The AFL’s land grab grows

John Davidson Roar Guru

By John Davidson, John Davidson is a Roar Guru


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    The AFL is arguably Australia’s best run and most profitable sports organisation, and it’s move to set up its own media unit reveals that its big ambitions continue to grow.

    Last night ABC’s Mediawatch program – had a look at the Herald Sun. The Melbourne newspaper is attempting to introduce a paywall and figuring out what readers will pay to read online.

    The obvious answer was AFL and crime news, and anyone who has ever read the Herald Sun knows how much the publication dedicates its coverage to Aussie Rules. It’s their lifeblood.

    But opposing that now is another bold play – the AFL’s establishment of its own online media outfit called AFL Media.

    This media unit has around 40 journos and nearly 100 staff. Its job will be to cover all things AFL-related, run, shoot interviews and other video content, photograph games and to break news.

    The AFL also appear to have purchased Slattery Media’s photography arm and image contracts, now rebranded as AFL Photos.

    Essentially, AFL Media it will be a big competitor to the Herald Sun, The Age and every other major outlet covering the AFL.

    A sport having its own media unit is not new – several sports do it in the US. But it’s ground-breaking in Australia, and poses many questions.

    Can AFL Media be independent and impartial enough to report on the tough issues and events in the game without fear or favour? Will it be ‘good’ news only and not ‘bad’ news?

    Will all the AFL clubs be forced into giving exclusives to AFL Media? Some are already claiming that this is happening. Will other media outlets have their access to AFL players, coaches and officials restricted?

    Will fans prefer to go the AFL itself for all the news and views on the sport instead of the likes of the Herald Sun, Fox Sports or other media players?

    You can look at the case of Jason Mifsud – did AFL Media go at the story hard enough? Can they really be expected to, when he is their employee?

    Part of the point of having your own media unit is for marketing purposes – the AFL can better promote its brand, the strengths of the sport and control its marketing messages when it controls media coverage.

    At a time when the AFL has expanded into new markets and secured a massive broadcasting rights deal, it makes clear sense. Competition with other codes is increasing and the AFL is hell-bent on not surrendering its strong position.

    But the creation of AFL Media has the potential to anger News Limited, Fairfax Media and the rest, not to mention alienate its own fan base.

    It’s a risky move.

    The AFL has already angered several media outlets by handing the announcement of weekend teams exclusively to the Seven Network at 6.25pm on Thursday nights, a clause in its $1.25 billion broadcast deal. Teams that don’t follow these rules face fines of up to $10,000.

    We are entering a brave new world of sports coverage and media consumption, where the battlelines and rules are not clearly marked, and the AFL is determine to fire off a few shots early in the piece.

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    The Crowd Says (50)

    • Roar Guru

      April 10th 2012 @ 2:49pm
      The Cattery said | April 10th 2012 @ 2:49pm | ! Report

      In relation to announcing the teams, if ch 7 is willing to pay more in its broadcast rights to get first bite at it – isn’t that fair enough? Everyone else still gets to publish them soon after.

      This is the interesting thing: the Herald-Sun is about to become the first tabloid in the world to put its online content behind a pay wall, and clearly, AFL sports news is a driver for making that successful, perhaps the key driver.

      From the AFL’s perspective, the obvious question becomes: why should the Herald-Sun be driving its online revenue by relying purely on reporting on our sport? If the market is big enough to allow the HS to do it, why can’t we do it? Good question.

      People might also be surprised to find that one of the biggest drivers for both the HS site and the AFL site are their respective fantasy league games, with a total of 800,000 players across both games.

      For games requiring so much interaction to play properly, these are serious numbers, and with their growing popularity, the opportuntiy to monetise them must be irresistible.

      But the fact that the HS is about to become the first tabloid in the world to put its online content behind a pay wall, pretty much on the back of AFL content, makes a lie of claims that the AFL gets favourable treatment from the Melbourne media that is beyond the true popularity of the sport, quite clearly, its the popularity of the sport that drives the content of the newspapers.

      • April 10th 2012 @ 3:35pm
        Australian Rules said | April 10th 2012 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

        Yes the fantasy league gaming components are significant.

        Of terms of AFL Media, the AFL is clearly miles ahead of the pack on this front. They deliberately set out some years ago to copy the best aspects of the NFL…a big gamble but one with potentially massive rewards.

    • April 10th 2012 @ 3:23pm
      johno said | April 10th 2012 @ 3:23pm | ! Report

      Smart move by the AFL especially as The Cattery has mentioned given the popularity of the Dream team comps. Soon if you want your player info (injuries, teams etc) the first port of call is the AFL website. In the US fantasy sports are played by over 30 million people and generates $3-4 billion per annum.

      Fantasy sports are fairly new in comparison in Australia but if the AFL can nail down the media on injuries, player lists etc then take up the HS model of putting this behind a pay wall, increase the prize pool for fantasy football (they have around 300,000 players in dream team already) then the thing will more than pay for itself, it also drives up peoples interest in gamse that they normally wouldn’t be following.

    • April 10th 2012 @ 3:41pm
      Jaceman said | April 10th 2012 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

      Wil the media unit provide the sort of coverage that previously the AFL had to pay for in the non AFL states (heavy advertising in newspapers to get some coverage). Will the AFL media unit provide copy to interested newspapers so as struggling newspapers dont have to employ journalists??

      • April 11th 2012 @ 7:54am
        Ian Whitchurch said | April 11th 2012 @ 7:54am | ! Report

        “Will the AFL media unit provide copy to interested newspapers so as struggling newspapers dont have to employ journalists??”

        Journalists like The Cattery, who the Roar doesnt employ, provide a heck of a lot more value than, say, Caroline Wilson.

        • April 11th 2012 @ 7:58am
          Goannajack said | April 11th 2012 @ 7:58am | ! Report

          Yeah but to show lack of bias Cattery would have to change his name..

          • Roar Guru

            April 11th 2012 @ 8:06am
            The Cattery said | April 11th 2012 @ 8:06am | ! Report

            Ian is being very kind, but I would never place myself above Caroline Wilson who is (or has been) a football editor with The Age and has broken many significant football stories – at the end of the day, I’m just another mug punter.

    • April 10th 2012 @ 3:53pm
      Tom, Sydney said | April 10th 2012 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

      Makes sense to control your own content but i reckon it will just encourage the scandal sheets like the HS to go after the dirt on players if there is some block on what they report on the AFL – ying and yang sort of thing against the sanitised reporting / photos of the AFL.

      • Roar Guru

        April 10th 2012 @ 4:10pm
        The Cattery said | April 10th 2012 @ 4:10pm | ! Report

        It happens now, can’t see how it could get any worse.

    • April 10th 2012 @ 4:27pm
      Brian said | April 10th 2012 @ 4:27pm | ! Report

      I’m pretty sure the AFL already owns SEN1116 or part thereof anyways so they are already competing on AFL listeners with the likes of 3AW or 3LO.

      It is no coincidence SEN1116 don’t broadcast any Victory, Hearts, Rebels or Storm matches.

      • Roar Guru

        April 10th 2012 @ 4:31pm
        Redb said | April 10th 2012 @ 4:31pm | ! Report


        You need to back that up re ownership.

        They may not broadcast matches of other codes but lets face it, its daylight in terms on popularity between AFL and the others, its probably not commercial to do so.

        There is certainly far more talk, guests,etc from other codes than previously on SEN. I think 3AW if anything tends to be more AFL centric.

      • April 10th 2012 @ 5:12pm
        Australian Rules said | April 10th 2012 @ 5:12pm | ! Report

        To clarify SEN…

        The station went bankrupt after 2 years, was bought out by Pacific Star (who owned 3UZ and some regional stations) and then a portion of SEN was purchased by the AFL as part of the package that allowed SEN to have the broadcast rights.

        The fact was, SEN could never afford to broadcast AFL games (3AW, MMM and ABC had that locked up). Instead they opted to broadcast everything else…i.e all Storm games, Melb Tigers games, Victory games etc (which they did virtually free of charge).

        When the radio rights came along again, SEN became a Tier 2 broadcaster (meaning they got the Fri night game, the “other” Saturday game, Sat night and 2 Sunday games)…this is actually more than the Tier 1 stations like 3AW and MMM. This meant 2 things:
        1) the station had money and guaranteed revenue from advertising on live AFL games;
        2) their entire wknd content was now taken up by AFL (meaning they couldn’t do the other sports anymore)
        3) Throughout the week, they would pump up AFL content in order to maximise exposure and advertising for the live wknd Broadcasts.

        Notwithstanding all this, it is still the only 24hr sports radio station in the country (get on-line for those outside Vic) and has extensive coverage of the Cricket, A-League, NRL, NBL, Olympics, EPL, American sports, cycling and just about everything else.

        • Roar Guru

          April 10th 2012 @ 5:39pm
          The Cattery said | April 10th 2012 @ 5:39pm | ! Report

          In other words, footy helps fund the coverage of other sports.

          • April 10th 2012 @ 6:00pm
            Australian Rules said | April 10th 2012 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

            Haha..well I don’t know about that Catter…

            As I said above, no other sport gets broadcast live by SEN as a result of them securing the AFL broadcast rights.

            Footy drives the content, no question, as it does for every other media outlet in melbourne. However, the interspersing of other sports throughout the programs makes it a much better station to listen to. Surely we’d all overdose on Footy if it was ONLY the AFL they talked about.

            Wouldn’t we..?

          • April 10th 2012 @ 6:24pm
            Brian said | April 10th 2012 @ 6:24pm | ! Report

            So basically yes SEN1116 is part owned by the AFL, entirely reliant on the AFL and this is specifically not mentioned in SEN broadcasts.

            This is why I find SEN is good in the winter months when they’re discussing AFL but totally crap in the summer when they’re discussing some obscure Essendon assistant changing his haircut as oppossed to the Cricket, Tennis or the HAL.

            • April 10th 2012 @ 7:01pm
              Australian Rules said | April 10th 2012 @ 7:01pm | ! Report

              My understanding is that a small percentage of the station was purchased by the AFL or by an AFL-related company.

              It’s probably fair to say that it IS “entirely reliant on the AFL” …but not for funding… for the sheer amount of content (and relevance) that broadcasting the competition gives you. Mind you, SEN is still the small player in terms of broadcasting…according to ratings anyway.

              To be fair on SEN, though they have live updates at the tennis, cricket and all other sporting events through the year. You can’t really get that anywhere else.

            • Roar Guru

              April 11th 2012 @ 6:23am
              Redb said | April 11th 2012 @ 6:23am | ! Report

              My dial is always on SEN, your read of AFL only discussion is wrong.

            • Roar Guru

              April 13th 2012 @ 5:52am
              The_Wookie said | April 13th 2012 @ 5:52am | ! Report

              The AFL is rumoured to have had 10 million share options in pacific star networks which was due to expire in 2011. Neither the PAcific Star Network annual report nor the AFLs annual report for 2010 and 2011 make any mention of this. Indeed the only share transaction reported by the AFL was its converting of 895,000 shares in SportingPulse.

              The annual report expressly states that between the end of the financial year and the publishing of the report that no other transactions were entered into. The Auditors signed the report on December 15, 2011. Thus making it highly unlikely that transactions of the rumoured nature took place.


              • April 14th 2012 @ 11:05am
                Ian Whitchurch said | April 14th 2012 @ 11:05am | ! Report


                Thanks for that

        • April 11th 2012 @ 8:02am
          Goannajack said | April 11th 2012 @ 8:02am | ! Report

          Its an old ploy to give your targets competitors a free hit so the target will accede to your wishes. 2GB in Sydney broadcast the swans when 2UE had the NRL rights and so the next year the NRL put the rights up exclusively and 2GB won and tore up the swans broadcasting contract..

        • April 11th 2012 @ 9:52pm
          MHTID said | April 11th 2012 @ 9:52pm | ! Report

          It does not

        • April 13th 2012 @ 6:57am
          ManInBlack said | April 13th 2012 @ 6:57am | ! Report

          wasn’t the notion of a portion purchased by the AFL more that SEN offered the AFL options (because SEN didn’t have the cash). I think back in 2006 it was reported that the AFL had accepted 30 million share options as part of the payment. Actually yep – the media release was that SEN would pay $1.5 mill annually plus 10 mill share options annually over 3 years.

          Has the AFL ever exercised those options???

          re coverage of other sport – the biggest hit was taken by the VFL. SEN still covers Victory, even if on one of the digital ‘arms’. But yes – the clear reality was that the business model prior to the AFL coverage was not sustainable – – no biggy that one. It’d be like trying to gain headway as a sports network in London without the EPL, or in Sydney without the NRL. The anti-sokkah conspiracies are tiring.

          btw – re content – just look at Collingwood’s own tv station ‘CTV”.

          • April 13th 2012 @ 7:01am
            ManInBlack said | April 13th 2012 @ 7:01am | ! Report

            actually, additional to that –

            the AFL had the right to exercise those share options at 6.2 cents a share – but, the options were issued on Jan 1 each year and expired on Dec 31 each year. A quick google and I have no idea if the AFL ever did. Has anyone seen anything on the AFL annual reports??

            • Roar Guru

              April 13th 2012 @ 7:23am
              The_Wookie said | April 13th 2012 @ 7:23am | ! Report

              I only went back as far as 2009 last night, ill dig a bit futher back

      • April 10th 2012 @ 11:54pm
        Bludger said | April 10th 2012 @ 11:54pm | ! Report

        What!? They have Victory games on SEN and their digital extra channel, cannot remember what that is called. Aussie digital or something, they have a bunch of soccer shows and keep fans up to date with what is going on in the soccer world.

        Get your facts straight!

        • April 11th 2012 @ 9:55pm
          MHTID said | April 11th 2012 @ 9:55pm | ! Report

          They do not. If AFL was so popular then why isn’t SEN the highest rating station in Melbourne

          • Roar Guru

            April 11th 2012 @ 10:04pm
            The Cattery said | April 11th 2012 @ 10:04pm | ! Report

            Because non-sports fans outnumber sports fans?

            Because of the sports fans, only a minority will listen to footy all day long on AM radio?

            Take your pick.

          • April 12th 2012 @ 9:24am
            Australian Rules said | April 12th 2012 @ 9:24am | ! Report

            “If AFL was so popular then why isn’t SEN the highest rating station in Melbourne”

            Oh dear…MHTID you clearly out of your depth here.

            First, general news/talkback stations with broad appeal will always have the higest ratings. Always.

            Second, general ratings (10-80y.o) are deceptive. The only demographic advertisers (and so programmers) care about is <55y.o's. In that bracket, SEN does exceptionally well..esp over the wknd.

            In terms of ratings for football broadcasting, MMM is clearly the top dog for Friday night, Sat and Sat night games. However, SEN now comes in second…ahead of 3AW and ABC774.

            So, the fact that a tiny station like SEN, with a miniscule budget (compared to its rivals), can actually compete in drive slots and wknd sports coverage, actually PROVES the popularity and power of AFL (in the city of Melbourne anyway).

            • April 12th 2012 @ 9:47am
              MHTID said | April 12th 2012 @ 9:47am | ! Report

              What a load of crap.
              Out of my depth indeed. What are you on.
              It proves that SEN is insignificant. It may pay for them broadcast other sports and not just AFL, AFL and AFL.
              There are other sports out there, but then SEN wouldn’t realise that, it does not pay for them to promote other sports. Perhaps only when it suits them.

              • Roar Guru

                April 12th 2012 @ 9:55am
                The Cattery said | April 12th 2012 @ 9:55am | ! Report

                that post didn’t make a lot of sense, calm down, and try and gather your thoughts and have another go

              • April 14th 2012 @ 10:58am
                Maximus said | April 14th 2012 @ 10:58am | ! Report


                If someone could make a $$ out of it they would, 3AK broadcast the Storm some years back but then they asked for a larger subsidy and were rejected – 3AK went under shortly after…

    • Roar Guru

      April 10th 2012 @ 4:28pm
      Redb said | April 10th 2012 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

      I’ve IQ’d Media Watch and will watch it tonight. As long as AFL Media is branded and we dont see articles popping up by AFL paid journos on commercial sites like the AGE, HS, I think there is a degree of transparency. There is a bigger risk from boredom than anything if the reporting becomes too vanilla.

      I tell you one thing, AFL media have done a great job in the two docos I’ve seen this year on last years GF and the Giants. Quality stuff. They let that i diot Paul Kent have a full go at the Giants.

      • April 11th 2012 @ 8:04am
        Goannajack said | April 11th 2012 @ 8:04am | ! Report

        The AFL media must have let thru the Folau comment that he did it for the money…so thats releatively even handed..