The AFL
will be happy to have gotten through a weekend more or less unscathed. Sure, it
seems that some kind of weird unearthly magnetic device has been placed on AFL
goalposts to stop balls going through the big sticks, but that’s neither here
nor there for Andrew Demetriou and the Commissioners.

What will have caught their eye is a
report from London,
where the latest TV rights for football have just been awarded.

Remember all the hoo-ha in summer over
Channels Seven and Ten forking out $780 million for five years of AFL
broadcast rights, from next season? Small change, as it turns out. Rupert
Murdoch’s British pay-TV outfit, Sky, has just been forced to part with 1.314 billion pounds for the next
three-year deal
to cover the English Premier League. That word again: billion.

But that’s not even the big news. The show-stopper is
that Sky only won part of the TV rights – and for the first time in 14 years
will have to share coverage. Yes, a small Irish broadcast company, Setanta, has
paid £392 million for two of the six parcels of matches auctioned off by the
Football Association.

Rupert being Rupert, you need to read the fine print on
this. When the new Premier League season kicks off in August, Sky will only
broadcast 92 of the 138 games, but is confident it has all the ones worth
watching. And guess what: all televised games, including those offered by
Setanta, will only be available on the Sky platform, however that works.
Setanta won the Monday night games, which apparently attract a smaller
audience, and Sky subscribers will have to pay an extra fee to watch them.

Even a 30% increase in the cost for the rights
(the current deal for all games cost Sky 1.024 billion pounds) is expected to be
absorbed reasonably painlessly by Sky, although the company’s shares fell 2.6% in early trading after the announcement.

The bottom line, again, is that football
will not be available on any free-to-air channels in Britain, so if nothing
else, AFL and NRL fans
should be thankful for Australia’s anti-siphoning laws, such as they are.

Peter Fray

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