A few weeks ago Mark Day, The Australian’s media columnist, got stuck into the Seven and Ten networks for killing off AFL broadcasts on Foxtel, claiming they would not be able to show all the games on TV from next year if Foxtel wasn’t a part of the deal.

So what are we to make of his story today in The Australian’s media section?

Pay-television provider Austar is close to reaching a deal with the AFL rights holders, the Seven and Ten networks, to provide a regional AFL coverage next year.

The move, expected to be confirmed in the next few days, will increase pressure on the dominant pay-TV operator, Foxtel, to reach a similar agreement covering the nation’s capital cities.

Foxtel is already under heavy pressure from the AFL to lift its offer of $45million for four live games a week in the 2007 season. Reports have been circulating for the past two weeks that new negotiations were under way after a year of fruitless discussions and a last-minute agreement was possible.

Someone has certainly changed his script. It’s amazing that there is now pressure on Foxtel — the question is, from whom? The partners in Fox Sports, News and PBL? Fox Sports is facing a $20 million loss as a minimum if there is no AFL for its commercial customers.

News has also been circulating that AFL boss Andrew Demetriou has been ringing Foxtel’s owners, Seven, Ten and various people in the media telling them that “an offering is coming (from Foxtel) with a five in front of it”? If he knows that, why then haven’t any of the offers emerged?

Austar as well faces a multi-million dollar loss of revenues and profits from not having AFL to offer domestic and commercial subscribers next year.

Hence the leaking of its approach to Seven and Ten to do a deal to cover regional Australia. But while only Austar subscribers can receive any AFL satellite broadcasts, will Austar market its set top boxes into Foxtel/Fox Sports areas if there is demand for them and if Foxtel is not carrying the game next year?

The Seven Network used its first and last rights to grab the AFL from Nine on Christmas Eve last year. What’s the betting sometime in the next week Foxtel starts moving to a similar deadline with an annual fee of between $50 and $55 million a year?

Peter Fray

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