The evolution of the footy on TV

The Cattery Roar Guru

By The Cattery, The Cattery is a Roar Guru

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144 Have your say

    In recent days, it has been reported that the NRL might be on the verge of a $1 billion pay day if, among other things, it agrees to allowing more openings during game time for broadcasters to run advertisements.

    Most would be aware that such opportunities have been afforded broadcasters during AFL games for many years, but the thought came to me: how exactly did this evolve?

    I then recalled that I had in my possession a book entitled Heart of the Game: 45 years of football on television, edited by Michael Roberts and published in 2001.

    I thought I would take a trip down memory lane.

    The broadcasting of the then VFL goes back to the earliest days of TV in Australia and began as nothing more than a bit of an experiment, which became an instant hit with fans.

    Sounds like good news, but in fact this scared the living daylights out of the VFL management, who could only envisage the loss of gate receipts, recalling that at that point, they were allowing the broadcasters into the grounds for next to nothing.

    Crowds remained good in 1957 but started to drop over the next two seasons, and reached a nadir in 1960. At that point the VFL rejected 14,000 pounds from all three stations to broadcast the last quarter live, and they also rejected replays.

    Crowds jumped up by 360,000 in 1961.

    Channel 7 became so annoyed with the VFL that it actively pursued a deal with the VSL to broadcast the match of the day each round during the 1961 season. The deal fell over at the last minute when the VSL committee rejected the offer, and Channel 7 returned to broadcasting the VFL the following year.

    Broadcasting the last quarter live gave way to Saturday night replays, and for some years, all the Melbourne broadcasters were involved in broadcasting the VFL.

    By 1974 only Channel 7 and the ABC were left broadcasting the VFL, namely as Saturday night replays, and Channel 0, broadcast a live game from the VFA each round, played on Sunday afternoons.

    Increasingly, the VFL became impatient at not being allowed to play games on Sunday (by order of the Victorian Government), which essentially had allowed the VFA to continue as a smaller rival state competition for decades.

    Bit by bit, the VFL worked out ways round this, including mid-week cup competitions, playing and broadcasting one reserves game each Sunday, and finally, playing games in Sydney on a Sunday, eventually leading to South Melbourne moving its home games to Sydney in 1982.

    In 1987, with a new Commission in place, the VFL shocked the footy world by taking the rights off Channel 7 and handing them to the ABC. This deal lasted a year, but it was the dawn of a new professional VFL that drew a line in the sand and was prepared to suffer short term loss for long term gain.

    Channel 7 returned to broadcasting the code the following year, offering $30 million for five years.

    It was around the mid 1980s that tentative steps were taken, firstly, to play Friday night games, and then gradually, to extend the round over three days.

    With these changes in schedules came the gradual move from broadcasters focusing on replays to doing more and more live games, recalling that most places outside of Victoria had had live coverage of VFL games for years.

    In 1987 the VFL expanded with two new teams, the Eagles and Bears, representing an ongoing progression to a national completion that had started with the move of the Swans north five years earlier.

    This meant more opportunities for live games back into Melbourne without any fear of upsetting local attendances.

    More money flowed into the game, it became more professional, and at some point the broadcasters had to devise new methods of meeting the cost.

    Australian Football has always had four quarters, providing opportunities for ads during the breaks, and has always had a natural break after each goal, with the boundary umpires tasked with running the footy back to the field umpires to restart the match with a centre bounce.

    The idea of running ads immediately after goals  came gradually, and then was set in stone officially when the broadcaster and AFL agreed a set time after each goal. At some point, the AFL devised a lighting system on the scoreboard to alert the umpire when it was ok to bounce the ball, and this has been in use now for at least 20 years.

    I can’t recall a backlash when this system first came into use, and as far as live games go, it has never been an issue. Each goal is a time to applaud, cheer, talk positively or negatively with those around you, and fill in the Football Record if you’re keeping tabs on goal kickers.

    Thirty seconds? Before you know it, the ball is being bounced, and it starts all over again.

    A complexity that exists in Australian Football, and a similar situation might exist in league as well, is that there is a big difference in the number of goals scored from game to game.

    In the early 1990s, Essendon won a game kicking only three goals, and last year, Geelong won a match kicking 37 goals (for the second time in its history).

    How does the broadcaster deal with this disparity? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest.

    I recall one game where neither team scored a goal in the final quarter, and the broadcaster became so impatient about this, it simply stopped transmission mid-way through the quarter and ran a minute of ads, clearly those that had paid a premium!

    A fair bit about the game has changed in the 40 years I have followed it and there is no better illustration of this than the primacy TV has in the modern game.

    But already, a new era in sports broadcasting is close at hand.

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    The Crowd Says (144)

    • May 8th 2012 @ 1:29pm
      TW said | May 8th 2012 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

      Interesting stuff in this article about the NRL TV deal. Blame the AFL they say, and the article is from the NRL sports section.

      • May 8th 2012 @ 1:49pm
        Australian Rules said | May 8th 2012 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

        Yes this story is being run on the Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail websites. Makes sense to me.

        After yesterday’s article on the Roar…will be interesting to see the responses.

      • Roar Guru

        May 8th 2012 @ 1:53pm
        The Cattery said | May 8th 2012 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

        Thanks for the link. In truth, no one should pay too much attention to that sort of stuff in this early period. The NRL wants as much as it can get, and broadcasters want to get it for the least cost possible, a normal dynamic. These early stories may bear no relationship to what is actually happening behind closed doors, and ultimately, the final value depends as much on competitive tension as anything else, and those most likely to offer competitive tension will keep their cards close to their chest for as long as possible.

        Although I did raise a wry smile about the AFL’s “good luck” – looks like the AFL has been experiencing good luck for 25 years now!

      • Roar Guru

        May 8th 2012 @ 2:12pm
        Redb said | May 8th 2012 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

        Had a good laugh at that. Kent is an angry little ant – suck it up Princess. 🙂

        Typical of the Daily Telegraph to blame the AFL. The article contradicts itself firstly stating the AFL has not been ‘sparkling’ for Ch 7 and then other hand says the ratings have been sparkling. The ratings have been outstanding for AFL this year.

        Note to Kent – Ad revenue might be difficult due to the economy that is why CH 7 and others in the media are struggling.

        We are at tipping point in terms of a recession, the RBA did not drop rates last week for a hoot.

      • Columnist

        May 8th 2012 @ 3:12pm
        Ryan O'Connell said | May 8th 2012 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

        The real shock to me from this article is not the financial numbers (lets be honest, negotiations are rarely settled after the first bid, or for the original figure proposed), but the fact we may not have an answer until August.

        My sources said a deal may be brokered by the end of this week.

        ‘End of this week’ and ‘August’ are two wildly differing accounts! Either Mr Kent or my source are way, way off. Someone is wrong, and I suspect if the amount is as low as Kent suggests, then it’s my source that’s got it incorrect.

        I take that to mean that if the deal was $1.2 billion, then the NRL may have signed almost straight away.

        • Roar Guru

          May 8th 2012 @ 3:31pm
          The Cattery said | May 8th 2012 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

          Good pick up on the different time periods involved.

          I can’t remember exactly what happened in the case of the AFL negotiations, but my memory is that they dragged on for at least a couple of months – and that’s despite the fact that ch 7 was the last FTA standing very early in the piece.

          Rumours of low bids were circulating back then, and “experts” were coming out saying the AFL was asking for too much, etc, etc – the truth is, I doubt anyone knows where things truly stand at the minute – the real negotiations have barely begun.

          • May 8th 2012 @ 5:43pm
            Matt F said | May 8th 2012 @ 5:43pm | ! Report

            It’s quite strange. The Telegraph have written an article stating how low the offer is yet the SMH and Australian have had more positive coverage so far. Basically what I can gather from the coverage is that nobody has any idea at all about what the initial offer was! Or what it means. It could be low, it could be high, it could be around average. We’ll just have to let it play out I guess.

            I remember in the days just before the AFL deal was signed some media people were still questioning whether they’d get $1 billion let alone the $1.25b that they ended up with. These deals are kept so secretive (generally) that none of us will probably know until it’s eventually announced.

            • Roar Guru

              May 8th 2012 @ 5:56pm
              The Cattery said | May 8th 2012 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

              agree on all counts, and I have the same memory of how the AFL negotiations panned out last year.

            • May 8th 2012 @ 6:54pm
              ManInBlack said | May 8th 2012 @ 6:54pm | ! Report

              There’s a couple of things I find a little odd about the appraisal of the AFL deal in the DT article.

              One is – that given the fiscal tightening that’s happened since then – it might just be a case of really good timing for the AFL. I’m pretty sure a lot of households would be sitting tight on luxury items such as Foxtel just at the minute.

              Two is – give people time. When it comes to changing providers to sign up with Telstra for example – many people will still be needing to finish off existing contracts with existing providers. Isn’t that the point of a 5 year deal, you give the market a chance to ‘adapt’.

              However – the likelihood of a bidding frenzy in the current economic climate to benefit the NRL and HAL would seem highly unlikely.

              • May 9th 2012 @ 11:46am
                Matt F said | May 9th 2012 @ 11:46am | ! Report

                1. Good point, though the economy wasn’t exactly booming when the AFL did their deal either. However it is a very reasonable concern and probably will have an impact to some degree. Certainly their are numerous reports that ad revenue is down.

                2. The problem here is that the NRL doesn’t have time. Its deal runs out this year so they need a new one now. You may be right about people taking time to adapt tot he new offerings, certainly Australians are notoriously slow when it comes to this, but the timing of the deal means that they don’t have time. Certainly no media network is going to deal based on what might potentially happen as a result of the AFL’s deal in 3 years time. It’s a very expensive gamble.

          • May 9th 2012 @ 9:40am
            Pot Stirrer said | May 9th 2012 @ 9:40am | ! Report

            Doesnt the current arrangement mention something about any offer apart from nine and fox have to be 20% more or they can match it and keep the rights? Makes negotiating sense in that regard to give an offer 20% less than what you think its worth to start the auction.

            • May 9th 2012 @ 11:49am
              Matt F said | May 9th 2012 @ 11:49am | ! Report

              Yes. Basically if the NRL indicate to channel9/Foxtel that they are going to acept a rival offer (be it from 7, 10 or a combination of both) then 9/foxtel have the option to match the bid, and if they do then the NRL must accept their offer, as long as the rival bid is less then 20% more then 9/foxtel’s previous offer. That’s the “last rights” part of the first and last rights clause.

        • May 8th 2012 @ 7:18pm
          db swannie said | May 8th 2012 @ 7:18pm | ! Report

          Ryan ,It was never ever going to be settled by the end of the week.
          Yesterday was the day for the Ch9/Fox bid to be submitted ,& now the IC will see what 10 & 7 have to bid.
          I would say probably August will be when things finally get cleared up.

      • May 8th 2012 @ 3:39pm
        Football Tragic said | May 8th 2012 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

        Can someone explain to e how the NRL could possible be getting the same money for their Rights yet, even with these new changes, have one less game, 50% less game time, the ratings are similar and less exposure Australia wide? Just doing the basic Maths I can’t figure this out….

        • Roar Guru

          May 8th 2012 @ 3:56pm
          The Cattery said | May 8th 2012 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

          Personally, I think it’s an impossibility.

          The other thing you forgot to add is the premium ch 7 paid for the halo effect. It’s not a coincidence that ch 7 is entering it’s 6th year of winning the ratings exactly 6 years after ch 9 lost the rights (who was winning the ratings prior to that).

          In other words: is there a halo effect for the League? On current evidence, either no or not a big one.

          However, would 9 want to hold onto the League rights, and bid heavily to keep them? Yes, I think they would, the ratings are simply too good to let go.

          Where does that leave us? Who knows.

    • May 8th 2012 @ 1:31pm
      Johnno said | May 8th 2012 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

      you tube did a deal streaming the IPL last year. Streaming is in vogue. The 90’s or the noughties whichever one says it were all about pay tv, but now in the millenium it is all about streaming.

      • Roar Guru

        May 8th 2012 @ 8:13pm
        Damien said | May 8th 2012 @ 8:13pm | ! Report

        I agree but its going to take sometime for that to penetrate the Oz market.

        Also the broadband infrastructure in Oz is too slow and fragile to support streaming live games. Throw in HD and you’ve got major problems.

      • Roar Guru

        May 9th 2012 @ 4:16am
        Redb said | May 9th 2012 @ 4:16am | ! Report

        Can’t see a total changeover to IPTV by the next AFL deal. For starters even with a fully rolled out NBN there will still be a large body of people not prepared or able to pay for content like there is now.

        I think both FTA & Foxtel will fight to retain footy content whilst the Internet service providers up their offering significantly to take more of Foxtels share. Although you would imagine Foxtel will have their own service delivered through the NBN.

        Telstra remain the most likely to increase their share of the TV rights dollars pie.

    • May 8th 2012 @ 1:34pm
      NF said | May 8th 2012 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

      TW it’s Paul Kent he’s go no credibility with us leaguies so don’t associate us with him or his other cronies get it good he’s the News LTD hacks RL has trying to get rid off.

    • May 8th 2012 @ 2:19pm
      Emric said | May 8th 2012 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

      Personally I think the AFL have handled their TV rights deals pretty well – they are the example other sports could take lead from in the Australasia region

    • May 8th 2012 @ 2:40pm
      me, I like football said | May 8th 2012 @ 2:40pm | ! Report

      I had a little laugh to myself when you said “I can’t recall a backlash when this system first came into use, and as far as live games go, it has never been an issue.” I can remember quite a numbber of times some spectators yelling “What the f*** are you waiting for? bounce the bloody thing!” whilst the central umpire had ball in hand waitng for the light. I also remember AFL saying that the umpire is under no obligation to wait for the light when brought up as an issue by the media. which begged the question why have the light?, and why wait for it?

      • May 8th 2012 @ 2:58pm
        Lucan said | May 8th 2012 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

        And sometimes it would naturally take 30+ seconds to retrieve the ball from the crowd and run it to the center. Now there’s an esky full of reserve footballs at end end yet the time to restart has increased.

        There was certainly backlash to the process, but over time folk got used to it and now its part and parcel of the professional game.

        • Roar Guru

          May 8th 2012 @ 3:41pm
          The Cattery said | May 8th 2012 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

          Lucan and MILF

          your memories are better than mine!

          I vaguely remember the light being introduced, by that I mean reading about it being introduced, to be honest, I really can’t remember noticing it at the footy – when you’ve had a few beers, you probably wouldn’t care!

          It doesn’t surprise me that rowdy patrons would have had a go at the umps for holding up the ball up – let’s be honest – we’d use any excuse to get stuck into the umps!!

          But can you remember the exact year that it happened? I’m thinking around 1988 to 1990??

          The other thing is that for Victorian fans at least, the transition from seeing only replays to being able to see every game live has been a very slow one.

          The Swans playing in Sydney introduced us to regular live games on a Sunday for the very first time (ignoring a handful of games that were played in Sydney over 1980-81).

          With the Eagles and Bears, I recall further live games being made available, but I can’t quite remember when Melbourne audiences started getting live games against the gate – can anyone else?

          Anyway, the point is that by the time we were getting lots of games live, the whole ad run after a goal was very well established and we were all used to it.

          One thing I learned is that when the ABC had the sole rights in 1987 it was the very first time they had ever had the responsibility of showing live games, and it was a bit of a shock to them! Clearly, they didn’t have to worry about the light at that point, so it must have come in over the next few years.

          • May 9th 2012 @ 8:13am
            Lucan said | May 9th 2012 @ 8:13am | ! Report

            My memory of the re-start light was around 1989. I do remember folk being upset because the games weren’t even being screened live, so we didn’t get why they’d hold up the game. I didn’t even consider matches may’ve been screened live into other markets. 😀

            I do miss the highlights show. Post match my father would take us to the pub and we’d be desperately tugging at his jacket hurrying him up to get us home in time to catch the replay.

      • May 8th 2012 @ 5:45pm
        Matt F said | May 8th 2012 @ 5:45pm | ! Report

        Even worse was when the light occasionally didn’t work!

        • Roar Guru

          May 8th 2012 @ 5:58pm
          The Cattery said | May 8th 2012 @ 5:58pm | ! Report

          ha ha, yes, remember that, I didn’t get a chance to include quirkly little stories like that in the body of the article (already pretty long), but as I flick through the book I refer to, I might remind people of some of the memorable TV episodes from yesteryear for a bit of a laugh.

    • May 8th 2012 @ 4:40pm
      Norm said | May 8th 2012 @ 4:40pm | ! Report

      A very interesting & informative article, TC. I remember when the VFL replay started to be shown on Adelaide TV. It was fascinating to rush home from SANFL match & watch a Melbourne game. It seemed more exciting, with huge crowds. It also allowed us to watch our SA footballers play when they were pinched by the Vic clubs. Certainly assisted interstate rivalry!

      • Roar Guru

        May 8th 2012 @ 5:03pm
        The Cattery said | May 8th 2012 @ 5:03pm | ! Report

        heh, heh, I can see how that helped the rivalry!

        My early memories of going to the footy are that you’d be able to get home by 6pm or 6:30, depending on where you had played, in time to watch the various replays that were on, which were carried by ABC and ch 7, running at least an hour each (we’re talking mid to late 70s).

        Of the six games, they’d be able to show a quarter from each of the two biggest games, and then highlights from a 3rd game, and if the ABC chose a different 3rd game, you’d have four of six games covered by the two stations with a good chance of your team being in there somewhere (or even twice!).

        Of course the piece de resistance was World of Sport on Sunday, running 9am till 12pm, which, despite the name, consisted almost entirely of the footy!

        In Summer, the show would reduce to about 45 minutes.

        My exposure to the WAFL and SANFL teams, apart from State of Origin, began with the mid-week cup games, played on Tuesday nights I believe, and I can still recall seeing Port in their very unique (to us), jailhouse jumpers giving someone a thumping by 8 goals or so. One of the WAFL teams did something similar, and we thought: hang on, some of these teams are bloody good!

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