It’s taken the best part of a
week to emerge, but the official SBS response to Fox Sports’ $120 million, seven year deal to broadcast all
soccer games – including the Socceroos games – on Foxtel, shows the public broadcaster was ambushed and blown
out of the water by the bigger wallet of the PBL/News Ltd associate. The only games exempt are the
next two World Cups.

While SBS made no reference to the Federal anti-siphoning rules in its
statement, an SBS journalist raised it at the press conference held to
officially announce the deal but Socceroos games do not feature on that
list. That’s a good measure of the sporadic interest in soccer from
free to air broadcasters, even SBS which has renewed broadcasting
Socceroo games over the past two years.

The SBS statement said:

SBS is disappointed that it
has failed to win future Socceroo television rights in
Australia, but Pay TV has “significantly deeper
pockets than we do”, SBS Managing Director, Shaun Brown, said
today. Like all football
enthusiasts, we await the final details, but it would be disappointing if Socceroo fans had no access to their national team on
free-to-air television.

Our focus now is to
provide SBS viewers with the best possible coverage of this year’s World Cup in
Germany in June. It will be
comprehensive and complete, and except when matches are played simultaneously,
every one of the 64 matches will be broadcast
live. Australian football fans
can be reassured that when the Socceroos compete at the highest level they can
see it on SBS.

From this it’s clear SBS was
ambushed by the FFA and wasn’t given any option to counter its deal to link
up with Fox Sports. In fact you’d have to say that
the use of the word “disappointed” by Shaun Brown, is a
nicely phrased example of understatement.

But then the FFA, with its new
look commercial reality, not to mention a large debt that needs to be eliminated
($15 million in Federal Government assistance needs to be repaid soon), would
have been expected to follow the money anyway. It’s something FFA bosses,
John O’Neill and Frank Lowy, would have recognised when Fox Sports came
calling.

With the FFA willing to use
$10 million of the $17 million a year in rights fees as assistance to clubs,
Lowy’s Sydney FC will be in line to reduce its very painful first year debt of
$2 million (and more expected this coming season once a new marquee player is
signed).

For Fox Sports it’s another
painless way for it and its owners (Premier Media Group, half-owned each by PBL
and News) to extract millions of dollars a year in extra revenue from Foxtel subscribers. Fox Sports is on the basic
offer to all subscription TV customers, private and business, and they will pay
for the $25 million in extra costs for the soccer deal, regardless of whether
they like sport or not.

And even though Telstra won’t
be happy at Fox Sports finding another way to “clip the coupon” at Foxtel, they will appreciate that the soccer deal will be a
relatively economic way for Foxtel to find new subscribers and stop many existing ones
departing.

No wonder SBS was ignored in the negotiations, their money would
not have been enough to achieve the real aim of this deal for both the
FFA and Fox Sports/Foxtel.

Peter Fray

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