Saturday, May 27, 2006

Blatter praises Australia but not FFA's pay TV deal

World football chief Sepp Blatter has praised Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy but isn't so impressed with the Socceroos' imminent departure from free-to-air television. Blatter, president of world football's governing body FIFA, said it wanted maximum public access for is competitions. Broadcasters of the World Cup - at least from 2010 - are required to air their country's national team matches, the opening match, semi-finals and final on free-to-air television.

"For the 2010 and 2014 World Cup, we have signed an agreement with SBS to make sure that all the Australian population can see the World Cup games," Blatter told Anthony Stavrinos of the Sydney Morning Herald. However, FFA recently announced a seven-year deal with Fox Sports that will add more than A$120 million to its coffers. It gave the pay TV channel exclusive broadcast rights to domestic A-League matches and Australia's national home games, including qualifiers and matches in the Asian Cup in 2007 and 2011 and World Cup qualifiers in 2008 and 2009.

Blatter said despite FIFA's unsatisfactory experiences with subscription television - particularly during the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea - it wouldn't lobby Australia's Federal Government to add football properties to the anti-siphoning list, which comprised sporting events that must be shown on free-to-air. "I will not interfere in governmental decisions," he said. "But when it comes to the national team, I would say yes, the national team shall be accessible to everybody, and this is also the case in England, where the [Premier] league is on pay television and the national team must be on free-to-air."

Based on past experience, FFA, in awarding the rights to Fox, would have been faced with two competing choices, according to Blatter. "It's a decision to take between money or exposure and I'm not so sure that the right decision has been taken, but it's not up to me to make this decision," he said. Broadcast of domestic football competitions involved "big money", and like the big leagues in Europe, including Germany, there should be "some sort of a melange between pay television and free-to-air".

Blatter said FIFA could only recommend that associations made use of free-to-air and public broadcasters but if this was not possible, he couldn't hold them accountable. "Perhaps because SBS is paying quite an amount to FIFA for the World Cup for 2010 and 2014, they were not able to match the proposal from the other television company," Blatter said.

Blatter said he didn't need convincing on the merits of Australia's move into the Asian Football Confederation and that Lowy had skilfully handled the delicate task of persuading the affected regional groups, Asia and Oceania. "You know that he is an entrepreneur and he knows how to deal with matters when he has an idea, the way to convince people for him. I would say it was a little bit easy because he had great arguments," he said. "In the past 20 years in the region, the only one who could honestly and decently ask to be represented in the Word Cup was Aussie football."

See also: Blatter on World Cup and major FIFA policy issues (22 May) and FF Australia confirms massive TV rights increase (26 Apr)

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