Seven, Foxtel and the AFL did not wish to comment.
The withholding of the latest payment suggests the AFL is going to take at least a 25 per cent hit in the coronavirus-impacted season, highlighted by clubs recently taking a 37 per cent cut in football-department spend compared to the pre-COVID-19 cap.
It also comes at a time when the broadcasters are still renegotiating a revised contract, taking into the account the lost income of this year. As revealed by The Age’s Caroline Wilson, the plan is to extend the current contract by two years until 2024, and spread out the financial pain as a result of a weakened economy over this time.
Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett asked AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan in a hook-up of club bosses on Monday whether a new deal had been done. McLachlan said the contract was still being negotiated.
This year’s expected income will also be cut because of reduced game time, meaning less content for broadcasters, and the lack of atmosphere at empty stadiums. Quarters have been cut to 16 minutes plus time on for the remainder of this season but McLachlan confirmed on Friday that the length of matches would return to normal from next season. This is despite the AFL debating for much of the past decade whether quarters should be reduced.
While the league continues discussions with broadcasters, Nine Entertainment Co, the owner of this masthead, have recommitted to the NRL until the end of 2022 after it reduced its broadcast fee.
In an update to the Australian Stock Exchange, Nine indicated projected savings of $27.5 million for 2021 and in 2022 and even more for the current year given the adjusted season.
Foxtel has reached a fresh agreement that will result in the pay-television operator signing until the end of 2027. The guaranteed revenue stream means players’ pay could remain unaffected in 2021, having agreed to a 20 per cent salary cut this season. However, AFL players, having already taken a major hit this year, are bracing for a 20 per cent pay cut next year and beyond.
The financial health of broadcasters remains an issue. Foxtel has shed hundreds of jobs in the wake of the fall-out of the coronavirus pandemic, for many viewers had shed their subscriptions to pay-television and sports streaming service, Kayo.
However, the thirst for the return of live sport was highlighted on Thursday night when Foxtel said an average of 401,000 viewers tuned in across its platforms to watch Brisbane and Parramatta play in the return match of the NRL – an NRL record for a match that was also simulcast, on Nine. Foxtel figures did not include Kayo.
A Fox Sports spokesman said there had been “strong engagement from our customers and interested sports fans” ahead of the return of the AFL.
All major sports continue to sweat over whether they will take a cut in broadcast rights. Cricket Australia has the second of its six-monthly instalments due in September, while rugby union is seeking a new deal.
McLachlan also said the league had “80 per cent” finalised its plans for how it will handle the return of crowds – should that happen in time for the finals in October. This includes the potential to have supporters temperature-tested outside stadiums. But he would not put a date on when fans could return.
“I reckon that every day goes by there is a better chance. This is one where I am not going to run ahead of the health officials and the government but it feels like the community is doing such an unbelievable job and our officials and health officials have done such an unbelievable job that we are heading in a direction where we are getting back to life,” he said.
“When that looks like, and if that is possible, I don’t know but we will be ready.”
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.