The AFL currently finds itself embroiled in a massively complex legal and contractual pickle as the Seven network seeks up to $1 billion in damages from the league and its current broadcast partners in a court case that still has months to run, even as it’s trying to negotiate its next TV rights agreement with Seven from 2007.

Which is why it’s hardly surprising to read in Caroline Wilson’s Age article today, that the negotiations between the AFL and Seven and its new best buddy Ten (also bizarrely being sued by Seven in the on-going litigation as a current TV consortium member alleged to have colluded against Seven), is encountering various speed humps, and a deal may still be some way off and could even stretch into 2006.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for the AFL where it’s forced to negotiate with its biggest ever litigant determined to win the future rights to its most valuable asset – TV rights – while at the time trading blows in a massively expensive court battle. To expect a yet-to-be-determined bloody legal stoush to be set aside and negotiate a new deal in peace and harmony as if the other doesn’t exist is of course impossible; no matter what the legal nuances pertaining to Seven’s (and now Ten’s) first and last rights bid mechanism.

So as Wilson points out, “today’s deadline – where Seven and Ten were expected to refuse the AFL’s opening offer of close to $130 million a year over five years for the broadcast rights – has been put off until late next week with both the league and the networks suggesting that a deal might not take place until the new year.”

But Wilson really made me sit up and take notice with this gem:

As recently as 12 days ago in a casual exchange at the Caulfield Cup, AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou conveyed (not for the first time) to Channel Seven staff that their network had little hope of winning back the broadcast rights it had held for much of the previous four decades.

If Demetriou did express such a view, however casually delivered as part and parcel of behind-the-scenes jousting, he should be more circumspect in not demonstrating any prejudice in his disposition in dealing with the Seven-Ten bid on its merits. However, Wilson believes Seven and Ten are still likely to win the rights and that a palatable peace can be struck with the league.

While Stokes’s high stakes legal poker clearly has News Ltd and Nine as his primary targets, the overhang of the case remains one helluva wild card for Seven in the TV rights deal broking with the league, no matter what Demetriou says or thinks.