A-League restart could be stymied by Fox demand for rights fee cutby Michael Lynch and Vince Rugari
The A-League's planned resumption is being held up by Fox Sports, which will only agree to broadcast the final rounds of the season if Football Federation Australia accepts a dramatic reduction in broadcast rights fees for the next three years.
The competition is poised to kick off again in mid-July, with players having agreed new deals to cover the unprecedented circumstances and club owners falling into line behind a restart.
The only fly in the ointment is Fox, which is insisting that its $57.6 million-a-year rights deal is slashed by what soccer sources indicate could be between 50 and 70 per cent for the remaining three years of its six-year deal.
FFA bosses and club chiefs were involved in a telephone hook-up on Wednesday afternoon as talks with the players' union, the PFA, were close to nailing an agreement under which players would return to action with pay cuts as a result of the pandemic. Short-term contract extensions are also required, since many player deals will expire on Monday.
Sources said that Fox could stymie the resumption and was using the situation as leverage to renegotiate a deal it feels is far too onerous given the changed economic circumstances and the poor ratings the A-League has generated in recent seasons.
With the NRL due to begin again on Thursday evening and the AFL set to restart on June 11, soccer fans had been growing increasingly impatient about the lack of movement for the A-League, which has only a handful of regular-season rounds plus finals to complete the 2019-20 campaign.
A soccer insider with knowledge of the negotiations said: ''There's a reason why we have not moved as quickly as other sports ... working through the players' contracts was never an issue.
''We have to be strong as a game.''
Football officials are confident that the game is ready to go with venues lined up, players in agreement and protocols to protect all involved against coronavirus lined up.
Fox had delayed paying the final instalment of its last tranche of funding for this season but eventually did so, meaning the A-League was under pressure to complete the season.
The Pay-TV company is heavily in debt and under enormous financial pressure.
Rights deals and payments for sports content are the subject of renegotiation across a wide range of sports, including the behemoths that are the AFL and the NRL, so it is little surprise that A-League rights would also come under the microscope.
The PFA and the A-League clubs, through their representative Paul Lederer, had feared that Fox would use COVID-19 as an excuse to either abandon the game or low-ball the sport with a heavily reduced rights deal.
Their concerns appear to have come true, while the developments may also bring forward contingency planning that had been ongoing for the A-League's broadcast future beyond Fox.
The intention is to play out the A-League season in just over a month, with the grand final to be held on August 22.
Sydney is expected to be the hub from which the competition will be run, although the Melbourne clubs - Western United, Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City - will fulfil fixtures between themselves in Victoria before heading to NSW.
Western United must still play Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City, and both those games will take place at AAMI Park. United's fixture against City was originally scheduled to be played at Geelong's GMHBA Stadium but the club is prepared to cede home-ground advantage in the interests of expediency.
City sit second on the league table, eight points behind runaway leaders Sydney, who have three games in hand.
Western United are locked in a battle for sixth position with Adelaide, Western Sydney and Newcastle.
Victory are second-bottom and their chances of making the play-offs look virtually non-existent.