What will be the legacy of Kerry Packers last stand?

Redb Roar Rookie

By Redb, Redb is a Roar Rookie

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    TV rights for sport have become the ‘uber’ source of revenue for sporting codes in Australia. In the past, gate receipts, sponsorship, club membership and merchandise filled club coffers along with social club and pokie machine revenue.

    As each sport’s governing bodies endeavour to grow their respective games the surplus of funds generated by TV rights has allowed unprecedented development opportunities to grow football codes especially beyond their traditional footprints.

    Kerry Packer changed the sporting landscape in Australia through television. Most notably with cricket with his “World Series Cricket” nationally and the growth of rugby league in his home state of NSW and the sport’s sister state Queensland. According to some he also dabbled in Australian soccer a couple of decades ago.

    Packer’s forays into Australian Rules football had been few and far between. At the end of the day he was a Sydneysider who knew little of the game they played south of the Murray River or to be geographically accurate, south of Gundagai in NSW.

    Channel 9 in Melbourne through the massively successful Thursday night Footy Show which ran for 8 years without any AFL footage changed Packer’s mind about his ‘interest’ in the sport.

    For the first time in some 40 years, channel 7 lost the AFL TV rights to channel 9.

    In 2001, after winning the AFL rights, channel 9 enjoyed ratings growth and dominance in some states due to its AFL coverage. All of a sudden Packer saw the potential for the game down south and was eager to join the fray when the rights came up in 2007-2011.

    It is history now that channel 7 and channel 10 paid a record $780M for the AFL TV rights for 2007-2011.

    What is forgotten is that Nine Network initially did win the rights with a tabled $780M bid. However, channel 7 through a “first and last rights” clause took the opportunity to match the offer and secure the rights.

    The $780M offer surprised many observers across the sporting landscape in Australia. It was easily the biggest deal for TV rights.

    It led to speculation from other sports notably in rugby league circles that channel 7 paid over the odds because Packer apparently just ‘set up’ his old sparring partner Kerry Stokes at channel 7 (Seven network).

    It would have been a pretty big gamble if Stokes wasn’t interested in playing, remember Packer had already technically secured the rights at $780M. Stokes had 14 days to enact his last rights clause.

    We will never really know. Was is it the act of a ‘sting’ by Packer or really just a retort after his ego was damaged?

    If the bid was just all smoke and mirrors you would imagine that after Kerry Packer’s passing away, the interest in AFL at the Nine Network would similarly drift.

    Yet it is a fact that this year channel 9 has more AFL shows than channel 7 at the moment, aside from game telecasts. I count four shows with the Thursday and Sunday Footy Shows, Footy Classified and TAC Future Stars (under 18s). Channel 7 has 1, Gameday.

    Over the past 12 months there has been much speculation in particular about the viability of a second NSW AFL team in Western Sydney.

    Two new teams are being created to grow the game of AFL in NSW and QLD as well forming an enhanced TV offer to perhaps increase the TV rights to $1 Billion.

    The two objectives go hand in hand. TV rights dollars are being used to fund more development and consequently potentially more TV revenue.

    Despite wide spread acknowledgement that the Swans TV ratings in Sydney have fallen (in line with its success), channel 9 continues to give oxygen to the AFL’s interest in Western Sydney.

    First, 60 Minutes aired a story about AFL juniors in Western Sydney – the rugby league heartland. The story was viewed as a fluff piece as it talked about AFL winning over juniors,etc. This was followed just recently by a similar story on channel 9 Today Weekend edition.

    Channel 9 network boss Jeff Browne in Melbourne told The Age newspaper recently: “Of course we’re interested. Channel Nine would always be interested in talking to the AFL about their product. We enjoyed having football in the past and we did a very good job with it.”

    It appears Packer’s interest and legacy still lives on.