Pay TV giant Foxtel has agreed to let Channel Seven stream key AFL matches online in a late concession that could knock rival bidders out of negotiations for the national code’s next media rights deal.
Senior media industry sources on Wednesday told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald the pay TV giant was close to renewing its longstanding agreement with the AFL after reluctantly making the streaming concession in the past 24 hours.
Seven, which is controlled by billionaire Kerry Stokes, currently lacks the rights to show the games it broadcasts on free-to-air on its streaming app 7Plus. These games are instead available on Foxtel’s online streaming service, Kayo Sports. Seven has insisted it gains full access to its games, including the ability to stream them, to renew its six decade long relationship with the league.
Senior executives at Foxtel have been left frustrated by the AFL’s decision to grant Seven its wish. But the pay TV giant, which is now expected to pay more than its existing outlay to renew its deal, is increasingly hopeful of securing a “Super Saturday”, whereby it will broadcast the home-and-away rounds exclusively with no games shown on free-to-air.
The agreement on streaming removes a critical obstacle the AFL faced in extending its deal with incumbent broadcast partners beyond 2024.
Foxtel, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, was forced to make the concession as it is the only streaming company in contention that does not own a free-to-air network. The other two bidders, Nine Entertainment Co, which owns The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and Paramount, which owns Channel Ten, both own free-to-air and streaming assets and do not need to work with any other partner.
Seven and Foxtel, which are negotiating with the AFL separately for legal reasons, have been at loggerheads for weeks over key elements of the broadcast rights renewal, including exclusivity and scheduling of matches.
The two companies currently split coverage of the AFL, with Foxtel broadcasting an average of five and a half games per round, and Seven averaging three and a half games each week. Seven has exclusive rights to the grand final but does not have the ability to broadcast weekly matches on its online platform, 7Plus.
This masthead reported Foxtel was seeking to use its own commentary team for all nine AFL games per round, rather than having to use Seven’s live call of the free-to-air games.
Meanwhile, West Coast Eagles chief executive Trevor Nisbett, Fremantle Dockers coach Justin Longmuir, the Seven West-owned West Australian newspaper and even WA Premier Mark McGowan have all called for games involving the WA clubs to be shown exclusively on free-to-air.
Should Foxtel secure the rights, it will end up simulcasting most games with Seven for a higher price. However, it is still expected to retain exclusivity on about five matches a week, including all games on Saturdays.
While Seven and Foxtel are hopeful of clinching a deal as soon as this week, Paramount and Nine have not been told they are out of the running and remain in talks with the league.
This masthead reported several weeks ago the AFL had received non-binding offers from incumbents Foxtel and Seven, Paramount and Nine.
A decision is expected by the end of the AFL season when outgoing CEO Gillon McLachlan departs.
The AFL’s current media rights deal is worth a total of $946 million for 2023 and 2024. The AFL wants to secure a more lucrative deal to increase payments to players, including AFLW players, who are pushing for a significant boost in their next collective bargaining agreement.
Foxtel, Seven, Nine, Paramount and the AFL all declined to comment.
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