Nine Melbourne boss Ian Paterson says it’s unlikely the network will bid for the last remaining AFL game, currently up for grabs through Foxtel’s resale rights.

When the $2.5 million AFL broadcast rights deal was negotiated last month, Foxtel had the rights to resell one of its weekly games to a free-to-air broadcaster (or air it itself). Paterson today all but ruled out Nine as a bidder.

“We can’t be romanced by the idea of being in something we haven’t been in before,” he said. “Of course I’d love to be in AFL … but it’s not as simple as that. You’ve got to find an angle that’s relevant to our business.

“There wasn’t an opportunity to secure something we were satisfied with, and that’s where it started and finished.”

This year’s negotiations for both the AFL (won by Foxtel and Seven) and the NRL (won by Nine) resulted in TV stations paying more than ever before to the sporting codes for broadcast rights. Speaking at the Mumbrella Sports Marketing Summit in Melbourne this morning, Paterson acknowledged that the cost of this, for the most part, couldn’t be recouped through advertising on the free-to-air broadcasters. Nonetheless, he said sports rights were likely to remain a crucial part of the business and could well be worth even more the next time negotiations come around, as the networks had a declining number of shows capable of commanding large audiences and introducing them to other, more profitable parts of the lineup.

“[Through sport broadcasts] we attract advertisers and people, and are able to present to them the rest of what we do,” Paterson said.

There are benefits to the networks of being on free-to-air TV, too, pointed out former NRL exec and Repucom managing director Shane Mattiske, who has, in recent weeks, helped negotiate the recent NBL Foxtel deal. “From the sport point of view, it helps to get the game out to as many people as possible. For the foreseeable future, sports want to be on free-to-air. It supports their commercial programs, and it supports their plans in terms of development.

“Talk of shifts in a different direction [like through digital distribution on streaming sites] often fail to take that into account.”

Fergus Watts, the former AFL footballer who now heads up sports marketing consultancy the Bastian Group, said sports deals were “maxed out at the moment”.

“But the reality is, next time these deals are up, if participation in a sport has grown, if there’s broader interest nationally, then the broadcast rights will probably grow.”

The key for the networks, Paterson said, was to remain a destination for people to invest their viewing time. “In free-to-air television, we see a decline around audiences, particularly around movies, comedies and drama. We’re not even so much competing with each other anymore — as we are with subscription video-on-demand.”

Crucial to remaining a viewing destination, he said, was news programming, Australian drama, large-format reality entertainment, and sports broadcasting.

“We’re under no illusion — in the future, the cost of acquiring rights will probably go up.”

Peter Fray

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