Nine odds-on favourite to take the Melbourne Cup

Nine is almost certain to secure a broadcasting rights deal with Tabcorp and the Victoria Racing Club for the Melbourne Cup, as the trio undergo “detailed and productive negotiations”.

Nine is the only horse left in the race, after Ten and Seven both pulled out, citing issues with the prolonged negotiations, and stipulations placed on the broadcast.

Tabcorp and the VRC have agreed to a six-year deal worth north of $100 million, but it hinges on Tabcorp being able to offload the free-to-air rights.

However, the wagering company wants 50% of all betting advertising during the entire carnival — including the all-important Melbourne Cup Day broadcast — and wants to produce the broadcast, with the focus to be less on the glitz and glamour of the day, and more on the betting side. Tabcorp also wants to parade its Sky Racing personalities on free-to-air.

Ten, who held the broadcasting rights since 2019, indicated they would not bid again for the rights back in June, citing the aforementioned “commercial constraints” put on the deal by Tabcorp.

Seven pulled out in September, with Seven West Media chief executive James Warburton reportedly making his displeasure over the negotiations known in a fiery email to the CEOs of Tabcorp and VRC.

This leaves only Nine.

In September, the AFR reported that Nine had lobbed a bid of $5 million a year for the broadcasting rights – a quarter of the $20 million a year that Ten paid for the rights over the past five years.

Nine is likely to secure the rights for far less than this – especially considering that VRC posted a cool $45 million in operating losses over the past three years, and locked in a further $15 million loan from ANZ during FY23, bringing its total bank debt to over $63 million.

This dire financial position is a result of lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, meaning the Melbourne Cup carnival couldn’t attract the in-person crowds it needs to turn a tidy profit.

The anti-siphoning laws only give free-to-air broadcasters “an initial opportunity to buy the television rights”. There is no onus on VRC or Tabcorp to find a free-to-air broadcaster if they all decline. They could go with Foxtel. Or Optus. Or TikTok.

Of course, this scenario would be disastrous for the VRC, who both need the broadcast rights for its event to be of some value, and need the event to retain the cultural cache that comes from it being readily available to all Australians.

So, it seems Nine have VRC and Tabcorp over a barrel, somewhat.

Not only do they need a free-to-air broadcaster to remain relevant (and to avoid the wrath of the public), the ratings for the Melbourne Cup have been in decline for years.

This year, the Cup drew just 1.11 million viewers across the five capital cities, and 1.68 million nationally – including streaming. These figures were up from last year’s nadir of 1.35 million viewers, nationally, but below the 1.695 million viewers that watched in 2021. It’s a far cry from the 2.12 million who tuned in back in 2014.

Nine won’t be happy with Tabcorp’s plan to move away from the fashion element of the event, given its A Current Affair episode aired the same night as the Cup drew close to 600,000 viewers across the five capital cities.

When asked about the deal by Mumbrella, Victoria Racing Club CEO Steve Rosich said: “The Victoria Racing Club has been undergoing detailed and productive negotiations with regards to the Melbourne Cup Carnival Media Rights for 2024 and beyond.

“This remains commercial in confidence, and we can’t provide further comment, however we are excited about the future of the Melbourne Cup Carnival and its continued positioning as a major international event.

“We look forward to announcing the outcome of this process in the near term.”


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