In a year where the state of the game has been discussed ad nauseam, the AFL’s new broadcast deal to begin in 2017 re-affirms the sport’s place at the top of Australian sporting tree. For all its apparent criticisms and travails, the AFL is still seen in media circles as the top dog: Tuesday’s historic announcement confirms that.
With James Hird’s dismissal finally occurring and the protracted WADA investigation at Essendon set to be resolved before the 2016 season, the league is poised to welcome a period of stabilisation and gradual growth under a record-breaking six-year $2.508 billion deal.
Here’s what it all means:
Gil’s big moment
In 2011, Andrew Demetriou signed off on a five-year, $1.253 billion rights deal, which has grown to $2.508 billion over six years by 2015 under Gillon McLachlan. In just four years, broadcasting rights have jumped from $250 million a year to a staggering $418 million. Whatever your views on McLachlan are, this is a landmark agreement that may well end up being the new football chief’s legacy to the game.
While sporting rights become more important as the years go on as ratings drop from conventional television, McLachlan’s management of an occasionally delicate situation has seen a deal reached that benefits all parties. While the NRL has had to grapple with the internal feud between free-to-air (FTA) and pay TV honchos, the AFL’s agreement sees both Channel Seven and Foxtel walk away happy.
To borrow a term from soccer, the NRL has put Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation-owned Fox Sports offside in their current dealings solely with the Nine Network, their FTA broadcaster. It has seen the AFL gain an upper hand in negotiations and goes a long way to explain why the deal was brought forward.
Murdoch: "We have always believed this is the premier code in Australia."
— Bound For Glory News (@Bound4GloryNews) August 18, 2015
The AFL’s deal is a quite an accomplishment in a world where everyone wants their fair share, and sometimes at each other’s expense.
Free to air football in HD
It has seen the creation of cult social media campaigns, been debated on various forums and riled up general football fans for years but it is finally here: from 2017, all games broadcast on FTA will be in glorious high definition.
Legislation could be passed to allow the upcoming AFL Grand Final to be shown in HD for the very first time this year, but a long-standing commitment by Seven boss Kerry Stokes is of more significance. Those with Foxtel have been enjoying high definition for years, but with the newest deal expiring in 2022, it was vital that a long-term commitment to HD football on FTA was put on the public record.
Saturday afternoon’s new make-up
As Saturday afternoon footy is now primarily controlled by Foxtel, Channel Seven’s delayed telecast on a Saturday afternoon is gone and has been replaced by two games on Foxtel. The decision to get rid of delayed football is a shrewd one, even if it means that for 11 weeks of the year when a public holiday or Thursday game doesn’t get played, just three games could broadcast on free to air TV.
As it stands, delayed sport should be a by-gone, and that notion will only increase when 2017 commences. It appears like a loss for football fans, but once the crucial 3:20pm Saturday afternoon game is negotiated, the fog will begin to dissipate.
In the agreement, Foxtel have been given the ability to sub-license the 3:20pm Saturday game to a FTA station if they choose.
Foxtel have the capacity to on-sell one game to a FTA network. Not confirmed nor denied that it will be on Channel Ten…
— Bound For Glory News (@Bound4GloryNews) August 18, 2015
While it remains up in the air, other FTA networks – namely Channel 10 – are still a chance to broadcast it if Foxtel chooses. It remains another piece of the puzzle that will become clearer in the months to come.
Thursday night football
As little as five or as many as 12, but one thing is for certain: Thursday night football is now entrenched in the AFL calendar. After the continued success of it in 2015, the AFL is set to increase the number of games in 2016 and into 2017 as the new deal commences. The exact number of Thursday night games wasn’t discussed at Tuesday’s press conference, but it was confirmed that Channel Seven have the rights to all games that are scheduled.
Good Friday football
Seven’s Kerry Stokes said “we’d love to play football every day of the week, Good Friday included” in the press conference on Tuesday, but whether the AFL Commission breaks from tradition and schedules football on Good Friday from 2017 is in doubt. Soccer’s A-League has taken the bold step of scheduling a game in Melbourne next year, and it remains to be seen whether that forces the AFL into action come 2016 and beyond.
Now here is where it gets interesting.
The overwhelming positive to come from the digital component of the new deal is the axing of the Foxtel Go/Foxtel Play blackout, which didn’t allow Foxtel subscribers to watch football on their computers. The new agreement from 2017 allows those that have Foxtel to watch AFL wherever they wish, a move that aligns with the way sports rights are headed globally.
On the downside, it appears the Telstra monopoly will continue. They continue to hold all rights to broadcast live games on a digital platform as well as on afl.com.au. In 2015, it appears the status quo won’t hurt the league, but the digital rights picture is expected to be very different in 2022. The shift to digital is already beginning and will only intensify as the years go by.
On-demand video services such as Netflix and Google’s company YouTube could very well be broadcasting live sport exclusively in many countries, and that could leave the AFL lagging behind.
It may turn out to be the negative of a good deal for the league. We shall see.
Simply put, the AFL does not sign Australian sport’s biggest TV deal if Gold Coast and the GWS Giants aren’t in the league. They offer the league two new markets and an extra game, allowing the head body to extract every last dollar out of the TV networks. As they continue to build their niche markets and gain popularity in their respective areas, their worth to the overall league should only increase.
As Australia’s major sporting leagues jostle for a piece of the pie, the AFL has managed to strike a landmark record-breaking deal for the code. If anything, the legacy from the deal should mean that some of the $2.508 billion dollars the AFL will make over the next six years is funnelled down to grassroots footy.
The emergence of women’s football as a big player means it becomes a key factor, as players and officials battle for a stake in the new deal. A six-team, 11-round league is expected to be up and running in 2017, which will have added benefits for the continual growth of women’s sport.
The future of all 18 AFL clubs is secure with the new deal: the hope now is smaller clubs that nurture the next stars of the both the men’s and women’s game are taken care of.