AFL’s TV deal choking NRL, Socceroos

thom_canberra Roar Rookie

323 Have your say

Popular article! 8,551 reads

Television rights are one of the most important features of a professional sports league’s success. Valuations for different codes are being grossly misjudged, to suit the hidden agendas of a few vested interests.

Sports such as rugby league and football are suffering and being undermined by stakeholders such as Foxtel and the AFL, all to suit the AFL’s aspirations for a billion-dollar TV rights deal.

The AFL is working very hard on convincing everyone that they deserve a billion-dollar TV deal and are almost succeeding with Victorian journalists like Caroline Wilson and numerous others giving just about any excuse to justify the AFL’s demands.

Recently Citigroup’s valuation of estimated the deal’s worth to be under a billion dollars, warning broadcasters would not be able to an investment of that scale over five years. The AFL product just doesn’t give back what it claims.

The AFL wants to think it is number one in the sporting landscape and along with this, thinks a billion dollars would justify a domestic league with little international interest.

Foxtel, on the other hand, is looking at this from a different point of view, but with the same ends in mind. It suits their agenda to boast of the AFL’s importance and support other channels footing the bill.

The Murdoch family’s increasing control of free-to-air channels is a serious conflict of interest. Foxtel will inevitably come out on top, Seven and Ten shareholders will not.

Foxtel currently sits on some of the most valuable sports content in Australia and it isn’t AFL. The NRL is one of Foxtel’s most important sporting assets, with weekly rugby league earning the strongest ratings of most Foxtel shows.

Only one match of the NRL is played live on free-to-air per weekend and Foxtel has a huge hold on NRL viewers with Saturday night and Monday night fixtures getting huge, exclusive viewership. AFL has up to five matches per week on free-to-air, some screened live depending on where you live. The NRL’s three games on the same station, two of which are delayed and full of ads, does not compare.

The NRL isn’t getting the TV rights deal it deserves with superior television content, Monday night matches, State-of-Origin, internationals and interest from England. The AFL has none of these things bar a small friendly with Ireland that is barely covered. Nothing compared to a rugby league test or World Cup.

The Socceroos are the other cash-cow for Foxtel, making up some of the broadcaster’s highest rating programs. The highest-ever rating Foxtel recorded was for a Socceroos fixture against Uzbekistan in 2009. A pay-television company getting exclusive rights to all international matches is just about unheard of in any other country ranked in FIFA’s top 30 country.

Again we can see Foxtel undermining the support and popularity of the Socceroos by focusing on the AFL and hoping the Socceroos will go unnoticed.

Rugby league and football revenues are being leeched by those who like to play up AFL interests. Foxtel is happy to go along with the AFL groupies and praise the competition, a press conference from Foxtel CEO Kim Williams being one example of Foxtel singing the AFL’s praise and hoping NRL would go unnoticed.

If Foxtel and others succeed in convincing everyone that the AFL is worth a lot more than NRL in terms of TV rights, they will not have to cough up for their monopoly on the competition and face the reality that rugby league is actually is highly valuable and a vital asset. Same goes for Socceroos fixtures.

It suits the AFL’s agenda, as they are obviously looking out for their own and want as much money as possible. When it comes to the AFL modesty doesn’t exist, just ask those Gaelic players who are swept from their local county teams in Ireland to earn big dollars and turn their backs on their cultural homeland.

The real losers in a new billion-dollar AFL rights deal won’t be Foxtel, who would probably have to fork out a modest supplementary amount to cover their ideal situation, but free-to-air channels Seven and Ten who will be sucked dry by the AFL to get little back for paying ridiculous amounts of money.

Seven and Ten will lose much of their valuable content to provide for the AFL as can be seen already in recent boardroom moves to cut back spending and reshuffle priorities.

Seven has already ruled out bidding for the highly popular MasterChef Australia program to focus on bidding for the AFL and not upset the Murdoch family, according to AAP.

Seven are being bled dry and in terms of alternative sporting content, rugby union looks to fade in the background.

Ten will be lacking funds to cover their sports-exclusive OneHD channel, which will be reformatted to feature a wider range of male-specific content. This is all to provide for the AFL and current Murdoch reign on the company.

Seven and Ten will be paying for Foxtel’s slice, as Foxtel want free-to-air to keep much of AFL coverage. Williams stated in the previously mentioned press conference that Foxtel do not want to cover AFL exclusively and can’t imagine bidding for all AFL games.

He also said that it was important for the AFL to be shown on free-to-air as it increased exposure – exposure lacking in A-League and Super Rugby, to which Foxtel has exclusive rights.

This seems like a strategic plan as Foxtel will retain some important live AFL games that aren’t covered by free-to-air, but won’t be paying nearly as much as Seven and Ten for their content of 4 or 5 weekly games that might not even be exclusive.

Foxtel are happy to have the weekly Richmond or Port Adelaide home game and the occasional Collingwood, St. Kilda or Geelong blockbuster.

So what is the point of paying one billion dollars over five years for one league, no other content, no highly marketable content or international interest? Even the A-League sells highlights packages to 110 countries through Foxtel and I doubt the AFL gets half that coverage internationally.

The A-League are desperate for domestic growth and exposure, while Foxtel are arguing to keep exclusive coverage in the next round of negotiations for Australia’s premier association football competition.

The A-League and Super Rugby are the competitions in most need of free-to-air television exposure but Foxtel will argue how the sports will suffer if a measly one match a week is show on free-to-air.

It is totally hypocritical that Foxtel should defend AFL’s right to free-to-air coverage when it has so much exposure in Melbourne newspapers and television shows, while strangling the sports of rugby and football which are in a constant battle for media attention and public interest.

Free-to-air stations should be focusing on multiple sports broadcasting as it widens their demographic and gets more interest from the corporate world. If Seven and Ten can’t realise they are being cheated, and the NRL and FFA can’t demand what they deserve, only AFL will prosper.

This also relates to the theory recently discussed on The Roar, that with so much focus on the AFL domestically, our international sports results are suffering.

It disappoints me to see Seven losing interest in rugby and Ten not broadcasting A-League matches. Nine are bad enough at broadcasting overseas cricket, so if they got involved with the Socceroos or the Rugby World Cup, it would hopefully be a broadcast of a high standard.

In this confusing landscape of sports broadcasting, self-interested minorities are trying to deceive the rest of the nation and other sporting codes. Rugby league, football and rugby union all need to take a stand against the Foxtel-Murdoch monopoly and ask for what they deserve.

Statistics don’t lie, nor do business assessments, so hopefully the nation won’t be turned upside down for a billion-dollar AFL deal that benefits no-one else.

For every AFL game of 2014 on demand on your tablet and mobile, there's only one app: the official AFL Live app.

Sign up here for your free trial of the official app, brought to you by Telstra.

While you're at it, check out the video!

Video brought to you by The Roar