If sports fans haven’t liked a few things about the Nine Network
coverage this winter, just wait till 2005. Terry Television reports.

It’s becoming monotonous, the weekly abuse of Australian sports fans as
the clash between cable and free to air rubs up against the corporate
ambitions of PBL, News Ltd and Foxtel.

There is of course the
Warnie miss of Nine and then the quiet flicking of coverage of the
British Open Golf between Nine and Fox Sports (and Nine’s appalling
coverage in its own right).

Last Sunday evening, as reported in
the sealed section, Sydney watchers of the Nine news got no vision of
the golden point game between the rugby league game between the
Canberra Raiders and the Auckland Warriors in Canberra.The Raiders won
a thriller, 30-29.

And non-subscribers to Foxtel (the
overwhelming majority of Sydney Rugby League fans) would have had to
wait until Monday evening’s Nine news to see a few seconds of the
winning field goal. Appalling and contemptuous.

This is what an
anonymous fan said was the explanation, “Nine News couldn’t show any
highlights of the Canberra-Warriors match because the rights holder Fox
Sports didn’t air the game until 6pm – I suspect Seven and Ten were in
the same boat.”

Well, yes. Nine news has aired vision from
Foxtel games on Saturday evenings as they go to air. But more
importantly, PBL owns half of Fox Sports, along with News Ltd. If
anything illustrated how, sometimes, the boot was on the other foot for
Nine, then the Raiders-Warriors game did.

But it was the first
time Terry can remember that vision from ALL Saturday evening and
Sunday games was not seen on Nine’s Sunday evening news, even games
that hadn’t yet gone to air on Foxtel (and there is at least one of
those most Sundays). I suspect a more innocent explanation – someone
forgot to record the program.

But then another subscriber
reminded Terry of the huge year ahead in 2005 for Nine. Specifically in
a year’s time at the height of next winter.

Picture this. You’re
Dave Gyngell (Packer godson and CEO of Nine), or Garry Fenton (Head of
Nine Sports), or Steve Crawley (head of the Rugby League), or Graham
Koos (EP of the cricket), or you’re Kerry Packer (sports fan and 36 per
cent shareholder in PBL) and you have to decide which sport viewers
will see. What do you do? There’s the Ashes cricket series from
England, Wimbledon tennis, an NRL game from Sydney or Brisbane, or an
AFL game from Melbourne or elsewhere on a Friday night.

Oh, and
after the mess that was the telecast of the final day’s play in this
year’s British Open, should I mention that at the same time next
winter, Nine has the coverage of the Open. Whoops! Shouldn’t have
mentioned the war. Sorry, Mr Packer.

What do you do? Of course
Mr Packer, Sir, wins, doesn’t he? And all us poor dumbos at home in our
lounge-rooms lose. Can you believe that is the appalling situation next
winter? The prospect of the Nine Network having to decide between Test
Cricket and One day Internationals, rugby league, AFL, tennis and the
golf.

At the moment Nine doesn’t have the cricket, Fox Sports
has the rights. And If I was a suspicious person I would have a small
punt on the cricket switching between Nine, Fox and perhaps SBS at
differing times.

Nine isn’t all that eager these days to screen
cricket in peak rating periods in winter. Rugby League and the AFL do
better, so the thinking goes, in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on
Friday evening and Sunday afternoons.

Friday evenings clash with
cricket, as do non-sports programming on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and
Monday evenings. Can you see Nine dropping The Block or 60 Minutes for the cricket, tennis or golf? Haven’t so far, why next year?

And
you can be certain that the Ten Network will make a big play of
uninterrupted Saturday coverage of AFL games, but Nine will studiously
ignore those jibes.

Some will call for the anti-syphoning
rules/laws to be eased/changed or flicked. That’s not the answer,
because it ends up a political situation with the new Federal
Government responding like Pavlov’s dogs to the chant of sports fans,
but doing nothing.

The answer lies in someone in Canberra
requesting an answer now from Nine and Fox Sports as to their
intentions towards the Ashes tour next year and who will carry the
telecast.

Obviously if Fox Sports carries some or all of the
cricket, it cannot cover completely the tennis or the golf, if there
are any clashes. Nor can it fully cover the AFL and NRL games without a
schedule reshuffle and a switch of some product from Fox Sports 1 to
the second Fox Sports Channel.

If Fox Sports and its half owners
say they cannot give an answer on the cricket because it’s too early,
then the relevant minister (and I don’t mean Helen ‘Hairdo’ Coonan,
she’s not a relevant Communications Minister, only a fill-in) should
reply that that answer isn’t good enough.

Fox Sports picked up
the rights almost a year ago and they and Nine should have sorted it
out by now! Could it be that Fox Sports picked up the Ashes tour rights
simply to keep them out of the hands of Seven, which broadcast some of
the previous Ashes tour four years ago? And that the half-owned arm of
PBL is merely warehousing them until Nine can get an idea of what it
will be doing next winter?

If anyone needs an answer then a
phone call after the Olympics to Seven’s sports boss, Shaul Stein
wouldn’t go astray. He was running Fox Sports when the move was made to
pick up the Ashes telecast.

But sports fans shouldn’t hold their
breaths waiting for an answer. It’s not the Nine way, or the Foxtel
tradition to respond to what viewers want.

Peter Fray

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