From the grandstand: AFL fans biggest winners

3 May 2011

Written by: Ben Waterworth

It was a landmark day for the AFL. An important achievement in Australian sporting history. A historic moment for the Australian television industry.

Last Thursday, after a long and cantankerous process, the rights to broadcast AFL matches for the next five years were announced. The media outlets to telecast the games will be Channel Seven, Foxtel, Austar and Telstra and will all cover the game in their own unique style.

The four parties paid a total of $1.235 billion – a mind-blowing figure – for the right to broadcast games. It is clearly the richest deal in Australian sporting history.

The final figure seems even more impressive after the global financial crisis threatened to derail a few key parties in the footy world a few years ago. Post the GFC, most expected a slight price rise from the last $780 million deal, but no one expected the figure to balloon out by another $473 million.

AFL – you’ve done it again.

But while the game’s CEO Andrew Demetriou and colleagues might have been shuffling around to ABBA’s ‘Money, Money, Money’ on Thursday night, AFL fans were absorbing and slow-dancing to Bryan Adams’ classic hit ‘Heaven’, because from 2012-2016, they will literally be ‘in heaven’ – AFL heaven that is.

Why? Let’s summarise what’s in store for the footy consumer over the next five years.

– Channel Seven will show four games on free-to-air television in each round. Three of those four games will be shown live into Victoria, including the all-important Friday night timeslot.

– Fox Sports will broadcast every game of every round live into every state in high definition. It will also show every final live – barring the Grand Final.

–  A 24-hour high definition AFL channel, to be called Fox Sports AFL, will be part of Foxtel’s sports package – for no extra cost.

–  Telstra will also broadcast every match live onto its numerous mobile platforms.

For the AFL supporter, it doesn’t get much better than that. They will be mollycoddled and blessed with an abundance of action, both on and off the field.

The most important word across the four points aforementioned is ‘live’.

For years, AFL fans – including Demetriou – constantly pushed free-to-air networks to show more matches live. The concept of live football has turned into an integral part of the game and it needed to be implemented if the AFL wanted to move forward. Now Demetriou and the rest of the AFL world have got their wish.

The deal is also an excellent coup for non-Victorian footy fans.

Live Friday night broadcasts will mean Queensland and New South Wales folk will no longer have to wait until 11pm to watch a delayed broadcast of a match that started nearly four hours before. Perhaps the recent inclusion of the Gold Coast Suns and the highly anticipated debut of Greater Western Sydney next season had a big part in giving the northern states greater coverage.

Under the 2007-2011 broadcast agreement, fans in Western Australian and South Australia often have the same game being simulcast on free-to-air and subscription television. Not everyone in Western Australia barracks for West Coast or Fremantle, neither does everyone support the two Adelaide-based sides in South Australia.

But under the 2012-2016 deal, fans in those two states will be able to watch any game, anywhere. If two games are going on at once, the interstate viewer has the option of watching their own state team, or the other match that is going on.

For the Foxtel subscriber with a solid income and a passionate love for footy, the deal is also a tremendous triumph. Not only will you be able to watch every game live, but you’ll be able to watch AFL whenever you want, with the Fox Sports AFL channel to be included in the standard sports package – at no extra cost.

However if there is a minute negative to come out of the deal, it is Channel Seven’s involvement. When Seven and Fox Sports show the same match simultaneously next season, which coverage will you watch? Channel Seven’s advertisement-driven free-to-air broadcast or the uninterrupted siren-to-siren version on Foxtel? It’s a no brainer.

But Seven CEO David Leckie is one of the most prominent and colourful television executives in the game. He lives and breathes television and has learned all the tricks of the trade from tycoon Kerry Packer. His decision commands respect and patience, but there is little doubt the network has taken a massive risk by agreeing to the deal. Watch this space.

The 2012-2016 broadcast rights agreement is one of the most significant developments in AFL history. Not only does it raise the profile of the game, it also leaves other sporting codes mystified by the incredible exposure and money. But most importantly, the new deal leaves flabbergasted footy fans thrilled and excited by the prospects for the next five years.

Footy fans are the biggest winners of the rights deal.