The A-League’s mooted switch to winter could be off the cards with a potential new broadcast rights bidder, Stan Sport, indicating it would only be interested in a summer competition.
Industry sources have confirmed that Stan – whose first foray into live sport began on Friday night with the launch of the new Super Rugby AU season – has held exploratory discussions over the rights to the A-League and W-League, which are set to hit the market in the coming weeks.
The A-League has enjoyed a cracking start to the new season – the last one left on its current broadcast deal with Fox Sports.Credit:Getty
The A-League’s current deal with Foxtel, a reduced one-year contract worth $28 million that was negotiated post-pandemic, is due to expire at the end of July.
Stan – which is owned by Nine, the publisher of this masthead – has not submitted a bid. Sources say there are other international parties keen to enter the Australian market who are also in conversations, which could include companies like Amazon Prime or DAZN.
Stan’s interest is predicated on the A-League and W-League continuing to be played in the summer months, as opposed to winter, which would be in direct competition with the three other football codes – two of which Nine now holds the rights to.
That is at odds with Football Australia boss James Johnson’s personal desire to change the domestic calendar and align the professional leagues with grassroots and state-based competitions, which generally run from February to November.
Hugh Marks (right) with Stan chief Mike Sneesby and interim Rugby Australia CEO Rob Clarke at the announcement of the Stan Sport deal with Rugby Australia.Credit:Stuart Walmsley
Football Australia no longer has operational control of the A-League and W-League, with the broadcast rights process for those domestic competitions being run by the clubs as the Australian Professional Leagues (APL).
But FA retains regulatory oversight over the competitions, and as part of the independence deal that was brokered on New Year’s Eve, they have the final say on the timing of the season.
Johnson has previously spoken about his preference for winter – and many believe the cooler climate will lead to high-quality football, while alignment with state and community leagues in Australia and elite competitions across Asia will also be beneficial.
But Johnson said last month on the Shim, Spider and So Much Moore podcast that there was still a “discussion to be had” with the APL and broadcasters on the matter and no decisions have been made.
Football Australia boss James Johnson will have the final say over when the A-League and W-League seasons are played.Credit:Getty Images
“We’ve got to obviously listen to broadcasters – this will be for the APL to front in the first instance. It will be a case of the clubs going out, testing the market, but also us having our view on what the regulation of the match calendar would look like and when the season is played,” he said.
“That’s something we still have to sit down and discuss with the the APL, but it’s something that is going to be moving because it will have to move along with the negotiation of the broadcast rights.”
Stan has picked up all available broadcasting rights for rugby, and will show not only Super Rugby but Super W, Wallabies and Wallaroos matches, the Bledisloe Cup, and club rugby in four different countries, including the Japanese Top League, announced on Friday.
It could then follow that same model in football if it was to make a formal bid, with rights for key Socceroos and Matildas qualifiers, the AFC Champions League and the 2023 Women’s World Cup all to come up for grabs this year. The soon-to-be renamed FFA Cup also has no broadcast deal this year.
Stan will not get another opportunity to add another football code to its offering for several years as it builds a rival to Kayo Sports, with the AFL and NRL both tied away on long-term deals with Foxtel.
Foxtel, a founding partner of the A-League since 2005, is not out of the running to retain the football rights, despite being out of favour with many fans for a series of recent broadcasting errors in W-League matches.
Sources say that Foxtel has addressed the problem by dropping on-site production company BarTV Sports for Gravity Media, which will now use extra cameras at an increased number of W-League fixtures.
The A-League has dipped in many facets over the last five years, with linear ratings on an alarming downward trend and attendances falling consistently even before COVID.
But a promising start to the new season has many within the game convinced of the competition’s potential, if only it could find the right partner to help grow its audience.
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