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Foxtel lays off sports staff

A general view of Fox Footy television cameras during an AFL media opportunity at Fox Sports Studio on August 30, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Australian pay-television broadcaster Foxtel yesterday announced it was laying off 200 staff and furloughing 140 more until the end of June, with chief executive Patrick Delany calling this week the “toughest in Foxtel’s history”.

Media news website Mumbrella reported that the Fox Sports pay-television channels and Kayo Sports OTT platform were among the Foxtel divisions hit by redundancies.

Sport is central to Foxtel’s business and the company is Australia’s biggest spender on sports media rights, so it has been hit particularly hard by the shutdown of live sport. Delany made specific reference to sport in an email to staff about the layoffs, saying: “The government Covid-19 restrictions are however seeing major challenges for us including the broadcast and streaming of live sport. And looking ahead, the economic outlook for Australia is deteriorating and our continued transformation will become even more important.”

He added: “What the team at Fox Sports have all done to reinvent our programming so our customers stick with us, has been extraordinary. And the ratings tell us customers are engaged with our classic matches, documentaries, pop-up channels and live shows, and value what we are producing.

“However, we need to be prepared for a scenario in sport where season starts are delayed further. It is clear all codes are struggling with significant financial challenges and we should anticipate that the future shape of sport in Australia will be very different.”

Fox’s flagship properties include the Australian Football League, which it holds from 2017 to 2022, the National Rugby League from 2018 to 2022, and Cricket Australia from 2018 to 2024.

Yesterday’s layoffs were described by the company as an acceleration of an existing transformation plan. Like other pay-television broadcasters around the world, Foxtel has been recasting its business in light of declining subscriber numbers. Taking advantage of digital technology is a focus of the transformation and the launch of Kayo Sports has been one of the key projects.

Delany’s email said: “Restructuring and changing the way the company works is not an easy thing to do at any time. But with the impact of Covid-19, the only option is to act now to ensure we ride out the current situation and remain strong to compete with local and global media companies.”

Two of Foxtel’s leading sports properties, the AFL and the NRL, are considering radical plans to restart their seasons by hosting teams and games in sealed-off locations.

Reuters reported that the NRL’s latest plan, dubbed ‘Project Apollo’, involves a restart in late May, with all 16 teams playing matches behind closed doors. A location in Western Sydney is being looked at, although a luxury island resort off the coast of Queensland has also been considered.

The AFL is reported to be looking at 12 options for resuming its season. The one considered most likely is placing teams in three ‘hubs’ around the country, in states such as Tasmania where there have been relatively few coronavirus cases. The league has not got its eye on a particular start date yet, and will only present its restart plan to teams and players at the end of this month.