Gold Coast chairman Tony Cochrane did not disguise his contempt for the Gordon view on Nine this week. Drawing on his rich history as a marketing man, Cochrane pointed out that the ninth AFL game of every home-and-away round was worth an additional $50 million to the broadcast rights agreement.
Not only was that an outrageously generous assessment in the context of pre-coronavirus but also wildly out of the ballpark in the view of the AFL’s media partners.
Those broadcasters say the incremental value of the ninth game is not worth much at all once the AFL deals with the main attractions on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
This is also bearing in mind that Seven offloaded its previous commitment to Saturday afternoon football in the last media agreement and that game was then offloaded to Fox Footy when the only other prospective buyer, Ten, baulked at the asking price.
Even before the broadcast rights were deflated – and the AFL is expected to reach a new deal by next week – the $418 million annual figure divided by nine did not come to $50 million even on the crazy assumption that Gold Coast versus West Coast could be valued competitively against Collingwood-Richmond on any given weekend.
So the only stakeholders inflating the value of the ninth game are the AFL’s vulnerable clubs, which have become even more vulnerable given the added debt they are about to incur.
Never have they been so powerless and although the terms of the new receivership model dictates no deadline for debt repayment, there is more than one commissioner sitting on the so-called COVID-19 cabinet prioritising debt eradication ahead of all else.
McLachlan is a populist and Goyder even more so. You would expect them to resist at any cost becoming the boss who saw a club die or merge on their watch. They have prioritised the survival of clubs over industry jobs.
But given that two powerful club presidents emerging from the inner sanctum are prepared to publicly entertain the prospect, it underlines the mutterings across the competition that are becoming louder.
There are two lines of thought, with one targeting the expansion clubs that created the ninth game and still cost the competition close to $70 million a year. The second focuses upon Victoria and the increasingly vulnerable North Melbourne, the debt-ridden Saints and even Melbourne.
Once the AFL settles on a new radically reduced football department budget figure for every club beyond this emergency phase – and a soft cap albeit with new tough conditions is expected to prevail – the expectation is that the wealthier clubs will see their league distribution heavily reduced in a new financial structure.
Clubs like West Coast, Hawthorn, Richmond and Collingwood will not be thrilled at the prospect of effectively being taxed and by extension watching their organisations reduced to support the survival of unsuccessful clubs.
If Gordon’s comments this week exposed cracks in the apparently collegiate and unified response from all 18 clubs to the game’s national state of emergency, then the likelihood of a new “Robin Hood” tax does not bode well for the power clubs’ attitude towards the supposed basket cases.
Particularly when you consider the value – or not – of the worst game in the weekly fixture.