I only met Murray Shaw for the first time a few months back as we sat on a panel at the Football Writer’s Festival in Jamberoo.
He spoke about Foxtel’s commitment to football and the substantial investment it had already made in attempting to help the round ball game build its audience in Australia. He seemed both a nice and impressive man.
Along with motor giant Hyundai, Shaw’s former employer has been there from the very start of the latest incarnation of Australia’s national competition. That support also embraced the FFA Cup when it began in 2014.
Now it seems, after recent years of falling metrics, Foxtel is jockeying into position to free itself of at least some of the burden that football appears to have become.
Shaw’s departure from his role as executive producer of football is one of the early steps taken by News Corp to address the $417 million loss made by its pay television arm in 2018.
Now rumours are abound that Fox Sports’ coverage of the FFA Cup competition from the Round of 32 onward could be in jeopardy, with on-sold rights to another network the most likely method to achieve the savings that Foxtel is after.
With its intention to target ‘non-marquee’ sports in an attempt to re-balance the books, football becomes a logical target within Foxtel’s content. Along with the National Rugby Championship, the cup appears likely to be one of the first casualties of the cut-backs.
That move stands to disappoint many and perhaps please others.
Considering the categorical direction that Australian football’s cable television host is taking, it appears likely that fan’s viewing of the FFA Cup will be changing in the not too distant future.
What that will look like is anyone’s guess and the effect it may have on the competition is unclear and concerning.
Some would no doubt suggest that broader exposure on a commercial network could be a boon for the FFA and their cup. Others may fear the competition could be pushed into anonymity if housed on an ill-defined sister channel without adequate levels of exposure and promotion.
Moreover, Foxtel’s commitment to its weekly, five match A-League coverage also appears to be waning, with Network Ten rumoured to be interested in expanding its coverage.
The current broadcast deal with Fox Sports remains intact until 2023, yet with FFA permission, on-selling of the free-to-air component is a realistic and immediate possibility.
In 2018-19, Ten’s digital channel ONE broadcast a single Saturday night fixture during the regular season and despite proving anything but a ratings bonanza, the executives have obviously sniffed some value.
That arrangement was separate from the A-League or the FFA. It was a deal where Foxtel purchased the time slot, claimed any associated advertising revenue and Ten merely housed the content.
With a considerable hole in its summer schedule thanks to the loss of the carnival that is the Big Bash, Ten has expressed interest in expanding its A-League commitment next season.
No doubt their intention will be to provide an entertaining alternative to rival the ‘Bash’, Test and ODI Cricket, as well the Nine Networks’ tennis coverage.
Should rumour become reality, a potential off-loading to Ten of at least two of the five weekly A-League matches might prove beneficial to all parties.
Foxtel would be unloading some of its financial burden, Ten would add a much needed national summer competition to its schedule and a significantly broader portion of the viewing public would have access to more free-to-air A-League matches.
FFA Chief Executive David Gallop has been tight lipped about the potential changes, “We are considering our free-to-air options”, he is obviously mindful of the four years still to run on the current deal.
However, the mere utterance of that sentence suggests that change is afoot and sooner rather than later.
The financial problems being experienced by the cable television provider may in fact have a silver lining for Australian football.
Despite their long term commitment to the game – a commitment that was vital in the growth and development of the A-League – Foxtel’s football face became less defined when the English Premier League rights were snatched away by Optus.
That appears to have impacted the domestic competition and the media giant’s interest in football may not extend beyond the current deal.
Where that leaves A-League and FFA broadcast rights in the long term future is unclear, yet if Network Ten does pounce in the short term, it might provide a nice shot in the arm of the upcoming season.