The decision to pull the plug on Fox Footy was inevitable when you think about it. Here was a broadcast partner with its hands tied behind its back when it came to winning the right to broadcast live any prominent AFL games, while also being asked to kick more than a decent whack into the bottomless pit of rights money and production costs. Since when do Foxtel shareholders like PBL and Murdoch cop a deal like that twice?
Having produced two shows at the channel (original EP of On The Couch, and co-creator and producer of Young Guns), I can tell you that the entire operation was run on a shoestring budget by Foxtel, even if the figures added up to some serious money.
The staff will be gutted today but in fact the announcement’s timing is pretty good. Eight matches, plus off-field shows on two networks, still need to be produced next year and with Seven still gearing up, there are plenty of talented workers, on-air personnel and producers suddenly available. The irony is that on the weekend that Fox Footy screens its most high-profile live match ever — a Perth derby that really means something — the staff will be more interested in spell-checking their CVs than enjoying the moment.
Sean Riley, who took over from Rick McKenna as the daily operations manager of Fox Footy, has now proven himself as a senior administrator as well as his previous strength as one of the better live directors going around. On-air talent like Tiffany Cherry and Clinton Grybas would be unlikely to find themselves in the dole queue next year and the entire On The Couch team of Gerard Healy, Robert Walls and Mike Sheahan, with Bill Cannon as producer, should be moved straight from Southbank to Ten’s studios on a Monday night. Then again, there is nothing to stop Foxtel holding onto the shows that worked on Fox Footy, either on the soon-to-be-unveiled Fox Sports 3, or one of the existing Fox Sports channels.
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So the death of Fox Footy is regrettable for those staff who are now out of work, and for the poignancy that the place where “AFL is Everything” is now nothing under the new TV deal. But those few AFL fans who actually have Foxtel won’t be inconvenienced as much as is being made out today. They’ll just need to let their fingers do a little more walking.