After 1.7 million Australians tuned into Channel Ten for its marathon Bathurst 1000 telecast last weekend, attention will now turn to which network will broadcast the race beyond next year.

The business of V8 Supercar racing is booming and AVESCO, the sport’s commercial arm, wants its share of the lucrative TV money up for grabs in a hectic round of sporting rights negotiations.

The Australian reported on Thursday Ten has put a new offer to AVESCO to broadcast the series beyond its current contract, which expires next year, in a deal which is said to be worth as much as $20 million.

Now AVESCO is talking to Channel Seven, which is reportedly keen to win back the sport it broadcast for decades. While
its Bathurst coverage revolutionised the way motorsport was covered around the world, fans will remember the bad old days of late-night replays of other events as Seven gave Sunday afternoon preference to its AFL coverage in the early 1990s.

But the sport has come a long way since. AVESCO boss, legendary maverick entrepreneur Tony Cochrane, has presided over phenomenal growth in support. No longer marginalised as a rev-head pursuit, it has, like NASCAR in the United States, captured the hearts and minds of the wider sporting public, winning big crowds, healthy ratings and rich offers for overseas events (Bahrain will join China and NewZealand as fly-away rounds next year).

Ten has capitalised on this success. While Bathurst remains the big-rating jewel in the crown, its award-winning coverage of other rounds of the series has become a lucrative little earner for the Network among its younger-skewing demographic.

Much will depend on how the fight for AFL rights shakes out. Seven will broadcast two games on Sunday afternoons if it can wrest control of the rights (together with Ten, ironically) away from Kerry Packer. This would leave little room to accommodate V8 racing coverage through winter, and AVESCO can’t afford to lose ground.

Perhaps it will look at splitting the rights between networks and handing Bathurst – held a fortnight after the AFL Grand Final – back to Seven, though a Bathurst-free rights deal would be seriously devalued.

There is also the question of pay-TV rights. While the series remains on the Federal Government’s free-first anti-siphoning list, AVESCO will be keen to extract more coverage – and money – from Fox Sports, which currently is only allowed to broadcast highlights packages days after the event.

Cochrane seems prepared to wait for the footy talks to shake out (the AFL wants an agreement before the end of the year) before making his move. But he’s also keen to ink the richest deal possible and stamp his mark as a serious player on the sporting landscape.

Peter Fray

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