By Marcus Honesta
It’s not just the physical health of humans alone that is feeling the wrath and fallout of Coronavirus. Many sporting codes are being impacted dramatically by its consequences. We learnt today that sports broadcasters and administrators were spending more time with their lawyers than they are with their sponsors and staff.
Hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts are under threat amidst the real possibility that broadcast rights will be affected. Every code of broadcast sport is affected, and it not just here. The USA has cancelled many events in the last 72 hours.
The big one being the Tokyo Olympics. Last week amid the worst of the market chaos created by the coronavirus pandemic, Seven West Media’s share price tanked to 11c with increasing speculation that the Tokyo Games would be cancelled. They did however make a minor rally to 13c by closing time Friday, Seven West Media now has a market cap of just $207m compared with net debts of $570m.
Whilst bluster exists at the network, Seven has announced its dream team to travel to Tokyo, which will be broadcast over 43 dedicated channels across Seven, 7Two and 7Plus.
Seven’s Olympic Team
They include Bruce McAvaney who will return for his 11th Olympic Games coverage. The team also features 14 of Australia’s Olympians who between them have covered numerous events as both competitors and broadcasters.
Seven’s coverage of the games will be fronted by Hamish McLachlan, Mel McLaughlin, Johanna Griggs, Sonia Kruger, Lisa Sthalekar, Trent Copeland and Abbey Way. Ian Thorpe will also join the team alongside Anna Meares.
They will be joined by other gold medallists Steve Hooker, Russell Mark Nick Green, Scott McGrory, Giaan Rooney, and Debbie Watson, while decorated Olympians Rachael Sporn, Andrew Gaze, Tamsyn Lewis-Manou, Kate Bates, David Culbert, and Ash Nelson also form an important part of the proposed Seven’s coverage.
However should the games be cancelled it is understood that Seven would be returned about $100m from the IOC if the Olympics were to be cancelled, and would save on another cash payment of at least $50m it was due to make before the Tokyo Games started.
Despite the risks of forgoing about $90m in Olympics advertising revenue and associated ratings, the $150m cash saving would be a benefit for the debt burdened Seven West Media. Oh what a dilemma.
A spokesman for Seven said: “We are in constant communication with the AOC, IOC and the health authorities, and until they provide us with advice to the contrary, we are continuing to move ahead with our plans for the Olympic Games.
“To that end, we recently presented partners with an overview of the broadcasting arrangements — and team — that will be in place for Tokyo 2020.”
Sports administrators and broadcasters are behind a closed door desperately trying to broker alternatives to season cancellations, with suspension rather than cancellation unlikely to trigger demands for repayment by broadcasters.
Both Seven and Fox Sports are collectively holding their breath in fear of the suspension of the AFL season for up to a month that could see finals played deep into October. This would then honour the $2.5bn broadcasting deal. Administrators are feverishly looking at every possibility, even the option of paying more than one game at a time to try and make up for the shortfall.
The AFL is also believed to be looking at extending rosters of players and individual monitoring of players’ health in order to guard against the onset of the virus in a team.
It’s not just the Olympics and AFL that have headaches at the moment. The National Rugby league has told us that its very future cannot be guaranteed if the 2020 season doesn’t go ahead as planned. Given some of the off-field antics in the pre-season, it may not be such a bad thing.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys yesterday said if the NRL season did not continue as planned, it would “jeopardise the survival of the NRL competition”, he even went on to ask the federal government for millions of dollars to help save the competition. Oh please Mr V’landys, there are far more deserving ahead of the NRL entitled to government assistance.
Mr V’landys said: “We are in an area our game has never been in before.”
“It is certainly one of the greatest challenges for us to stay viable, in the history of the game.”
The NRL has a $2bn broadcast deal with Nine and Fox Sports and Mr V’landys cited obligations to broadcasters, as a serious consideration for the NRL not to be cancelled.
It would appear also that Foxtel is not too keen for the season to be cancelled, as it would leave a huge hole in its broadcasting schedule. Not to mention loss of viewers, the very life-blood of the pay TV network. A spokesman for Foxtel said the network would continue to be able to broadcast games and its sports streaming service, Kayo, out of Sydney headquarters. This comes as no surprise.
It will also experiment with match commentators on location, using similar technology to the NRL’s bunker which is used for video match referees.
Super Rugby’s season is suspended, following New Zealand’s decision to shut its borders, and it’s unlikely to continue given the competition is played across five countries and five teams are based in New Zealand.
The coronavirus-induced cancellation could not have come at a worse time for Rugby Australia which is currently trying to attract bidders for a new broadcast deal after turning down a deal from Fox Sports to renew its $57m-a-year contract. But I suppose Ms. Castle is getting exactly what she richly deserves after she single-handedly has butchered the “game they play in heaven”.
It is without doubt an evolving situation. We will keep you posted as and when more information becomes available.