Optus Wins EPL Rights, But What Does This Mean For Foxtel?

I have written on oft occasions of my desire to purchase Foxtel. Yet due to a rather strict body corporate policy in my 1960s-era apartment building, I must remain a humble free-to-air viewer, for now.

However, this week the sports broadcast landscape changed in this country: Optus came out of nowhere to pinch the EPL rights off Foxtel, causing a major panic among those in the rights industry. EPL fans with Foxtel were outraged, some taking to social media to vent to the company directly. Personally, it made me somewhat thankful that I don’t have Foxtel, because right now, I’d be pretty concerned about their ability to retain their sporting properties.

Optus is yet to announce where and how viewers will be able to view the EPL, which they will have exclusively on their platform(s) as of August 2016. However, it’s expected that it will be on its IPTV service, Fetch TV, as well as on some form of mobile app.

This is the future of sports – and we must adjust accordingly. No longer will we be able to have a ‘one stop’ shop when it comes to a sports platform. We must pick and choose what we want to watch. It’s no longer a buffet of sport – this is a la carte dining. Tapas, if you will.

The NRL rights deal is coming up very soon (four games have already been sold to Channel Nine, but the rest is still up for grabs) and you can bet Foxtel will go hard for this, lest it lose face as the premier sports broadcaster. Rupert Murdoch’s Foxtel already overpaid for the AFL rights just to make a point to the NRL, but now, he’s going to pay overs on rugby league – a sport he clearly doesn’t like or respect.

But where will this cash come from, if they weren’t prepared to spend enough to renew the EPL rights – a measly $50 million?

The damage has been done to Foxtel. This is a huge hit to its brand. With Optus on the charge – not to mention the Middle Eastern-owned BeIN Sport, which recently bought out Setanta and is now making waves all across Asia and Europe as it buys its way to world domination – the heady days of Fox Sports are certainly over.

"Don't be fooled by his calm exterior; this bloke is sweating."
“Don’t be fooled by the calm exterior; this bloke is sweating.”

Anyway, a simple look at FetchTV – the most likely platform for Optus’ EPL broadcast – reveals that they already have most of the non-sports channels that are available on Foxtel, such as National Geographic, MTV, and other random channels that play Seinfeld/Cheers re-runs ad nauseum, etc. As for sport, they do have ESPN 1 and ESPN 2, so they gain access to some American sports coverage, including the NBA.

Regarding BeIN, it’s complicated, considering the channel is also available on Foxtel and FetchTV as an additional paid service. But these blokes have money – and I’m sure they’ve got a strategy for the Australian market.

As for Foxtel? Well, they’ve still got the AFL (which they’re sharing with 7’s free-to-air channels) and the NRL (until the end of 2017). They do have some cricket rights, too – plenty of ’em – but let’s not forget that Optus has a rival streaming service of its own that allows viewers to access the ‘Cricket Australia’ pass, thereby gaining access to matches that way.

All we know is that the sporting landscape is changing. In the future, you will pay only for what you use, rather than getting the whole cake. It’s getting complicated – and you’ll be buying league passes, streaming stuff and buying ‘add-on’ channels more than ever before. If you’re particularly invested in football, perhaps you’ll buy the BeIN Connect online service. If all you care about is NRL or AFL, then you’ll have to buy Foxtel’s basic package that includes sports. But that basic package will end up being pretty bloody basic soon enough.

I’m guessing that a decent percentage of Australians subscribe to Foxtel simply for its sport portfolio. Premium sport, delivered in HD. The company can’t afford to keep shedding valuable live rights and expect to retain its customer base. And as for the non-sports content, well, Australians can get their premium entertainment content from Netflix now, at a far cheaper price. Or Stan. Or Presto. Or just illegally, I guess.

With all these new players coming in, Foxtel’s going to have to do better than a few NRL games and a Christmas Day Seinfeld marathon to keep angry subscribers from jumping ship. That might have been enough to keep people happy in 1999, but not today.

By staff writers

* Foxtel paid $15 million for the EPL so you can forgive them for being reluctant to pay more than three times to renew the rights. But still, you’ve just gotta hit that shit.

Savvy Packer’s Investment in Souths Further Sign of Humanity’s Moral Decay

I have a close friend named Toby who, at the age of ten, switched his allegiance from one English football side to another. To this day, the now 30-year-old is regularly ribbed by his mates for this innocent act of childhood naivety. I didn’t even know Toby when he was ten, but that hasn’t stopped me sledging him whenever his side plays. He regularly fields questions like “which one are you going for today, mate?”, and other similarly unimaginative chiding.

The jokes are supposed to tongue-in-cheek, but beneath their shallow veneer lies a value which many of us hold dear – that one’s loyalty, especially when it comes to the sports team you support, should never waver. By jumping ships, chasing glory or joining a bandwagon, a person is transgressing this value. In the modern age of high divorce rates and Gen Y’s well-documented lack of commitment, the support one gives to a sports team is held up as one of the last bastions of true, unadulterated loyalty. Violating this faith is akin to committing a cardinal sin.

Like supporting the St. Louis cardinals when you grew up as a Chicago Cubs fan
Like supporting the St. Louis Cardinals when you grew up as a Chicago Cubs fan

Yet James Packer, one of Australia’s richest men and a bona fide member of the global celebrity class, has made a similar decision to my pal in purchasing a 37.5 per cent stake in the South Sydney Rabbitohs – despite his past as a fan and one-time board member of Souths’ fierce rivals the Eastern Suburbs Football Club (although admittedly his old man Kerry was a Souths supporter).

My friend’s adolescent infidelity has led to a lifetime of berating; Packer’s has been welcomed with open arms. Why the different reactions to two superficially similar events?

Packer’s purchase of a stake in Souths has been welcomed precisely because the media, and obliging members of the public, no longer view sport in the emotive terms of tribalism. We fully accept that sport is now business. James Packer buying into a business with high earnings potential is viewed as another savvy investment in his portfolio of business interests; not as one fan declaring support for a rival club.

"They have solid fundamentals and great growth prospects over the medium to long term, plus GI is pretty good"
“They have solid fundamentals and great growth prospects over the medium to long term, plus GI is pretty good”

Somewhat begrudgingly, sports fans are slowly coming to terms with the fact their favourite players are unlikely to stay with their club for more than a couple of seasons, and are liable to join their rivals, another code, or move to another continent to try a completely different game (see: Hayne, J. 2014).

This acceptance is now being met with another development – it is becoming more socially acceptable for fans to show the same level of disloyalty as the players they support.

The recent success of South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL is case in point. Their premiership win caused a huge bandwagonning effect. During Grand Final week it was not uncommon to see a fan wearing new jerseys with the creases from the packet visible, or scarves with the price tag still on. I must admit, I too was caught up in the fever, wearing a green T-shirt to the Grand Final (as far as I could bring myself).

Lifelong fan
Another passionate fan

This is the new paradigm in which we live. Sport is a commodity, and fans as the consumers can pick whatever product that takes their fancy. The market is competitive, and technology is making it more open than ever before. Before the internet/TV age, sport was local. If you lived in Manly, you went for the Eagles. But technology has given us the ability to tune in to watch our team every week on whatever platform we want. Location is now irrelevant. Now nothing can stop the fans from being as fickle as they want.

A growing social acceptance of fans who hop codes, teams and rivals may be inevitable, but is nonetheless a concerning development for sport, Australian society and humanity in general.

Without the values of loyalty, devotion and stick-to-it-ness what society we be left with? You can’t build impressive shit without all of those characteristics. There would be no Opera House, no Hawke/Keating era economic reforms / Howard’s GST, and certainly there would be no World Series Cricket (hat-tip to James’ old man), all contentious but ultimately good projects that wouldn’t have happened without people who were determined enough to stick to their guns and ram-home an idea they believed in.

Valuable SMS insight from TPA Founder Dave 'Danger' Edwards
Valuable SMS insight from TPA Founder Dave ‘Danger’ Edwards

Yes, this is a ridiculously long bow to draw. Some would call it hyperbolic. Perhaps Packer never really liked Easts and now just wants to honour his father’s old team. I do not dare to criticise him for what he has done, but I think at the very least, his about-face should be acknowledged. Failure to do so would make the teasing of my friend Toby for his youthful and completely understandable backflip look over-the-top and just plain cruel, and I don’t have the stomach to handle that kind of introspection today.

By Ben Shine

Landmark Deal Sees TPA Penetrate the Great Firewall of China

For the first time ever, readers in mainland China will be able to access content from esteemed online sports journal The Public Apology (TPA).

The arrangement is the result of a landmark deal brokered by TPA founder and chief editor Dave J. Edwards in Beijing yesterday. Mr Edwards is currently on a business visit to North Asia to expand the publication’s readership in the region.

It is understood that Edwards successfully convinced high-level figures in China’s State Council Information Office that TPA carries no politically sensitive information and therefore is of no threat to the Chinese government. The talks were carried out over a 72 hour period.

The deal represents a gesture of goodwill between Australia and China, and will be seen as a positive first step in advance of negotiations over a Free Trade Agreements between the two countries that will continue later this year.

Mr Edwards heralded the deal as a win for both The Public Apology and Chinese media consumers in general.

TPA has a huge role to play in China, especially as various Chinese enterprises continue to expand abroad,” he said.

“The aim was to provide Beijing with a greater understanding of what The Public Apology is, while outlining our Asia expansion plans. TPA will obviously play a key role in China’s cultural future.

“Transparency will certainly be key to this relationship going forward.”

Technology experts are calling the deal historic, given the enormous precedent it sets in regards to China’s strict internet censorship laws, colloquially known as the Great Firewall of China.

Apple Genius Bar attendant Darren Pratt said the deal marked a watershed moment in the Sino-Australian relationship.

“Much like former US President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, this deal will open the way for a better relationship between Australia and China on both a commercial and political level,” Mr Pratt said.

Edwards concludes 72-hour talks with unidentified Chinese counterpart
Edwards concludes 72-hour talks with unidentified Chinese counterpart

“It goes without saying that this will open up boundless opportunities for The Public Apology in this region, with sponsors clamouring to be affiliated with Australia’s leading obscure, niche, elitist sports opinion website.

“Dave Edwards has long said that The Public Apology’s major long-term aim is to take advantage of the Asian Century, and this deal really could make that a reality,” he said.

By staff writers