The phrase "never let a good crisis go to waste" has been tossed around during the A-League's COVID-19 shutdown, but Fox's embrace of that ethos looks set to cast them as villains.
The A-League’s resumption has seen reports that Fox wants to claw back anywhere between 50 and 70% of the payments for future seasons of the broadcast deal before signing off on televising 2019/20 season's conclusion.
And last night's joint statement by Football Federation Australia, Professional Footballers Australia and A-League clubs on the competition's return represented a remarkable step from stakeholders who in the past have gone to great lengths to present a united front with their key broadcast partner.
The statement, which quoted FFA CEO James Johnson, PFA Chief Executive John Didulica, Australian Professional Football Clubs Association Chairman Paul Lederer and Head of A-League Greg O’Rourke, made it clear they were all in lockstep over a July resumption of the A-League - with Fox Sports representing the last hurdle to clear.
“We are committed to delivering the completion of the A-League 2019/20 season and have agreed a comprehensive plan with the A-League clubs and the PFA,” Johnson said.
“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.”
Regardless of fervent negotiations, behind the scenes wrangling and off the record briefings, Thursday evening's statement was clearly a power move by the FFA, PFA and APFCA – who themselves haven't exactly been the most comfortable of bedfellows – to court public opinion.
“The hub strategy means that we have a unique opportunity to showcase the A-League through a different lens and we will be including new and innovative elements to the matchday broadcast experience,” said O’Rourke, ramping up the pressure on Fox for the A-League's resumption.
“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.”
Fox already drew ire from fans during the suspension in its late payment of the final instalment for the 2019/20 season TV rights after a series of cuts to its football schedule and cuts that saw the exit of several key high-profile on-screen and backroom staff.
There were clear signs Fox Sports management was keen to rid itself of the sport, and that attempts to renegotiate the $57.6m a season deal was imminent.
Disappointing ratings in recent seasons had undermined the record deal and with costs rising and subscribers and viewers falling, Fox has been keen to look for a way to either extricate themselves from the deal or agree a new one which better matched the current environment.
The move for the A-League clubs to break away from the FFA and run their own league had to be put on ice as it could have created the perfect opportunity for Fox Sports to rip up the existing deal.
But the coronavirus crisis shutdown has created the perfect opportunity for Fox – but the move has further alienated fans.