Channel Seven shareholders must be getting nervous about all the cash Kerry Stokes is throwing at weekend sports coverage. About as nervous as revheads around the country as they contemplate watching V8 Supercar racing on Seven next year.

In a deal set to be confirmed this week, Seven has snatched the rights to telecast the series from Channel Ten, with a record six-year deal worth about $70 million, according to The Australian.

This while Seven stumps up to pay its share of the $780 million AFL broadcasting rights, a price tag that looks worryingly large as Foxtel refuses to play ball and sign up to share some of the burden.

Ten is currently paying just a quarter of Seven’s V8 Supercar bid and, according to The Oz, couldn’t imagine recovering costs over the six-year contract. So how does Seven expect to make any money from it? And just when do they think they’re going to broadcast it?

It’s expected Seven will air three AFL games per round next season (assuming Foxtel joins the party), the showcase Friday night game and two games on Sunday afternoon. This season, six V8 Supercar rounds clash with Sunday football. Fans well remember the last time Seven held both the AFL and V8 Supercar rights, when the racing was relegated to late-night replays.

Just last week, V8 Supercar boss Wayne Cattach vowed the sport wouldn’t take the money and run if it meant any less than Ten’s extensive (and generally excellent) coverage. And Seven isn’t likely to lay down $70 million for some early-hours programming.

But that means a commitment not only to the annual Bathurst spectacular, one of the top-rating sports events of the year, but to regular, near-live coverage of all rounds throughout the season. Anything less would be a promise broken and a backwards step for the sport.

Ten will be smarting – it invested heavily and built the category up to be one of the top sports in the country, certainly now among the richest. The irony won’t be lost when Seven tries to negotiate a way round the inevitable football-V8 clashes with its AFL partner next year.

Peter Fray

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