AFL’s new TV deal redefines our sporting landscape

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    AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou

    AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou addresses the media during an AFL Media Conference at AFL House, Melbourne. Slattery Images

    The AFL’s billion-dollar television deal is the equivalent of a big bang for Australian sports – a cosmic explosion that will redefine the landscape. With the AFL’s deal with Channel Seven and Foxtel locked in for 2012 to 2016, other codes most now jockey for their own deals from what’s left.

    The deal looks like this: four games on free-to-air (on Seven with the possibility they will on-sell a game or two per round to Channel Nine or 10); all nine games per weekend live on a dedicated AFL channel on Foxtel; significantly better coverage in the outsider territories of NSW, ACT and Queensland, with four live free-to-air games on Seven Mate in addition to the Foxtel AFL channel; all nine games live on Telstra mobiles; live Friday night footy via free-to-air into Victoria, NSW, Queensland and Tasmania (no luck South Australia and Western Australia).

    There’s also the $1.25 billion to go into the AFL’s coffers to help clubs on the breadline, fuel Gold Coast Suns’ and Greater Western Sydney Giants’ development, and assist the grassroots game from regional clubs to the innovative Foxtel Cup.

    With GWS Giants set to join the Gold Coast Suns in the AFL in 2012, the increased free-to-air presence in NSW and Queensland will be key to the continuing the growth of the game in rugby union and league’s heartlands, helped by the $253 million that remarkably topped up the predicted $1 billion deal.

    Greater coverage on Seven Mate as opposed to the current deal’s extreme timeslots should help the sport develop beyond its current niche in those areas.

    But the real impact of the deal goes well beyond the AFL’s boundaries and greatly impacts wider Australian sport.

    For one, the deal represents, or at least confirms, the key role pay television plays in Australian sports, for Foxtel and Austar are the real winners here.

    Foxtel have remarkably scored live coverage of all nine matches per round, plus finals bar the grand final. It’ll see the relaunch of a 24/7 AFL channel – wall-to-wall coverage for the code with uniform coverage on the channel across Australia.

    The importance of premium sporting content for pay-TV cannot be understated. 23 of the 25 top rated programs on Foxtel last week were AFL, NRL or Super Rugby content. When OneHD – Australia’s first 24/7 free-to-air channel – was launched amidst the digital television revolution, we assumed the domination of Fox Sports and pay-TV in the sporting realm was on the decline.

    But the move away from sports-only content on OneHD and its struggle for ratings, other free-to-air channels stubbornly resisting live coverage, the subsequent dip in ratings and the preference of Better Homes and Gardens over live footy, proved there is only so much demand for sport to the mainstream masses.

    With a number of key powerbrokers behind Fox protecting its interests, it’s little wonder it’s held sway in the face of free-to-airs recent sporting dalliance. This deal, if anything, proves how important pay-TV is to Australian sports.

    With the launch of the AFL channel hosting all its Aussie Rules content, Fox Sports will supposedly have more room across its three channels (assuming it keeps all three) for other sports, which, you’d expect, to be filled by the fringe sports that found a new home on OneHD but could be squeezed out by their shift to a wider entertainment focus.

    Meanwhile, for the one-third of us with Foxtel and the its sports package, why would you bother with Channel Seven’s AFL coverage ever again when Foxtel is showing all matches live, without commercials from siren to siren and in high definition? Foxtel can offer AFL fans a footy utopia for $60-odd per month, away from the infuriating delays, Better Homes and Gardens lead-ins, standard definition and Desperate Housewives promos.

    It’s a tremendous selling point for Foxtel – and they intelligently countered fans’ concerns that their AFL content would come at an additional cost, confirming the channel will be part of their current sports package.

    Surely Channel Seven has overestimated television consumers’ loyalty to free-to-air. As a current Foxtel subscriber with the sports package, my days of watching AFL on Channel Seven are well and truly numbered. I’m sure I won’t be alone on that front. How greatly this impacts Channel Seven’s ratings from 2012 on remains to be seen. My bet is they’ll come to regret that part of the deal, which will only strengthen Foxtel’s outlook.

    But the heavy content on Foxtel prompts the question: will AFL fans be forced to choose between memberships/attending matches or a Foxtel subscription?

    The AFL is not immune to the crowd concerns that plague other codes. Clubs such as North Melbourne and Port Power struggle to attract sufficient crowds and remain on the AFL’s breadline, while Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney have a long way to go to cement themselves in what are immensely challenging markets for the AFL. If crowds are impacted by the pay-TV deal, then a big cut of the $1.25 billion needs to go to compensating the clubs for their declining gate-takings.

    Elsewhere, the AFL’s television deal sets up the NRL’s nicely; leaving two major free-to-air players, Nine and 10, free to squabble over the rights, while Channel Seven supremo David Leckie said the network’s AFL deal wouldn’t rule them out of the NRL’s.

    Key to the next NRL deal is a bigger free-to-air presence, particularly in its non-heartland markets, namely Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria. As a result of this new AFL deal, there’ll be more live free-to-air AFL games in Sydney than NRL matches – a worrying development for rugby league.

    But now the NRL has great bargaining power. Even if Channel Nine or 10 manage to grab an AFL game or two from Seven, they still have a void left by the AFL’s new deal. Channel Nine cannot afford to lose the NRL rights and be left with no major Australian sporting code, while Channel 10, under new management and eager to bounce back after some lean times, could do with the NRL’s huge pull in the two huge markets of NSW and Queensland.

    What a contrast it would be for Channel 10 if it got its hands on NRL and State Origin when it has recently been lumped with live Saturday night AFL, which struggles so badly for ratings in NSW.

    Meanwhile, OneHD, which will still be used by Channel 10 to showcase premium sporting content, could become a critical ingredient in the NRL’s growth, as the network could potentially carry live matches and other content (it already has NRL-specific programming) across the country.

    The NRL’s broadcast deal ends at the end of 2012. Expect a ding-dong battle between Nine and 10 for the rights, or a possible tandem bid to squeeze out Foxtel.

    Don’t think for a second the NRL is in any way a loser out of the AFL’s deal. It could actually help along its own deal and growth beyond its NSW-Queensland home. As the AFL’s deal highlights, key to the new television deals for the respective codes is gaining a stronger foothold on the opposing side of the Barassi Line.

    As for the rest of the sporting landscape, the next critical development will be to see whether Seven on-sells one or two of its four AFL matches to Nine or 10.

    That could have a big impact on V8 Supercars, for example, who are currently locked into a deal with Channel Seven until the end of 2012 and may be squeezed if Seven retains all four AFL matches. Look for Channel 10, the former home of V8 Supercars who still retains important motorsport content in the form of F1 and MotoGP, to go after the V8 rights, particularly if it misses out on an AFL match, as Seven will struggle to cope with V8 races across a weekend alongside its heavy AFL content.

    Meanwhile, the Socceroos’ free-to-air package will soon be up for grabs (thanks to the anti-siphoning revamp), while the A-League, Super Rugby, NBL, ANZ Netball Championship and the rest will fight for a free-to-air presence – an eternal struggle – in a post-OneHD sports only landscape.

    The concern for them is that the AFL and the NRL would have squeezed free-to-air networks of so much of their allocated budget and time allowance for sport, that there’ll be little if any scraps left, particularly without the OneHD sporting haven. This could have a significant impact on the fringe codes.

    Now that the AFL’s big bang billion-dollar deal has been unleashed, the rest of the sporting landscape can form from its remains. And remains is all that could be left once the NRL is done…

    Follow Adrian on twitter @AdrianMusolino

    Adrian Musolino
    Adrian Musolino

    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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    The Crowd Says (233)

    • April 29th 2011 @ 6:13am
      Whites said | April 29th 2011 @ 6:13am | ! Report

      Yes. It is a great deal for the AFL and does give an indication to what the NRL can expect in 6-12 months. The NRL does have more to gain in terms of coverage in the southern states relative to AFL coverage in the northern states. The AFL currently has 3 live or semi-live games per week on the main free to air channels. It will now have 4 live games on a secondary digital channel. It will be interesting to see what impact this has on the number of viewers.

      The NRL basically has zero before midnight coverage on free to air in the southern states. A new deal should see 3 or 4 games per week live on secondary channels in the southern states.

      • April 29th 2011 @ 6:38am
        Fake ex-AFL fan said | April 29th 2011 @ 6:38am | ! Report

        Perhaps 3-4 games per week live into the non-traditional markets might be a tad much, although I definitely think 1-2 on the secondary channels would be desirable. The main Friday night match then Sunday afternoon.

      • Roar Guru

        April 29th 2011 @ 6:44am
        The_Wookie said | April 29th 2011 @ 6:44am | ! Report

        its important to note that the coverage has to be within 4 hours of gametime, so we could be seeing a lot of 11.30pm starts…

        • April 29th 2011 @ 8:40am
          Boomshanka said | April 29th 2011 @ 8:40am | ! Report

          Four hours delay from kick off – max.

          With two Friday night games at the same time, one game would have to finish before 11.30pm so a 9.30pm start is on the cards, although I can realistically see Channel Nine pushing two games onto two channels at 11.30pm into southern and western states given their current contempt for the game unless the NRL insists on coverage guarantees.

          Interestingly, they’ll not be able to push the Sunday afternoon game to beyond midnight (on a 9 hour delay at the moment) because of the proposed anti siphoning requirements.

          Of course the new legislation applies after parliamentary approval and only for future contracts so Victorians will still be screwed for decent access to rugby league until 2013.

    • April 29th 2011 @ 6:37am
      Tom said | April 29th 2011 @ 6:37am | ! Report

      Best article I have read on the roar. Well done to the author.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download The Roar’s iPhone App in the App Store here.

      • Roar Pro

        April 29th 2011 @ 1:50pm
        gazz said | April 29th 2011 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

        wow big call. its not bad eh

    • Roar Guru

      April 29th 2011 @ 6:41am
      The_Wookie said | April 29th 2011 @ 6:41am | ! Report

      The problem the NRL has is weight of expectation from its fans and administrators. They MUST do better. And here broadcasters will have them over a barrell, For the NRL needs broadcaster money more than ever, and everyone knows it. IF the networks come back with low offers, what can the the NRL do about it? Not much.

      • April 29th 2011 @ 10:18am
        Ken said | April 29th 2011 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        I get your point but that’s no different to any other sport (including AFL) is it? There’s only a handful of broadcasters and media money has become the mainstay of professional sport. The AFL have made some expensive investments of new teams in unfamiliar areas they needed a good deal too – if the networks had come back with low offers, what could they have done? The AFL did pretty good against this background and I suspect the NRL will to.

        The NRL will do better this time around, if for no other reason than they are no longer fighting with their hands tied behind their backs. That there are two FTA networks left without any or significant AFL rights is actually a pretty good result for League, they will have the unfamiliar position of actually having rival bidders (that they are allowed to talk to!)

        • Roar Guru

          April 29th 2011 @ 7:08pm
          The_Wookie said | April 29th 2011 @ 7:08pm | ! Report

          what i was getting at, is NRL fans still ripped off by the last rights deal. Theres a lot of pressure to get the right deal this time.

    • April 29th 2011 @ 6:48am
      Fake ex-AFL fan said | April 29th 2011 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      In relation to the impact of the AFL rights deal upon the NRL we appear to be splitting into two different camps:
      a) it’s a disaster, the networks won’t have any money left to up the bidding for NRL; or
      b) it’s fantastic, the networks won’t have any choice but to up the bidding for NRL

      I propose a third camp – namely that that AFL deal is not particularly material when it comes to the NRL deal. What drove the AFL deal so high was genuine competitive pressure. The key for the NRL therefore is to create something similar, and that’s where I think they might have their work cut out for them. The other networks know that Channel 9 absolutely has to get the NRL – it’s inconceivable that the 9 execs would tolerate being without the AFL or NRL rights. Channel 9 know that the other networks know this. Therefore whilst I foresee 7 putting in a solid competitive bid to ensure 9 don’t get the FTA rights cheap, I don’t see them pushing for the rights the way 9 did for the AFL rights.

      As for channel 10, I really don’t see them as a serious player at least not for the whole FTA rights package. The reason they pulled out of the race for AFL was that the price got too high, therefore why do people think they’re going to go even higher for the NRL – because Lachy Murdoch’s a league fan? Hmmm don’t think so.

      So the big opportunity for growth comes from Foxtel, just as it did for the AFL. Will Foxtel be prepared to go to $500m when their subscription rates in the NRL traditional markets are already significantly higher than Vic, WA and SA? Very questionable.

      Anyway, as with the AFL deal we’re all just guessing and the market will decide the worth of the NRL rights in good time. My guess is something in the vicinity of $800m, which will represent good growth over the current deal and an excellent result for the game.

      • Roar Guru

        April 29th 2011 @ 6:58am
        The_Wookie said | April 29th 2011 @ 6:58am | ! Report

        Theres a quote in the news from the last rights where Kim Williams responded to NRL fans accusations of screwing over the code by saying that what drives his bids is the potential for new subscribers. In many ways, the NRL are captive subscribers already. I dont see Nine going for the simulcast arrangement that they were ok with when it came to the AFL.

        On the whole i can buy the third camp idea though, simply because the last rights showed that despite a record NRL deal, it had absolutely no effect on the AFL deal signed a year later.

        • April 30th 2011 @ 9:00am
          mick h said | April 30th 2011 @ 9:00am | ! Report

          if foxtel treat their customers with contempt in regards for the nrl rights. i for one will cancel my three boxes if the coverage of the nrl is not on par or improved in the next deal. Kim williams will have real problems then.

    • April 29th 2011 @ 7:39am
      Paul J said | April 29th 2011 @ 7:39am | ! Report

      “Don’t think for a second the NRL is in any way a loser out of the AFL’s deal..”

      I don’t, but i am an NRL fan.

      The NRL will have 3 FTA networks bidding for their content. Nine will go for everything, Seven for at least SOO, and Ten could go for anything.

      Foxtel gave a big increase to the second biggest sport on Fox to try and increase subscriptions down south, what will they pay the biggest rating sport to keep the Northern viewers who keep them afloat?

      Telstra paid a big increase to the sport with the second biggest accumulative viewing numbers in the country, what will they pay to the sport with the biggest, who they are already the major sponsor of?

      Of course this will only happen if the NRL gets its own independent commission.

      • April 29th 2011 @ 9:53am
        Whites said | April 29th 2011 @ 9:53am | ! Report

        Plus even an AFL fan has to admit you wouldn’t get the best experience watching AFL on an iPhone. NRL would only be slightly better as the action is more focused.

      • April 29th 2011 @ 10:48am
        Magpie Flag said | April 29th 2011 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        I think this RL as having “biggest accumulative viewing numbers” furphy needs to be knocked on the head

        Basic logic, cleared of wishful and undiscerning grasping, says that you can’t accumulate an average pver a 2 hour game and then do the same with a 3 hour a game and have a non-slanted comparison. If you are going to “agregate” averages you need to aggregate the averages over the same quatities.

        • April 29th 2011 @ 11:14am
          Ken said | April 29th 2011 @ 11:14am | ! Report

          Of course you can, in fact it’s by far the optimum way to compare. We are talking about the same quantities – 1 game. If we were talking about a dart game vs test cricket then this would be significant, but a ~2 hour football game vs a ~3 hour football game can be compared without any expectation of significant deviation. When I sit down to watch the football, I sit down to watch a game, not 2 hours of football or 3 hours of football.

          The only way your point would hold water is if you conceded that AFL has a significant problem with people switching off after 2 hours.

          • April 29th 2011 @ 12:36pm
            me, I like football said | April 29th 2011 @ 12:36pm | ! Report


            In that case the pre-season round1 clash of Ricmond V Collingwood v Carlton is worth more tha the ANZAC day clash as that only got 841,000 viewers whereas the round 1 clash above got a cumulative audience of 1,121,000.

            There were more hours of AFL than NRL (inc origins and kangaroos) on TV last year and on average more were watching the AFL than NRL (inc origins and kangaroos). but on a cumulative average per a game basis the NRL comes out on top. And to you that’s “optimum”

            that’s like saying because Rugby League has 2 halfs and Australian Football has 4 quarters it’s basically 2 games v 4 games with the highest cumulative score at the end declared winner. so in that case you can multiply the cumulative average for NRL games (inc origins and kangaroos) by 2 and the AFL games by 4. to determine the winner.

            Oh guess what the AFL wins. lets start convincing everyone that the AFL is by far the most watch sport and deserve almost twice that of the NRL.

            • April 29th 2011 @ 12:50pm
              Ken said | April 29th 2011 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

              Hold up, very little of what you just said makes sense.

              There were more hours of AFL than RL – I haven’t counted but happy to concede this point. This factor can have some impact on the relative price the sport can ask for but it’s not a strict ratio (offering an advertiser 10 ads to 1000 people is not the same as offering them 1 ad to 10 000 people). How many viewers is the principal factor in advertising, how many times the ad runs in a program is important but a secondary concern. This is all a sideline anyway since we’re talking about how many viewers, not how much they are worth.

              Apart from that the lengths of the games, or how many stanzas they have, is not relevant to how many people, on average, were watching each particular game. For what it’s worth I’m not really interested in the final result, these numbers are so close to equal anyway as to make no difference to either code. Saying that a per game average audience though is a poor comparison because of, relatively inconsequential, game length differences is a silly argument.

              • April 29th 2011 @ 12:58pm
                me, I like football said | April 29th 2011 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

                Okay then lets say that both friday night games for the NRL is a single program “Friday night football” would you be happy to concede that the average viewing figures for Friday night football is the average of the two games. compared to the one game for the AFL.

              • April 29th 2011 @ 1:02pm
                Boomshanka said | April 29th 2011 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

                me, i like football – remember to factor in that these two games are only shown to 55% of the population and they effectively compete against one another.

                You can’t compare apples with pears here. The maths are too complex for those with VCE’s

              • April 29th 2011 @ 1:24pm
                Ken said | April 29th 2011 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

                me, i like football – we’re not measuring programmes, we’re measuring how many viewers per game. But yes, I have zero argument with the statement that the average viewing figures for NRL on a Friday is the average audience of both games.

    • April 29th 2011 @ 8:17am
      JAJI said | April 29th 2011 @ 8:17am | ! Report

      Interested to hear the views out there from the football fans (Soccer) on the impact of this on the beautiful game. Unfortunately all I am reading in Sydney is the impact on the NRL and Roy Masters has done a massive backflip yet again and is trying to see positives for the NRL out of this record deal

      The big change this time has been the money Foxtel are putting in. Its a significant increase. Channel Seven hasnt really put much extra in at all – dismal ratings of AFL in Sydney have ensured that. However Foxtel market penetration has capped at 35% and this is a big attempt to try and increase subscriptions. Its a strategy based on Sky and the EPL in the UK. Note the viewer doesnt have to pay anything extra for the AFL channel. How long will that last?

      Back to Football. John O’Neil signed a very long 7 year deal back in early 2006 when TV rights went from $750,000 for one season to $120 million for 7 years – with the Soccceroos thrown in. Football has had a roller coaster ride ever since. We know the Socceroos are the highest rating event on Foxtel – a point Roy Masters fails to mention always. We also know that the Socceroos now have to be on free to Air under football tragic Senator Conroy’s changes. We know the A League clubs are bleeding cash in a tough market and a better TV deal means more money for them. We know Ben Buckley was instrumental behind the last AFL deal. We know alot of people want to see him gone within football ranks. We know Frank Lowy is keeping him for the purposes of this TV deal. I hope he knows what he is doing. It would be great to hear from other football fans on this as all the SBS experts are doing is endles whinging about the FFA

      • April 29th 2011 @ 9:14am
        Kasey said | April 29th 2011 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        Okay, lets start with today could be seen as not a very good day to be a fan of sport other than Australian Rules Football in Australia. The AFL zealots are trumpeting their rather large TV rights bonanza and generally rubbing the noses of fans of other codes (be it League/Union, or Football in the proverbial in their rush to get out their na-na-na, na’s.


        You could look at it through the eyes of someone like me who always seeks to find the positive for my preferred code (football). But what could possibly be good for football in this “blow everybody else out of the water” move from the AFL I hear you say? Stick with me please…

        It is widely known/accepted that the reason that the A-League exists at all and still does, is because Foxtel stumped up the cash before a ball had even been kicked in anger (please feel free to insert the word ‘ankle’ for ‘ball’ if you despise Kevin Muscat) but as our AFL loving Roarers have been kind enough to point out (so often its becoming tedious) Foxtel only has a penetration rate of around 30%in Australian households and this is hampering the cut-through of the A-League to the general Aussie sporting consciousness/landscape. Anecdotally NRL is very popular on
        PayTV(in terms of attracting subscribers – the ratings are quite distinct in that the top rating telecasts on FoxSports over the last 15 years have a very healthy proportion of football matches too), but considering that QLD and NSW account for 51% of Australia’s population and you would expect that those that can afford it in these states have already shelled out for foxtel to see their NRL team in action, to have reached a 30% mark on the back of two states AND the football loving people of the remaining states is a testament to both the drawing power of League and football.
        The following statement is where the good new lies for both football and to a lesser extent League:

        As Foxtel boss Kim Williams noted last night[28Apr2011]: “Subscriptions will take off like wildfire.”[in the wake of significantly increased AFL content and the re-launch of a dedicated Footy channel]

        In my experience folks that do shell out for Foxtel keep it not just for the season of the sport they prefer to watch and might well have purchased PayTV for, but after dealing with the annoyances of Foxtel’s customer ‘service’ they find it easier to continue the service over the summer months. This is why I keep it on over winter, despite my purchasing my subscription only for world football. The acquisition of AFL Footy to the Foxtel stable will see the 30% penetration mark inevitably rise and no matter which way you look at it, more Australians with Foxtel means more potential watchers of A-League games. NRL will also benefit but not by as much IMO, as the Rugby League is on at the same time as the typical AFL fan is wanting to watch their footy team take on the might of the GWS Giants etc. If the front office staff at the A-League clubs are paying attention, they will be able to engineer the increasing penetration of Foxtel in Australian households into their sales pitch for sponsorships. We have already seen that Adelaide United have (by changing kit/apparel supplier from the FFA mandated Rbk to Errea) introduced what looks to be a much healthier revenue stream for the Reds. I see no reason why a savvy marketing type couldn’t leverage the increasing subscription rate into a positive for all football clubs henceforth.

        • April 29th 2011 @ 10:57am
          Magpie Flag said | April 29th 2011 @ 10:57am | ! Report

          Agree that an associated increase in subscriptions can only increase the potential audience for both soccer and union.

      • April 29th 2011 @ 9:36am
        whiskeymac said | April 29th 2011 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        JAJI there is a sobering, and possibly sensationalist, article on 442 at the moment suggesting the “scraps” on offer will be about $3m a year for the HAL. At this stage. How this is quantified, other than the mysterious source being a phone in from a media exec, is in doubt but the great worry remains that what is left is “not a lot”. How much money do these media goons have to splash about – its not unlimited. Of course this is only talking about the climate now – it cld all change again in 2 years time.

        I read that Buckley was offered a significant upgrade deal in 2010 for TV rights but rejected it (approx 45-60M) as he was confident he cld do better. Then the proverbial hit the fan for the game locally at least with the game purportedly in a cyclical dip at end of 2010-11. Lets hope the dip is recoverable and the game is in a stronger position in 2013 (heading into WC in 2014 and Asian Cup at home in 2015).

        I am also mindful that there is alot of content generated by football in Australia (internationals, women games, NYL, HAL, AFC, friendlies (international and beckham-esque), pre season tournaments (ie like the festival of football) proposed FFA cup etc etc) but I wld suspect not much of it is regarded as amounting to much more than “niche” – HAL finals and roos aside. A few good runs in the non senior WC’s and the AFC might pique some interest but it will be worth all the money BB is paid to get a reasonable deal for that content which isn’t non core Socceroo.

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