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FFA sets out A-League restart plan as Fox ‘pushes for fee reduction’

Josh Brillante of Melbourne City contests the ball against Dimitri Petratos of the Newcastle Jets during their A-League match (by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Football Federation Australia (FFA) has today (Thursday) unveiled a plan to restart the A-League’s 2019-20 season by mid-July, subject to agreement with broadcast rights-holder Fox Sports.

The A-League has been suspended due to Covid-19 since March 23, but FFA chief executive James Johnson has confirmed that a resumption agreement has been reached with the clubs and Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) players’ union.

He said: “We are committed to delivering the completion of the Hyundai A-League 2019-20 season and have agreed a comprehensive plan with the Hyundai A-League clubs and the PFA.

“All parties have worked together extremely hard behind the scenes to ensure the professional game is ready to resume.

“We are now looking forward to the agreement of our broadcast partner, Fox Sports, to our fixture proposal and timings. That’s the final piece of the jigsaw and once we have it in place we can move forward quickly.”

The plan is based on a hub approach which FFA said will allow for innovative commercial and broadcast opportunities. It incorporates best practice health protocols for players and officials and provides a schedule that will bring a constant stream of games over a 35-day programme.

Johnson added: “Ideally mid-June will see players return to training, allowing them to reach the required elite level of fitness for competitive matches to commence by mid-July, and for the Hyundai A-League Finals Series to be completed by mid-August.”

However, final sign off from Fox may yet be challenging with the pay-television broadcaster reportedly seeking a substantial rebate on its existing rights deal.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reports Fox is seeking a reduction of between 50 and 70 per cent to it’s A$57.6m (€34.6m/$38m) per year rights deal for the remaining three years of the contract.

Agreed in December 2016, Fox holds a six-year rights agreement covering the 2017-18 to 2022-23 seasons. The deal allows Fox Sports to broadcast the A-League, the women’s W-League, and Australian men’s and women’s national team matches on Foxtel’s linear television and streaming platforms.

Fox is said to believe the contract is now overpriced in the current economic climate, also pointing to the poor ratings and attendances the A-League has generated in recent seasons. Fox had delayed paying the final instalment of its last part of funding for this season but eventually did so.

FFA today did not spell out the exact nature of its plan for a return to action, but Sydney is reportedly being lined up as the hub in which the majority of games will be played, barring those played between the Melbourne clubs of Western United, Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City.

Head of A-League, Greg O’Rourke, said: “The hub strategy means that we have a unique opportunity to showcase the Hyundai A-League through a different lens and we will be including new and innovative elements to the matchday broadcast experience.

“Our focus is also on optimising the broadcast flow and therefore providing football content seven days a week. We believe that there are great opportunities for our broadcast partner and therefore the fans.”