AFL talks turkey with media giants over lucrative broadcast rights

Four major media companies, including free-to-air and pay TV competitors to rights holders Seven and Foxtel, have made pitches or presented their credentials to the AFL hierarchy in to the competition.

Seven and Foxtel, which hold the free-to-air and pay TV rights respectively, and channels Ten and Nine have held high-level meetings with AFL chief executive officer Gillon McLachlan, AFL chairman Richard Goyder and two other AFL Commission members.

The AFL held meetings with the three free-to-air networks on Thursday or Friday last week. Ten’s huge US-based parent company, Paramount, has already made a forceful case by inviting the AFL’s senior executives to New York this year.

The networks pitched their proposals to grow interest in the game in a landscape transformed by technology and the rise of .

Sources who could not be named because they were not authorised to speak said the meetings were not focused on specific dollar amounts. The current rights run until the end of 2024 for both Seven and Foxtel, which are contracted to pay the AFL an aggregate of $946 million over 2023 and 2024. Foxtel pays the larger share and is increasingly transitioning matches to its growing streaming arm, Kayo.

Senior club and AFL insiders have told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that they favour Foxtel and Seven, although there is a view that could make the largest financial offer. Either way, the insiders say, the intense competition for the rights ensures that the code will remain the country’s biggest for broadcast dollars and the AFL will gain a sizeable increase.

Nine, the owner of this masthead, was also invited and presented their credentials to the AFL leadership in Melbourne. The network has grown since Nine last held a share of the AFL rights between 2002 and 2006, adding to its stable the streaming service Stan and radio stations in Melbourne (3AW), Perth (6PR), Sydney (2GB) and Brisbane (4BC).

Nine already broadcasts the NRL, the AFL’s major competitor, in a deal that stretches until the end of 2027, while Stan broadcasts rugby union.

Each of the free-to-air networks broke down how they could broadcast, with games divided between free to air, alternative channels and streaming services such as 9Now and 7plus.

Sources confirmed that Paramount, which owns CBS in the United States and has recently paid billions for the streaming rights to cricket’s Indian Premier League, still wanted to win the entire rights package – free and pay. It did not wish to win the rights and then sell off particular slots, such as Friday or Saturday nights, as had been speculated.

Each of the media outfits’ chief executives were represented in the meetings with McLachlan, including Seven’s James Warburton and his Melbourne lieutenant Lewis Martin, Ten’s co-chiefs Jarrod Villani and Bev McGarvey, Nine’s boss Mike Sneesby, and Foxtel’s CEO Patrick Delany and his key Fox Sports executive Steve Crawley.

That chairman Goyder and two other commissioners – Seek co-founder Paul Bassat and ex-Macquarie Capital boss Robin Bishop – were in the pitch meetings is a measure of the stakes for the AFL, which became even more reliant on broadcast revenue during the pandemic. The AFL is awaiting the next broadcast deal before striking a pay deal with the men’s players and detailing the funding for the 18 clubs. The new deal will be struck before McLachlan at season’s end.

While the AFL also in Los Angeles in April, The Age and Herald cannot confirm the extent of its interest in gaining an AFL foothold. There has been speculation that Amazon would be interested in snaring a Thursday night slot if the AFL expands to play Thursday night games almost every week in the home and away season.

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