It’s a wonderful thing being able to front the media and wax lyrical about issues of public importance. Politicians do it, business have a go, even members of the public. We all know that in some way or another people are pushing a barrow.
But when sports groups and their leaders do it too, watch out for the vested interest – they quite often can’t even recognise the hypocrisy of their comments.

Take the AFL, NRL and Football Federation of Australia yesterday, who spoke at a press conference urging the Federal Government to relax the sports anti-siphoning laws which give free-to-air TV networks first crack at most sport.

They weren’t talking about sports fans and what they should or shouldn’t be able to watch, although that was the justification. What they were really talking about was the ability of their sports to grab more money from Foxtel, a Pay TV monopoly (and Fox Sports, the monopoly broadcaster for sport on Pay TV in this country). Nothing more, nothing less.

In April this year the Football Federation of Australia turned its back on free to air TV when it gave SBS the bum’s rush and went with Fox Sports and Foxtel for seven years for the new broadcasting contract for the A league competition. The price reportedly around $120 million at most.

Soccer is on Pay in this country, FTA viewers have been denied the right to watch and not pay, so why was the sport and its departing boss, John O’Neill, rabbiting on at yesterday’s press conference?
 
And the NRL: it is half owned by News Ltd and the Australian Rugby League. News owns the Melbourne Storm, North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos as a result of the silly and costly Super League debacle of a decade ago.
News and PBL own half each of Fox Sports and 25 per cent each of Foxtel. So why can’t News get the NRL, Foxtel, Nine and Fox Sports to agree on the showing of NRL finals live in all markets across the country.

Take tonight’s game on Nine between Brisbane and Canterbury in Sydney: it will go live in NSW, the ACT and Queensland but on delay in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. But why not live into those southern markets on Foxtel?

After all the Ten Network gave Foxtel coverage of two AFL preliminary finals over the past two Fridays. Tonight’s Swans-Freo game goes live but the previous two Friday night finals went live on Foxtel in NSW, Queensland and the ACT. Curiously no one in News Ltd papers or at the Nine Network has been calling for the NRL and News to organise this with Nine and Foxtel. Strange that!

And in any case, what is the NRL moaning about: they moved a final to Friday night at Nine’s behest to suit its ratings requirements, and moved the Grand Final to Sunday nights to suit Nine. The fans liked the games on the weekend and the Grand Final on Sunday afternoon (or even Saturday!).

If the NRL and Nine can do a deal on the finals, why not on Foxtel coverage of games Nine doesn’t want to broadcast live in some markets because of the low ratings. This would be an ideal candidate for a simple deal.

And why was the AFL there? After all it has now emerged that the AFL agreed to a deal with Nine and Foxtel back at the end of last year on the new free To Air TV contract which effectively stopped Seven from restarting its C7 Pay TV channel.

Peter Fray

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