Ten to leverage Foxtel relationship to strike A-League deal?

James McGrath
By James McGrath | 19 June 2015

It is now believed two free-to-air channels are “serious” in their bids to broadcast the A-League next season, with Network Ten thought to have intensified its interest in recent times as a result of its tie-up with Foxtel.

AdNews previously revealed that one free-to-air network had laid down a serious bid for the rights to some of the A-League next season, but AdNews understands that this has doubled.

According to sources close to negotiations though, Network Ten's interest has grown stronger in recent times as Foxtel confirmed it was taking a 15% stake in Ten, along with merging sales teams.

Ten said it would not comment on speculation when the question was put to it this morning, and said its relationship with Foxtel would remain at arms-length.

“Live premium sport is an important part of our schedule, as we have demonstrated with KFC T20 Big Bash League, Formula One, V8 Supercars, Rugby Union and MotoGP,” a spokesperson said.

“Like we have said before, we are interested in adding more premium sport but we will not bid for sport at any price. Any bid for any sport rights must make strategic and financial sense.”

Football Federation Australia (FFA) also declined to comment.

As the A-League rights currently stand until 2017, Foxtel has the rights to broadcast all the A-League matches with SBS able to broadcast Friday night matches and finals.

SBS however, under threat of government cuts, is thought to be keen to let its rights go with another free-to-air partner coming in. It is being seen as a way to commercialise its rights up-front rather than spread out over two years.

If it was a straight swap of SBS for another player, the rights would have to be negotiated with Football Federation Australia. However, if there is to be a variation in rights – such as a free-to-air partner picking up Saturday night matches instead of Friday night – the rights discussions would need to involve Foxtel.

AdNews understands that both paths are open at this stage, with the FFA keen to wrap up discussions before the start of the next A-League season.

Each of Seven, Nine, and Ten have key reasons for becoming more involved in football.

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.

For Nine, it would match up with an increased focus on football. Ex-Nine Entertainment Company events outfit Nine Live has brought over 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.

Key to Ten's interest, it is believed, is the cash injection it will receive from Foxtel's investment in the network and a closer working relationship between the two parties.

It is seeking $154 million in new capital through the deal and a separate rights issue. The cash will go toward paying off debt, but raises the possibility that it can borrow more as it seeks to go up against Seven and Nine in AFL, NRL, and A-League rights discussions.

Ten's alleged renewed push for A-League rights could signal how it would seek to leverage its new-found relationship with Foxtel to gain a foothold in sports rights discussions it may otherwise be out-gunned in.

Speaking with AdNews, OMD Sydney's co-managing director Mark Jarrett said the deal could be an interesting one.

“It's interesting if you look at that Ten and Foxtel deal and the potential there for sharing of content across both, and certainly in terms of sports rights. That's an interesting discussion if you think about some of the sports that are on Foxtel only and want free-to-air exposure,” Jarrett said.

While he added that he hadn't heard anything about the A-League heading to Ten, that it would make sense if they did.

“Well you look at what the FFA is doing around the A-League at the moment in that it managed to get the one game on free-to-air but that wasn't really a good fit, certainly a Foxtel-Ten sharing deal would make sense,” Jarrett said.

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