Commercial FTA network makes a bid for A-League rights

James McGrath
By James McGrath | 7 April 2015

All three major commercial networks have expressed an interest in picking up the rights to the next A-League season should SBS allow them to lapse, with one thought to have made a bid to do so.

A source close to negotiations has told AdNews that a commercial free to air network has put a bid on the table.

The rights for the domestic soccer league have been a hot talking point in sports media circles as rumours continue to swirl that SBS would scale back its investment in the A-League as it continues to come under pressure to find more revenue without betraying its charter.

AdNews understands all three main commercial networks have made overtures to pick up SBS' rights to the next season should the broadcaster allow them to lapse.

Last month media reports suggested SBS was close to walking away from its commitment to show one A-League match per round on its main channel.

At the time, SBS denied the reports but stopped just short of a categoric answer on the issue.

“SBS has an esteemed 30 year pedigree in football and is committed to the game's future,” a spokesperson said. “SBS continues to invest its modest resources into content which delivers on the SBS Charter and football, which unites our diverse communities, is an important part of our commitment.”

SBS also denied that it would put in a tokenistic bid for the UEFA Champion's League rights, which are up for negotiation this year, saying that “it is our intention to bid competitively for those rights.”

It comes as SBS tries to derive more revenue from 'tentpole' programming such as the Tour de France, Eurovision, and Tropfest.

All three networks; Seven, Nine, and Ten each have a case for picking up the rights.

For Seven, it would be a football code played over summer to fill a gap in its sports schedule which currently only contains the Australian Open tennis tournament, which is played over one fortnight.

Long-standing soccer fans in Australia are wary of Channel Seven moving into soccer, as they see the network as having done a shabby job of covering the game in the National Soccer League days.

Seven kicked off its Olympics campaign today after gaining broadcast rights from 2020, and previously made noise around its upfronts about the importance of sport to its fortunes.

For Nine, it would match up with an increased focus on football. Nine Entertainment Company events outfit Nine Live has brought European clubs Real Madrid, Roma, and Manchester City for a friendly tournament in Melbourne in July, which it will also broadcast.

Ten currently does not have a domestic football code in its armoury, although it has invested heavily in making cricket's Big Bash a success. Ten declined to comment on what it called “speculation”.

Football Federation Australia declined to comment when contacted.

A commercial free-to-air channel picking up the rights would be a boon to the code, and would make a renegotiation of an overall rights deal to take place in 2017 interesting.

Currently, Foxsports holds the rights to the domestic league and Socceroos matches, and has invested heavily in building the competition from scratch.

A major commercial network making a play for A-League rights would bring up the possibility of a new partnership for the network, and perhaps a rival for the whole package.

Part of the reason SBS is thought to be looking at divesting the rights to the next season of the A-League are flagging ratings. Picking up the rights for the next season of the A-League would represent a way the FTA channels could get a taste for audience appetite for the code without an enormous outlay.

All three networks did not to respond to a request for comment.

SBS picked up the rights as part of a $160 million four-year deal struck between the FFA, Foxsports, and SBS at the end of 2012.

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