tier subscriber base is far smaller – less than 2 million in number. For many families, radio will now be the only way to watch Australia’s limited-overs matches.
Radio rights deals are worth a mere fraction of the money brought in by television and digital broadcast deals, meaning that the reach of the networks is considered more important than the rights fees themselves. To that end, CA had pushed for more extensive coverage of the women’s game, in line with its strategic objectives for broadening the game. The ABC will also cover all Big Bash League and Women’s Big Bash League matches.
“Cricket on ABC Radio is a big part of any Australian summer and I am really delighted we are continuing to forge a strong partnership with Cricket Australia to provide live commentary to as many Australians as possible,” the ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie said. “I am also pleased ABC Radio will be the source of women’s cricket, with all matches of Women’s International and WBBL cricket broadcast live on one of our platforms, which is a big win for audiences.”
The emergence of Crocmedia as a major radio and digital player coincided with the departure of the respected ABC commentator Gerard Whateley to SEN, where he will now helm the network’s cricket coverage. Whateley was convinced to move from the ABC after more than a decade by the grand plans of Crocmedia’s chief executive, Craig Hutchison.
“Cricket on the radio is a right of passage and part of our culture in this country. It is a huge honour for Crocmedia and 1116 SEN to be among those to take the responsibility moving forward,” Hutchison said. “We thank CA for the opportunity and promise to live up to our end with a fresh perspective and contemporary coverage headed by Gerard Whateley. We congratulate Macquarie also and look forward to working with them and CA for the betterment of the game and its fans all around the country.”
CA caused a stir last summer by excluding the ABC and the BBC from the options available on the earpieces distributed to fans attending matches. At the time, Sutherland said he was eager to provide a “quantum of choice” to those listening, rather than limiting their options. “Two of them are dedicated to our television broadcasts, and we have three local radio networks that have the rights to broadcast the matches,” Sutherland told the ABC during the Adelaide Ashes Test last year.
“The ABC has been on the earpiece for the last three years or four years maybe and we’re sharing it around so others are taking their turn. The question I’m asking is why we have this limited bandwidth and how do we expand that. I’ll take that up and we’ll try to see what we can do about that. Ideally, people have a quantum of choice and not a limited choice.”