TV soccer stoush heats up

James McGrath
By James McGrath | 19 March 2015

SBS has played down suggestions that it is seeking to cut its association with football in Australia as the rights for Socceroos and A-League starts to heat up ahead of a 2017 rights deal.

Media reports suggested that the broadcaster was seeking to limit its involvement in the game, as it did not stack up commercially.

SBS currently holds the rights to Friday night A-League games until 2017, the World Cup until the Qatar 2022 World Cup, and rights to UEFA Champion's League football.

However, it was suggested that because of an increasing focus on commercial over charter responsibilities, the broadcaster would seek to limit its exposure to football and may even seek to on-sell some of the rights it holds to a third party.

SBS has denied that it would seek to move away from football.

“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.”

The latest imbroglio over football comes as Channel Seven's Melbourne managing director, Lewis Martin, was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday as expressing an interest in moving further into football.

“We're going to be there when the business case supports it but I have to tell you that nothing captivates a nation like the green and gold jersey of the Socceroos,” he was quoted as saying.

“For us it comes down to the discipline of the rights being required (sic) and the return we can get.

“We all know about the growth of football in this country and the participation rates.”

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

Nine Entertainment Company has also been moving into the football space through its events company Nine Live putting on the International Champion's Cup, with the broadcaster to show the matches.

Foxsports, which holds the main rights to A-League football and Socceroos matches, previously told AdNews that it was unconcerned about commercial channels making a play for the A-League rights, saying it was far too early in the rights cycle to read anything into increasing commercial interest in the game.

Foxsports CEO Patrick Delany could not be contacted for comment this morning.

Concerns about SBS' commitment to football in the background of a less-than-hoped response to SBS' coverage of the game.

The ratings for its Friday night A-League coverage has hovered at about 100,000 metro viewers for the year, something which was thought to be causing concern within the halls of SBS.

The organisation is currently feeling the heat from the Federal Government over limiting the amount of support the multicultural broadcaster receives from government coffers.

Late last year the government outlined a 5% cut to SBS funding as part of a broader move to tighten the belt.

However as compensation, the government said it may allow SBS to broadcast more ads during primetime while not altering the total amount of ads the broadcaster is allowed to show in any given 24 hours.

Commercial TV channels in particular have hit out at the allowance, with some accusing the government of “creating a fourth free-to-air network by stealth”.

While there has been plenty of chatter about staff inside the organisation being concerned with the move to greater commercialisation at the expense of its charter obligations, one SBS insider told AdNews the sentiment was limited to only a few members of “the older brigade”.

They said the network was seeking to commercialise its audience by creating tentpole event programming such as Tropfest, the Mardi Gras, and Eurovision and moving into the events space rather than becoming more of a commercial operator.

However, they admitted that the line between commercial outcomes and adherence to its charter had shifted in the wake of the government cuts last year.

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