This is a blog I originally wrote for SBS News
Modern sport means big business.
Here in Australia, our sports are not as affected by the big bucks. For starters, noone else is really that interested in our multiple codes of football; even we can’t seem to agree on one.
But selling the rights to NRL and AFL football matches is certainly big money in local terms. And for the last few decades, it’s been all about TV rights.
With the latest landmark case, however, mobile streaming technologies are the new battleground.
Telstra’s deal with the AFL is worth $153 million. Well, strictly speaking it cost them $153m; what it’s worth is another matter entirely.
Nonetheless, the fact that Optus customers are able to watch the big matches just a few minutes behind their screening on terrestrial TV is obviously a concern for Telstra, and thus came the court case.
And it was Optus that won this landmark proceeding against the AFL, NRL and Telstra in relation to its TV Now service. The app enables Optus user to watch TV shows just a few minutes after they’ve gone to air (whether it should be called ‘TV just after’ is up for debate), and obviously, there’s value in this for sports fans.
But value is what drives sports broadcasting rights. Why pay big money for mobile rights to a game if it’s not exclusive?
The judge in the case said it was not Optus making the ‘recording’, it was the individual who was ‘shifting’ their viewing, so 2006 amendments to the 1968 copyright act held.
“Even though Optus provided all the significant technology for making, keeping and playing the recording, I considered that in substance this was no different to a person using equipment or technology in his or her own home or elsewhere to copy or record a broadcast”, he said.
So, even though the recording was done in the cloud, it’s the same as using your VCR to tape your favourite show; no copyright breaching here.
Naturally, there are big implications for sports. How can sports bodies establish a value for internet rights with rulings like this?
The football codes say they are likely to appeal, but, of course, victory is not guaranteed.
“If it ultimately is held, what will the major sporting codes do in response given sales of mobile rights is becoming an important revenue stream?” asked Ian Robertson, a Managing Partner at Holding Redlich lawyers.
“Running these sports is an expensive operation.”
And he’s right. You only have to look at the AFL’s recruitment of former NRL star Israel Folau. $4.3m was coughed up for a three-year deal. The average AFL player is set to earn over $300,000 a year by 2016,according to The Herald Sun.
Sport is becoming more, and more of a business. They’ll always be looking for new revenue streams.
It’s a vicious circle. A more entertaining match requires more money to fund it. But ultimately, that money comes from sports fans, with higher ground fees and ever bigger broadcasting deals, via whatever medium. Tack on to that more charges to watch and more Burger King advertising in your life (‘the Whopper has also celebrated being the Official Burger of the AFL ‘). Fantastic. Give me the leagues of 50 years ago.
In the strange universe of English football, television revenue has gone hand in hand with the fortunes of Russian oligarchs and Gulf Sheikhs to transform the league beyond recognition, catapulting average teams to the top of the league. Manchester City? Are you joking? A generation of millionaires created while working fans cough up small fortunes to watch games in the stadium or at home.
Money has brought the world’s stars together to create beautiful football – but how much more beautiful, and bloated – can it get?
While we’re not there yet in Australia, for Ian Robertson, should the AFL and NRL not be victorious against Telstra in protecting their new cashflow portal – your mobile handset – there’s likely to be a knock at the government’s door.
“Sponsorship and sales is a very important part of their revenue stream…the question is what are they going to do about it? I’d say they’re likely to lobby the government”, he told SBS.
In the unlikely event that this new revenue stream is not protected for the money machine that is professional sport, revenue will be hit.
But you know what? I’m pretty sure those players aren’t going to go hungry any time soon.
They’re up to their necks in official burgers, for starters.