In tennis rights combat, did McLennan play everybody?

Not solely would they search much more for the Australian rights, Tennis Australia, a not-for-profit organisation primarily based in Melbourne, would turn into a mini tv manufacturing firm.

Tennis Australia would take management of a broadcast that may enchantment to channels with deep pockets and audiences, together with ESPN and RDS within the US, Eurosport in Europe and the Center East and Sony Six in India. Sixteen courts could be filmed as an alternative of six or seven. If the Portugese needed to see their gamers, they might.

Stephen Healy arrives on the Federal Courtroom in Melbourne in November 2019 for his trial. Wayne Taylor

In Australia, Healy, a lifelong tennis administrator, and Mitchell, an influential purchaser of advert time on behalf of advertisers, did not see rather a lot choices. The ABC or SBS would not pay as a lot because the industrial channels. Fox Sports activities had extra money than viewers.

“We needed to be on free-to-air,” Healy stated on Monday. “There have been three decisions: Seven, 9 and Ten.”

Tennis Australia was contractually obliged to barter solely with Seven between April 1, 2013, and September 30, 2013. After that, an open tender was doable.

Seven’s rivals knew the contract was up. The US-based IMG, which owned the Open’s worldwide media rights, supplied at the very least $30 million a event for the Australian rights in November 2012.

Although it was one of many largest sports activities advertising and marketing companies on this planet, IMG wasn’t a broadcaster. Tennis Australia would simply be hiring an agent to on-sell its treasured asset. “IMG was by no means an actual risk,” Healy stated.

About the identical time, a proposal got here on the course of 9’s chief govt, David Gyngell. His managing director advised Tennis Australia’s CEO, that we “can do the tennis … and I’ll pay you what it’s price. A quantity with a 4 in entrance of it isn’t out of the query.”

Healy wasn’t satisfied Gyngell would prioritise tennis over his different summer season sport. “Channel 9 was referred to as the cricket station and we couldn’t probably have competed with the cricket on 9,” he stated.

Probably the most consequential expression of curiosity – by way of private influence on these concerned – would come from McLennan, a former Sydney account supervisor at George Patterson Bates, Australia’s largest advert company.

Former 9 CEO 9 chief govt David Gyngell additionally expressed curiosity in broadcasting the tennis. Eamon Gallagher

After working immediately for Information Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch in New York, McLennan had been appointed Ten CEO in February 2013, reporting to chairman Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s elder son. A month after being employed, McLennan rang Wooden to speak TV rights.

“Don’t dismiss us,” McLennan advised his tennis counterpart. “We’re very severe. We are able to pay what you want.”

Wooden would inform the Federal Courtroom that McLennan had indicated Ten is likely to be ready to pay $50 million a yr – an enormous sum for 2 weeks of TV sport.

In actuality, Ten’s accountants had labored on a bid of $35 million a yr, rising by about $2 million over the 5 years. They could not get the numbers so as to add up.

Even when the event raised $41 million in promoting – and the Open was completely timed at first of the scores yr – Ten would nonetheless lose $eight million, in response to inner paperwork tendered in court docket.

Ten by no means made a written provide.

The $50 million would acquire virtually mystical standing, and drive the pursuit of Healy and Mitchell, inside and out of doors the tennis world, for allegedly colluding with Seven in opposition to their very own organisation.

Jonathan Seashore, a Federal Courtroom choose who intricately dissected the negotiations, would later conclude the quantity was “inflated, devoid of study and to not be taken critically”.


After being given entry to Seven’s accounts from earlier tournaments, to find out its capability to pay, the Tennis Australia board unanimously agreed on Could 20, 2013, to simply accept a proposal price $39 million a yr.

Three weeks later, The Australian Monetary Assessment printed an article titled “Tennis Australia in firing line over discounted cope with Seven”.

The article referred to “the $45-50 million Ten is believed to have been contemplating” and cited trade sources who stated that Mitchell, who had “nearly bulldozed” the deal via, would possibly quickly be a part of the Seven West Media board.

Community Ten’s spokesman, Neil Shoebridge, advised a commerce web site, Mumbrella: “Whereas we congratulate Tennis Australia on its new cope with Seven, we discover it wonderful and puzzling that Tennis Australia didn’t put its media rights out to tender – notably because it had advised different media corporations it could do exactly that.”

On Monday, Healy stated Ten was an unattractive associate: “We had been involved concerning the monetary viability of Ten.”

Ten went broke in June 2017.

On the time, although, considerations that the rights had been offered cheaply swept like a virus via the Tennis Australia board.

Janet Younger in 1974, left, along with her fellow winners of the Federation Cup, Dianne Balestrat and Evonne Goolagong Cawley, and coach Vic Edwards. Tennis Australia

Janet Younger, a sports activities psychologist lecturer at Victoria College and former skilled participant, appeared to dislike Mitchell and needed him off the board, in response to Seashore, as a result of Mitchell wrongly accused her of leaking info through the negotiations.

Younger complained that Mitchell had a “huge” battle of curiosity as a result of his media enterprise bought air time from Seven, and the said worth of the $195 million cope with Seven grossly exaggerated the quantity.

One other player-turned-director, Kerryn Pratt, understood tv. She had been employed by Seven as its first feminine sports activities reporter, joined 60 Minutes as a producer in within the 1990s, and returned to Seven as a tennis commentator.

Appointed to the board overseeing Australian tennis a year-and-a-half after Seven deal was signed, Pratt additionally fell out with Mitchell. She accused the advert purchaser of a battle of curiosity over his pleasant relationship with Bruce McWilliam, a prime Seven West Media govt concerned within the negotiations.

Kerryn Pratt was the top-ranked Australian girls’s junior tennis participant till she was 16. On this 1984 photograph she is proven at Channel Seven, the place she was a 25-year-old sports activities reporter.  

Pratt, who could not be reached for touch upon Monday, later advised the Federal Courtroom she primarily based her opinion on a newspaper report or stories. However neither Pratt nor ASIC may produce any articles to help her assertion.

“I used to be inappropriately shut to each media firm within the nation – why would not I be?” Mitchell stated on Sunday. “I used to be their largest buyer.”

The choose questioned Younger’s credibility too, together with her assertion in an affidavit that Ten made a written provide. Seashore referred to as it the “phantom letter”.

The combat

Confronted with complaints from two administrators, Healy employed Herbert Smith Freehills to analyze Mitchell, who was compelled to quickly step down. The regulation agency cleared Mitchell.

Upset on the inner bickering, the state tennis associations that personal Tennis Australia requested Pratt and Younger to go away the board. 5 minutes earlier than the assembly to take away them was resulting from begin, in late 2015, they resigned.

Younger then filed a criticism with the Australian Securities and Investments Fee about Healy and Mitchell, who had rejoined the board, in response to Healy. Younger did not reply to a request for remark.

On November 19, 2018, ASIC initiated certainly one of its most sensational instances in latest historical past. Mitchell and Healy had been accused of breaching their obligations as administrators and sued within the Federal Courtroom.

Harold Mitchell in his Melbourne condominium on Sunday. He accused ASIC of being commercially naive. Josh Robenstone

ASIC alleged they withheld info from the Tennis Australia board, together with concerning the worth of the TV rights, and the curiosity of different networks. ASIC argued that the TV rights ought to have been offered via a aggressive tender, and that Mitchell violated the Firms Legislation by serving to execute a deal immediately with Seven.

On Friday, Healy, who spent $4.three million on his defence, was cleared of all 4 allegations that he breached his director’s duties. Mitchell, who spent $three million, was cleared of 41 of 44 prices.

The case broken Healy’s profession at his regulation agency, Dentons, value him different board positions, and induced him nice private misery, he stated. “I used to be all the time perplexed why I used to be all the time concerned on this in any respect,” he stated. “It was weird.”

Mitchell, who has chaired a number of inventive our bodies, together with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, stated he was involved about different businesspeople who lacked the sources to combat ASIC. “Why would anybody go into public life if regulatory authorities can hound somebody like this?” he stated.

Industrial leverage

Earlier than McLennan took over, the Ten board had been advised that the tennis negotiations may very well be used in opposition to Seven.

“A as soon as in five-six-year alternative subsequently exists for Ten to disrupt the established order and search to amass the rights,” a 2012 technique paper stated. “Alternatively, if we’re unsuccessful, we’ll be certain that Seven pays full charge, slightly than the discounted rights charge it at the moment enjoys.”

Seashore concluded a cope with Ten did not make industrial sense.

“Why on earth would TA [Tennis Australia] cope with Community Ten on that foundation?” he wrote within the judgment. “If Community Ten was overpaying within the context of it being in monetary difficulties, it could not have been a wise transfer for TA to have engaged Community Ten.

“ASIC did not provide you with any believable motive as to why, on its case, Mr Mitchell would like Seven’s pursuits over TA’s pursuits.”

Healy stated he regarded the Ten “provide” as a industrial manoeuvre to restrict Seven’s sports activities price range.

“Even when they can not get it, they need to ensure the competitors pays the utmost rights so relating to the subsequent sports activities negotiation they [the commercial rival] have gotten little petrol left within the tank to bid for one thing else,” he stated.

He stated McLennan fulfilled his duty as a supervisor. “I don’t assume he did something in another way to what I’d have anticipated somebody doing the perfect for his organisation would,” he stated.

A spokeswoman for McLennan at his new employer, REA Group, did not reply to a request for remark.

Seven not broadcasts the Australian Open, which Tennis Australia offered to 9, the proprietor of the Monetary Assessment, in 2018 for $300 million a month earlier than the community misplaced the rights to broadcast Australian cricket matches.

Since 2013, Tennis Australia’s income has risen from $184 million to $476 million, and home tv broadcast revenue from $22 million to an estimated $60 million, in response to figures tendered to the court docket.

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