Battlelines drawn over live Friday night footy

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Jason Blake and Colm Begley of St KIlda collide with Grant Birchall of Hawthorn during the AFL Round 19 match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the St Kilda Saints at Aurora Stadium. Slattery Images

AFL stars and fans are declaring war on Channel 7. And for good reason. The network has confirmed it won’t be showing Friday night AFL matches live, as it’s committed instead to Better Homes and Gardens.

The continuation of delayed coverage has the AFL world fuming and has already sparked discussion over the AFL’s next media deal.

The outrage is justified.

An 11pm or over finish to the 8:30pm coverage is simply too late for kids, and the AFL should rightly be concerned by the early start to the antagonism toward Seven.

Channel 7’s track record with its sports coverage has been well documented here on The Roar, but you sense their continued failure to grasp the importance of live coverage is going to cost them big.

The fact that this debate is raging weeks before the season kicks-off suggests the AFL and Seven should be worried about a public backlash.

For AFL fans, there are alternatives to Channel 7 on Friday nights, including the AFL website’s Match Day live scoring (helps keep track of those crucial Dream Team points!), radio, Twitter updates and even live-streaming.

We no longer live in an age where we are solely dependant on television and radio, and their failure to grasp this is finally having a tangible impact.

As discussed during the Australian Open tennis, the huge drop in television ratings was in large part the result of Seven’s much-maligned delayed coverage.

As I wrote: “There’s no other indicator beyond television ratings to account for a decrease in the Australian Open’s popularity, with attendances at Melbourne Park increasing by approximately 80,000 over the past five years.

“The exodus of viewers for the Australian Open is more of a boycott of Channel 7 than a reflection of tennis’ standing in this country.”

While the AFL is obviously in a much stronger position to retain an audience compared to the Australian Open, they must be worried by the damage Seven’s delayed coverage will do to the ratings and popularity of Friday night footy.

Now Channel 9 has reportedly thrown its hat into the next round of AFL television rights, with live Friday night footy into Victoria, SA and Tasmania – and live into NSW and Queensland on their Go! Digital channel should the anti-siphoning laws be changed in time – sure to increase their bargaining position should Seven fail to budge.

Seven has a simple choice: listen to its audience (90 per cent voting on the Herald Sun website demanding live Friday night footy), show the fixtures live (can’t Better Homes and Gardens be shown on any other weeknight?) or risk a backlash akin to the one that impacted its Australian Open coverage.

If it doesn’t, it merely strengthens Nine’s bargaining power at the negotiating table with the AFL and weakens Seven’s relationship with the league.

The lesson here is a familiar one: with all the advances in television and sporting coverage, it says a lot about the backwardness of Australian television and the regulations that govern it that the biggest code in Australia is relegated to delayed coverage on what is the most popular night to watch it for its fans.

Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.

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