Ten to bid for AFL and NRL rights admitting it ‘suffered’ from lack of winter sports



Ten has signalled its intention to enter the bidding war for the NRL and AFL rights after admitting it has suffered from not having a major winter sport in its schedule.

While the network had seen its ratings dive in recent years after losing the AFL rights to rival Seven, Ten chief executive Hamish McLennan warned it will only proceed with negotiations if the price is right.

“We have always said we will not blow our brains out,” he said.

Speaking at the release of its half results which showed losses spiralled to $264m on the back of a write down of its TV licence, McLennan said Ten has proved to be “flexible and creative” in its approach to live sport negotiations, an approach it will adopt with the AFL and NRL.

He highlighted the winter Olympics in Sochi, F1 motor racing and V8 Supercars where it has been creative. Rights for the motorsports are shared with pay-TV’s Fox Sports, seeing only certain races covered in full on the free-to-air channel.

McLennan also pointed out Ten’s success with the Big Bash cricket where, despite widespread scepticism, it turned the tournament “into a really fantastic competition that is making money and delivering sensational results”.

“The negotiations with the AFL and NRL don’t have to be absolute. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to trade for everything,” he said when asked whether it would bid for the rights.

“If you look at Sochi as an example of premium live sport, we secured that at a very competitive price and we made money off the back of it and drove a really good share.

“My point is that we are very flexible and creative in how we deal with those rights and you have to look at them on a stand alone basis.”

nrl logoIndustry speculation has suggested the NRL in particular could be looking to split its rights packages, breaking off events like State of Origin and international matches to encourage more competition from networks.

McLennan added: “Every negotiation is different and we have been creative in how we have handled them. I don’t want to tip my hand at this point about how we are going to approach either the NRL and AFL negotiations, but it’s fair to say we have suffered from not having a major winter sport.

“We like the NRL and we like the AFL and we are going to see what we can do over the next few months to get a bit of it.

“It could be that we get nothing as it might get too expensive for us, but we have a plan for winters sports and a plan without and we are keeping our options open.

“We have always said we will not blow our brains out and we will deal with the brief as it lands and see if there is an opportunity for Ten.”

Meanwhile, McLennan told an analyst and media briefing that Ten was outperforming its free to air rivals in capturing the pivotal 25 to 54 demographic. They are the biggest spenders in most product categories and an attractive market for advertisers, he said.

He said Ten’s ratings performance – “the best for several years” – was being recognised by the market, as was its program schedule.

“I have been very encouraged by the dialogue we have had with our advertisers and media buyers around our schedule and the integratible nature of the new programs we are launching,” he said.

“It is a tough, competitive market but there seems to be a greater willingness to trade with Ten than 12 months ago.

“How that manifests itself over the next three to four months we are are yet to see, but I am encouraged by the nature of the conversations we are having with key advertisers and media buyers.”

McLennan said there was an “absolute focus” on yield and called on the industry to show “integrity” in its pricing.

“You can only really do that [build yield] through ratings momentum and you have to do it consistently,” he said.

“The price lever we can then start to pull when we build momentum and as shows build then you get positive trajectory.

“As an overall statement for the industry, we are the only major media that delivers a mass audience and I think as a general rule there has to be greater price integrity in how we all trade.

“I think [Nine CEO] David Gyngell and [Seven CEO] Tim Worner would probably agree with that.”

Steve Jones


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