Is Fox selling out the game?


Yesterday it was reported that Channel 9 was demanding they NRL tear up the broadcasting contract. I said not only was it bad business, but the alleged position was opportunistic (at best) in the current crisis.

A more complex picture has emerged from the other broadcaster, Fox Sports. This report from Michael Chammas (notably of the Channel 9 owned Sydney Morning Herald) said they wouldn’t pay for games that weren’t played this year, which, while shortsighted, is reasonable. While a desire in Fox sports to renegotiate their contract beyond this year existed, the “head office” of Fox is less interested in this route.

This distinction is important. I suspect the reluctance of head office is in the knowledge that Foxtel simply would not exist if not for rugby league. It never would have established itself. It never would have succeeded. The only thing that is keeping it tethered to existence is the money they make from subscribers who almost exclusively join for NRL (and AFL) content. Look at their highest rating programs – it’s almost all NRL.

The sports arm of Fox, headed by Peter Campbell, like Channel 9, appears to be trying to leverage a threatened league into giving back money for the coming years, on top of the money they won’t pay for 2020. Essentially, it would similar to Channel 9’s attempt to take advantage of the NRLs decision as white-out for their own inept management.

Again the NRL should call this bluff. Moreso even than Channel 9, Fox will not exist without rugby league. They have to broadcast rugby league games to exist. For the NRL there is a pathway through the next few months without Fox. There is a simple equation to Peter Campbell. Keep your money now and die in the long term, or part with your money, keep your relationship with rugby league and survive into the future. It shouldn’t be a hard decision, and one suspects it’s one that Fox head office will make for the sports arm.

What is clear though is the time for treating Fox like a partner in rugby league is over, if it ever existed. Even in their weakened state, the NRL have that power, and Fox Sports would be wise to recognise it.

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