Down in Australia the battle for the next AFL media rights package is being waged with the league pushing for an unprecedented Aus$130 million (€81m) a year for five years from 2006.
AFL chiefs last week wrote to Channels Seven and Ten and exercised its opening bid for the free-to-air rights, to which both networks have 14 days to respond.
While the figure is a massive jump from the estimated combined total of Aus$50m (€31m) current media partners Nine and Ten are paying - Foxtel (Sky’s Australian Arm) currently contributes Aus$30m (€18.7m) - sources from Ten, Seven and Foxtel all indicated the pay television network would join forces with the free-to-air channels to clinch the deal.
The Seven-Ten alliance originally pushed for a five-year broadcast schedule, which would have meant each channel televised three matches a round, with Foxtel dropping from three games a week to two. More recently, Ten seemed to have accepted it would stick to televising two Saturday games back-to-back, with Seven owning Friday night football along with two Sunday games.
Foxtel, while owning the rights to three of the eight games each round, was to be allocated three or four exclusive blockbuster games each season.
Seven and Ten plan to share the finals and rotate coverage of grand finals and Brownlow Medal counts. However, the lengthy stalemate that followed Ten’s decision to switch alliances from the News Ltd consortium to Channel Seven - which is suing the AFL along with all of its current media partners - has produced a series of complex powerplays.
The AFL remains antagonistic towards Seven and the expensive legal action, which is expected to remain in court until next June and which threatens to cost the league millions of dollars, and had been keen to remain in partnership with the News Ltd group, including Channel Nine.
It also holds a strong grudge against Network Ten for breaking ranks.
Should Seven and Ten reject the AFL offer, then Channel Nine - which recently signed a lucrative new five-year partnership with the National Rugby League - could open negotiations with the AFL. It has been suggested Nine could join forces with Foxtel and each televise four games each or that Nine could bring public service broadcaster SBS on board to take over its more problematic free-to-air fixtures.
Following any offer from a Nine-led bid, Seven and Ten then would own the right to outbid any competitor under an agreement signed with the AFL in the late 1990s. AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou, who is heading the league’s negotiating team, informed all 16 club chief executives on Wednesday that the opening bid had been put forward to Channel Seven and Channel Ten.