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The Age

New cable deal a boost for AFL

Date: 13/02/1999
Words: 545
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 22
The AFL's national TV audience could be boosted by close to half a million viewers this season following a deal that will soon be announced with the regional cable carrier Austar, and the relaunch of the former Sports AFL channels early next month.

AFL pay-TV subscribers should receive at least 30 live matches this season in a deal between the Seven Network and its new subsidiary, Seven Pay Television, which will launch its new image and name on 1March.

Working under the banner of C7 Sport, the cable sports channel is expected to launch its live home-and-away coverage with the round one Melbourne-Richmond game at the MCG.

Australia's 300,000 Optus subscribers will receive the two C7 sports channels - 12 and 13 - from 1March, but Seven Pay Television has not ruled out the possibility of being available on Foxtel within two years, or of adding another channel to its sports coverage. C7 Sport also holds the pay-TV rights to the 2000 Olympics.

The Channel Seven-Austar deal will allow the regional carrier's 300,000 country subscribers to watch live league games.

While Seven holds the AFL rights until 2002, negotiations for another five-year deal are expected to open by June, with Channel Nine still pushing for a cut of the sport, preferably on Friday nights. The current agreement has Seven holding last refusal on any new financial deal. When the Seven Network took over the management of the Optus sports channels last year, the Sports AFL channel was struggling and at loggerheads with Seven over live match coverage, which had been reduced to just 16 games on pay TV.

C7's general manager Steve Crawley, who held talks in Melbourne yesterday with Seven's AFL chief Gordon Bennett, said he had been encouraged by the latter's response. The league, which is currently looking at C7's programming proposal, has also indicated its approval.

``It's going to be a complete service," said Crawley. ``The viewer wouldn't ask for anything less. The big attraction for us is AFL football, and we want to become an identity in our own right thanks to AFL."

Crawley said C7 Sport would also split its rugby league coverage from Australian rules, running the former on a second channel to operate each weekend.

Sports commentator Tracey Holmes, the official face of C7 Sport, will play a much wider role in C7's AFL coverage, which will also relaunch the former Sports AFL programs Footy Feedback on Monday nights, Footy Focus on Thursday nights, an interview program and a classic game of the week.

Seven Pay Television has also widened the AFL's Ansett Cup audience showing all games live in Sydney and Brisbane, a popular move with the AFL. ``We think particularly for the Sydney and Brisbane markets to get games they couldn't normally get is enormously positive, and with Austar, the availability for regional audiences is terrific," said the league's corporate affairs manager, Tony Peek. Peek also confirmed that the league was working with the Seven Network to devise a TV football tipping competition, expected to be launched soon under the title Live and Tipping. The move should increase market share rivalry with Channel Nine's The Footy Show, which will also launch a tipping competition next month.

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