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Ten targeting AFL and NRL rights bid to turnaround slump

Australian commercial broadcaster Ten is preparing to launch a bid for rights to the NRL rugby league competition and Aussie rules football league the AFL.

Ten has announced half-year results that show its losses to have increased to A$264m (€189.5m/$204m) after it wrote down the value of its television licences by A$251m. Chief executive Hamish McLennan identified the lack of a major Australian winter sport on its rights roster as a problem.

Ten last covered AFL in 2011, but McLennan believes the broadcaster’s success in being “creative” in its negotiations to become a rights holder for the Sochi 2014 winter Olympic Games, motor racing series Formula One and V8 Supercars, along with cricket’s Big Bash League means they can re-enter with the AFL or NRL without being financially reckless.

Ten’s rights for F1 and V8 Supercars are shared with pay-television broadcaster Fox Sports, with only certain races covered fully free-to-air. This is a model that could potentially be applied to the NRL amid speculation that the league will split its rights packages to make more money from stand-alone events such as State of Origin and international matches, encouraging network competition.

“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,” McLennan said, according to the Mumbrella.com.au website. “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.

“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 winter 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.”

McLennan’s words come on the back of Australian media reports that Ten is considering an investment offer from pay-television operator Foxtel. Ten is understood to be close to agreeing a deal under which Foxtel would acquire a 14.9 per cent stake for a sum of around A$85m.

Negotiations for NRL and AFL rights are set to take place simultaneously after the former organisation moved its process forward by a year.