On Tuesday morning, the A-League followed in the footsteps of the NRL and AFL and postponed its season.
There were last ditch attempts to bring all teams into New South Wales and play the remaining matches of the season there, but ultimately those plans were impossible to pull off due to the impact of the COVID-19 situation.
The FFA will further assess their decision on April 22, in the hope of completing the season later in the year.
The J-League is one of the first football competitions to announce they will aim to restart their competition on May 9. Fans will be allowed inside the stadium; however, every second seat is to be left empty.
While the health of the community is the biggest priority, like other sporting organisations and businesses as a whole, Australian football will face financial problems and uncertainties.
According to the Australian, if the season was entirely cancelled it would allow Fox Sports to send the FFA a breach letter which gives them 10 days’ notice of the cancellation of their deal, because there was “no seamless continuity of services”.
Under the deal, the FFA must provide Fox Sports with a 27-round season as well as a finals series.
If the season is abandoned, these provisions allow Fox Sports to terminate the current $57 million dollar a year contract or break the deal and re-negotiate a much lower price for the rights.
These will be options that Foxtel will continue to explore as they try to address a loss of sports subscribers due to the suspension of the NRL, AFL and A-League.
Speaking to SBS TWG, head of consultancy at Global Media and Sports, Colin Smith, explained:
“The reality is that this is as tough for Fox Sports as well since they’re about to lose most of their Kayo subscribers because there’s literally no content, both locally and internationally.
“They’ll be looking to make savings and won’t be paying rights fees to any sport (NRL and AFL included) while there’s no content.”
Smith also predicted the end could be near for the A-League on Fox Sports.
“In terms of the A-League, I would suggest firstly they won’t get any new payments and secondly, I understand, Fox Sports have the right to withdraw altogether (from the final three years of the six-year $346 million deal).
“They might not embark on that course right now – but I think they’ll be keeping their options open to say ‘thank you, we won’t continue to broadcast … feel free to go with anybody you want to’.
“I would imagine they have Force Majeure clauses and everybody will be going back to read the fine print.”
Smith claims the A-League clubs would have to expect a lower broadcast fee in the future, whether they are with Fox or a service like Optus Sport.
“It’s clear Fox Sports is in cost-cutting mode – and if they were to walk away from football, in the current circumstances you would fully understand it,” he added.
“I think the A-League will need to plan not only for a life without Fox Sports but for a significantly lower rights fee, whomever they deal with (in the future).”
So, how will the possible loss of the Fox Sports deal affect the A-League?
In its current setup, the A-League would be unviable without the Fox contract.
A smaller rights fee (from wherever it comes from) would mean the current A-League model needs significant re-modelling as it can’t be so reliant on a single revenue source from a broadcaster.
The signs are definitely there, that change is needed.
Australian football needs to adapt to a true global standard and think long term, rather than focusing on short term reactionary fixes.
FFA CEO James Johnson knows this. His stand out line in his opening press conference referred to the need to act local and think global.
Plan for a sustainable whole of football pyramid, embrace those participants, clubs, volunteers who know how to operate within their own means.
Give them the opportunity to play at the highest level in Australia.
The possible collapse of the current A-League model will hurt Australian football right now, but an overdue re-build will be successful if the direction is there.
Of course, it will be difficult, it’s easier said than done.
Money will always be a question mark, but the game will always be there.