This story is of course a joke, the mutterings of a delusional TV executive who still doesn’t understand that his network’s expensive attempt to retain the AFL rights failed over a year ago.

Eddie McGuire says the Nine Network will become the “pirate station” of AFL after signing Foxtel as a sponsor for the three AFL-related football shows on Sunday morning (remember I told you last year that Eddie wanted to recreate Ron Casey’s and Seven’s old World of Sport on Sunday mornings), Monday night at 9.30pm and Thursdays at 9.30pm also.

But Eddie had nothing to do with the Foxtel deal. It was dreamed up by PBL heavies at Park Street and Willoughby and Jeff Browne, Eddie’s mate, and Kim Williams at Foxtel.

It is like Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day sponsoring a program on Nine: an in-house promotion. It’s cheap, there’s no agency commission to pay, it can be described as cross platform promotion (which is the Holy Grail of media executives) and so long as it’s done as a commercial transaction, it’s OK (no cross subsidies).

So why is it a coup and the start of Nine’s reign as the “pirate of football”?

What’s interesting is that Foxtel will be putting ad dollars into a free-to-air show. Earlier in the week Seven and Ten knocked back Foxtel ads for its AFL coverage. This is the response.

The story in The Australian acknowledges that News owns 25% of Foxtel. It also doesn’t say that PBL, which controls Nine, owns 25% of Foxtel and both News and PBL own Fox Sports (Premier Media) which will run the AFL games on its Fox Sports 3 Pay TV channel.

It sounds all a bit incestuous and it is designed to help drive subscriptions to Foxtel and Fox Sports 3 and away from Seven and Ten’s coverage of the AFL.

It also has the capacity to drive viewers away from Nine altogether, and from its coverage of the NRL which starts in two weeks.

A footnote: Nine is planning an AFL program this Monday at 9.30pm. The plan was to have a matching program in Sydney on the NRL. Late last week Nine very quietly canned the NRL edition because of a “lack of resources”. So how come there’s no money for NRL but enough for a new AFL program?

There is a growing suspicion in NRL circles that the code is being pillaged by Nine/PBL and News Ltd (who hold all the TV broadcast rights between them and who control Fox Sports, half of Foxtel. News owns half the NRL). The real news is that by going with Seven and Ten the AFL has avoided being pillaged like the NRL is by Nine/PBL and News. And that, in turn, is what the Foxtel deal with Nine is all about: revenge.

I wonder what Telstra thinks, sitting there owning half of Foxtel and watching 50% of its money being used for these petty commercial fights.

Peter Fray

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