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Attacking the biggest investor isn’t the solution to APL financial woes


Now, there’s been a lot of media noise over the last few days regarding the future direction of the game. The catalyst was an in-depth look at the sport called “Saving Football” by our media colleague, Adam Peacock, who interviewed over a hundred people from all parts of the game to try and find out why football struggles here in Australia.

I confess, I haven’t read the articles, because I do not subscribe to Code Sports where all this found a home. I have seen some of the videos and clips, and no doubt Adam did a thorough and professional job, and he raised some fascinating and very relevant points.

But there are one or two accusations that have emerged via his interviewees regarding the Television Deal – and they are accusations that need to be addressed.

Specifically, the narrative has emerged that APL clubs are only going to receive around $5million in distributions from the next year of the deal. That may or may not be true – but the assumption (which seems to have gone unchallenged), is that it is the VALUE of the deal that has dropped, hence why the distribution has suffered accordingly.

Let me assure you, this is not the case. For the purposes of disclosure of course, I am an employee of Network 10 and Paramount Plus, but I have asked these questions. When Channel 10 and Paramount Plus negotiated the initial deal, the rumoured figure was around $40million per year for five years, which contained some KPI’s – an incentivised deal if you like. That’s smart business. That figure was adjusted for season two under a revised contract agreed by the two parties, because the APL had not met contracted agreements in year one.

There was a drop in money, but nowhere near what is being suggested. That was season 22/23 and the APL had full clarity of the new terms – there has been no other renegotiation, and nothing has changed since then.

Paramount Australia makes the largest financial investment into Australian football, through deals with the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) and Football Australia (FA).

So – if the clubs are only getting around $5million, it is because that is the figure the APL – the umbrella group that runs the A-Leagues – has decided to give them from the distribution…NOT because of another figure renegotiated by the TV network. Perhaps the missing cash is to cover losses or costs elsewhere in their business? That’s a matter for APL.

I also read that the TV deal has been described as the worst in broadcast history. Everyone is entitled to an opinion of course, but whatever you think of the deal – can I ask exactly what the alternative was, or is?

There have been suggestions that the APL chose 10 & Paramount over other viable options – this is untrue. There was no bid from the previous broadcaster, and other networks were not interested. 10 and Paramount Plus were the ONLY network willing to put in significant cash investment. Without that investment in 2021, it is doubtful the A-Leagues would have survived.

Is that money lower than a decade ago when Fox held the rights? Yes – but the decision to dump the game was Fox’s, owned by News Corp, on the back of the governance war….yes, that’s the same News Corp that owns Code Sports.

That APL were on the hook for production costs was known from day one. The move to 10 Bold for the free-to-air Saturday game was in part, made necessary by the renegotiated deal, and the backlash from fans to advertising during games. Television is a business, not a charity. Selected games are now broadcast on 10Bold or 10Play, ad free.

Which brings me to my next point. I read – endlessly – about the need for the A-League to be on free to air. Let me repeat for the umpteenth time - it IS on free to air, via 10 Bold and 10 Play – not every game, it’s true….but, that has never been the case. For each broadcast deal, the A-League has had a mix of free to air, and pay. First, Fox Sports and SBS, then Fox and ABC, Fox and 10, and now 10 and Paramount Plus. Nothing has changed. 10Bold and 10Play are NOT pay channels.

I also read – endlessly – that the game should just be “given back” to Fox, or SBS, or ABC. This misunderstands the nature of rights deals, and of live broadcasting.

Firstly, 10 and Paramount Plus have a binding contract – you cannot just unilaterally walk away. Secondly, if, as has been suggested, they need a deal that pays for production, then let me remind you it is very expensive to produce outside broadcasts.

Each game costs thousands of dollars to bring to your screens. Production crews, cameramen, vision switchers, Directors, floor managers, sometimes satellite feeds, commentators, pundits and presenters. It’s a hungry beast – to produce hundreds of games of live football costs millions of dollars over the course of a season.

For a network to take over the broadcast rights requires a very deep financial investment – at the moment, the A-Leagues aren’t producing the types of advertising returns due to the lack of eyeballs on the product, for others to make that commitment.

For those complaining about the second leg of the Wellington v Melbourne Victory semi final being on Paramount Plus only – a reminder that in the last broadcast deal, ABC showed all finals on a two-hour delay, and all live finals matches, including the Grand Final, were behind the paywall on Fox.

Talking of which – even if they were interested, do fans REALLY want to go back to the previous broadcaster?

The same network who used the global pandemic to tear up a contract they’d willingly signed up to? The same network who dumped the game, and almost every single one of its football employees a year later? The same network who heaped scorn on the competition via the pages of its newspapers? The same network who promoted the cricket during A-League games to try to persuade people to turn over from the football? The same network who first bullied, then ignored the game almost completely for three years, and is now suddenly concerned about its welfare?

You might accuse the current broadcaster of many things – but wilful damage is not one of them. Some people have very short memories.

TV coverage rarely satisfies everybody. Have things been perfect under the new deal? Of course not – and the topic is fair game for criticism…that’s what happens in the public eye.

There have been many issues - and APL decisions - that have impacted the sport and business including COVID, the relocating of the Grand Final, as well as the launch and shut down of KeepUp, an expensive news platform that the APL had invested in.

The A-League may be in a difficult financial position, but attacking the biggest single investor into the competition is not the answer.

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