Has Nine thrown away its chance to retain cricket?
CHANNEL 9 faces a nerve-racking negotiation over its "we-want-everything'' bid for cricket's TV rights after surrendering its chance to have the final bid.
In a highly significant move which was part of the last deal, Nine elected not to pay a multimillion-dollar fee that would have ensured it had the last say in countering any offer tabled by rival networks.
It was this very clause that got Nine home less than an hour from deadline four years ago when it came over the top of a huge bid from Channel 10.
Now that no network holds the invaluable last rights playing card, the ball is in Cricket Australia's court and it is at liberty to deal with any party whenever it likes during the entire process, right up to its conclusion.
Nine won't necessarily have the luxury of waiting until its opponents have laid all their chips on the table before striking, like it did in the last $450 million deal as it chased the full package of BBL, Test and international limited-overs cricket.
However, the appeal for CA of keeping Test cricket on its 40-year home cannot be underestimated.
Powerbrokers from multiple networks including Nine, Foxtel and Ten were spotted at Adelaide Oval last weekend meeting with Cricket Australia executives, although negotiations are understood to still be in a preliminary phase and explaining what's on offer. The official tendering process is yet to begin.
Cricket Australia doesn't expect a resolution until the end of the summer, in the early months of next year, but the talks behind the scenes represent a fascinating side story to the Ashes action on the field.
Key figures in the industry have forecast a downturn in the rights, with predictions that sports broadcasting money has reached a limit that must be reined in.
Despite the prevailing uncertainty, the timing is suddenly looking better for Cricket Australia.
Nine reported that more than 10 million Australians tuned into its broadcast of the day-night Ashes Test in Adelaide.
The third session of play averaged a national audience of 1.705 million viewers each day, alluring numbers given CA plans to stage at least two day-night Tests every summer.
Night one of the women's Big Bash League also performed outstandingly on Ten, averaging around 400,000, indicating that fans have lost none of their lust for the nightly Twenty20 entertainment, which will soon extend to the start of the men's competition.
Perhaps most significantly for CA is the fact that Ten is back on its feet following the successful CBS takeover and is ready to roll.
Nine has made it clear it wants the whole stack of content, but won't pay overs.
The last BBL deal was clinched by Ten for $20 million, but experts believe that could almost triple this time and command as much as $50-60 million a year.
Ten's new owners will be determined to hold on to the BBL because it has been the lifeblood of the station over the last couple of summers as average audiences soared past one million.
Foxtel is the other big player at the table as the pay TV network chases exclusive content to strengthen its summer output.
The idea of a dedicated cricket channel on Fox Sports appeals greatly to CA executives.