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Broadcast budget hole prompted A-League’s $12m grand final firesale

A-League clubs were forced to contemplate the controversial $12 million sale of their grand final hosting rights partly due to a shortfall in broadcast income this season, after failing to hit benchmarks in the first year of their TV contract with Network 10.

As the backlash continues over the Australian Professional Leagues’ three-year deal with Destination NSW, clubs have begun pointing to the A-League’s troublesome “commercial realities” as the primary reason the next three men’s and women’s deciders had to be sold to Sydney.

The Herald and The Age can reveal a big contributor to the hole in the APL’s budgets can be traced back to the five-year, $200 million broadcast deal signed with Network 10 and Paramount+ last season.

Sources familiar with the matter say that the APL was required by a clause in that contract to achieve a certain number of subscriptions for Paramount+, the paid streaming service which launched last year in Australia and shows the majority of A-Leagues matches, but fell short of reaching the required target.

As a result, the APL received less money than anticipated from Network 10 this season, and distributions to the 12 clubs were lower as a result – requiring A-League executives to look for another source of income to help make up the shortfall and keep some of the more precariously placed clubs from falling over.

The APL’s contract with Network 10 was renegotiated earlier this year, which led to A-League Men’s matches being moved off the main channel to 10 Bold on Saturday nights, and all A-League Women’s games taken off their terrestrial channels entirely and placed on 10Play, their free streaming service. 10’s co-chief executive Beverley McGarvey told this masthead in May that she “absolutely” wanted better ratings for A-League Men’s matches, which were averaging around 86,000 at the time according to OzTam.

Network 10 and the APL both declined to comment. Sources on both sides of the partnership insist they are happy, although there remains dissatisfaction within the APL over the lack of play, pause and rewind functionality on the Paramount+ platform for live matches.

Despite initially claiming their arrangement with Destination NSW would help build an exciting new tradition for the sport in Australia, and insisting it was not about the money, the APL and its clubs have changed their tune – now pointing to their stark financial outlook as the motivation behind the move – following the furious reaction from fans, players and other stakeholders.

Almost every A-League club or chairman has now released a public statement, either disagreeing with the move to strip hosting rights for the grand finals away from the highest-ranking team – dismantling a long-standing tradition that stretches back to the days of the defunct National Soccer League – or begrudgingly accepting it as a decision that had to be made for the greater good.

“The commercial reality for football in this country is still precarious,” said a statement released on Thursday by the Western Sydney Wanderers, whose chairman Paul Lederer heads up the APL board. Sydney Morning Herald

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