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Opinion

Forward press: An uninformed commentary on the next AFL TV rights deal

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Roar Rookie
2nd May, 2022
14

We have seen a lot of talk over the past week about what the impending AFL TV deal may end up looking like following news that Channel Ten is considering making a play for the rights, with speculation that the AFL has become increasingly dissatisfied with the coverage provided by free-to-air broadcaster Channel 7, along with the ever-changing media landscape providing us with seemingly endless entertainment options.

So, what could be in it for the fans?

Broadcasting deals are incredibly important to any professional sporting league, be it the NFL, EPL, NBA or our very own AFL. Without them, no one would be able to view or interact with the game they love save for the lucky few in the stadium.

The majority of us would be limited to what we read and hear in the press. As technology has improved, we have seen sports broadcasting go from being described in exquisite detail on radio, to the days of black and white and then colour television.

In 2021, the AFL’s revenue was $738.1 million. This was actually an increase of $63.3 million from 2020, largely as a result of increased broadcast returns.

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Fans and some sections of the media are often quick to decry the league’s perceived eagerness to appease broadcasters, but given how much broadcasters chip in, it’s somewhat understandable that the AFL has to walk an extremely delicate tightrope between pleasing the fans without whom the league could not even exist and the media giants that fans rely on to even view the game.

So, where are we currently at?

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The current TV rights deal was signed in 2015 between the AFL, Telstra, Foxtel and Seven West Media for $2.5 billion over seven years. For that, we got:

• A minimum of three matches per week live on free-to-air television during the premiership season.
• All nine matches per week live on Fox Sports and mobile and tablet during the premiership season.
• All finals matches (Weeks 1-3) live on free-to-air television, Foxtel and mobile and tablet.
• Grand final live on free-to-air television and on mobile and tablet.

There was also several market specific specifications for states outside of Victoria. Some of these resulted in free-to-air games being shown on delay in Perth and Adelaide, a situation completely unacceptable in today’s media landscape but somewhat exacerbated by the numerous time zones that exist in Australia.

Taylor Walker of the Crows kicks the ball

(Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

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In some ways, we’ve made progress. I am old enough to remember Friday Night Football being shown on free-to-air a 60-minute delay (granted, I turn 29 in June). It seems crazy now, but that was even in Melbourne.

The rights deal wasn’t perfect. For starters, Friday Night Football was considered the prime time slot, yet was often the domain of Victorian teams. Rarely would you ever have a Friday night game without any Victorian team.

Now that could somewhat be excused given half the teams are based there and it’s unlikely all of them would be down the bottom of the ladder at the same time. But it also meant we end up seeing VFL powerhouses like Carlton given heaps of Friday night appearances over other stronger performing team at the top of the ladder (at various times this would be Brisbane, Port Adelaide, Sydney and GWS, to name a few).

A major bugbear for a lot of fans was also the arrangement in place where free-to-air games simulcast on Foxtel still carried the Channel Seven commentary. Now, I’m not certain whether Fox Footy would have been allowed to have their own commentary on these games, but it would’ve been nice given ad-free broadcasts is the big appeal to watching games on Fox Footy.

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And let’s be fair, escaping Seven’s pretty mediocre commentary (more on that at another time) would be the cherry on a luscious cake.

And where might we end up heading?

Everyone has an opinion on how the TV landscape should look for the AFL, so now it’s my turn.

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Fellow Roarer Harry Gibb summed this up so much better than I ever could last year by referring to how the NFL breaks their games into five categories: Monday night, Thursday night, Sunday night and Sunday afternoon matches for the American and National conferences, respectively.

I like this idea so here is how I think it could work for the AFL.

Personally, I am not certain the Ten Network can afford to carry even the entire free-to-air rights on their own and it is also hard to see both the Seven Network or Foxtel wanting to give up their rights without a fight.

So, you could possibly end up with Ten bidding for say Thursday night and the Saturday matches, whilst Seven bids for the Friday night and Sunday matches and Foxtel simulcasts all free-to-air games as well as carrying cable-exclusive ones.

Granted, this works on the assumption Thursday night football becomes a permanent fixture.

It has been reported that Ten is considering carrying games through Paramount+. Given the issues fans have experienced trying to stream the A-League, this would need considerable investment to be a viable option for fans.

None of this considers whether timeslots would remain the same or whether there would be any changes (personally, I would prefer to see the 1:45pm Saturday game be shifted to start at 2:40pm). But a key requirement must be that all free-to-air games are broadcast live irrespective of the broadcast market.

Of course, I could be completely wrong (most likely I am). Ten might end up with all the rights or none at all. Despite growing dissatisfaction from both fans and the governing body, Seven may end up retaining the rights and Foxtel may end up just walking away. The coming months will be interesting to watch as we wait to hear whether we will be ushering in a new era in AFL broadcasting.

What are your thoughts? Drop a comment below and let me know.

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