NEW AFL BROADCAST RIGHT DEAL: BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW?

The AFL has announced its latest broadcast rights agreement.

Channel 7, Foxtel and Telstra will be the three companies that bring you your AFL football from next season for five years, for the princely sum of $1.25billion dollars.

The response in today’s daily newspapers and on-line commentary has been largely positive, with some correspondents suggesting that $1.25billion is a staggering figure.

$1.25billion is largely chump change compared to the $20.4billion that the CBS, NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN networks collectively pay (on average $3billion plus each).

So while mainstream media revel in the salad days of the latest broadcast rights agreement, lets take a moment to consider the form of the parties involved in the new deal.

Firstly, Foxtel.  Foxtel have been associated with televising AFL football for the previous two deals and have, by and large, done a great job.

Indeed, this latest broadcast arrangement provides Foxtel with enough content to resurrect its Fox Footy channel.  Clinton Gybas’s untimely passing still leaves something of a hole in terms of quality AFL commentators, and we can only hope that Raylene Hawkins, Danielle Harvey and Lisa Lloyd’s contact numbers have been lost.

Days until Foxtel announces an across the board subscription increase?  The clock is running…

Telstra.  What can be said about Telstra?  I’m still waiting for the AFL website’s Home Page to download.  Good luck watching it on your mobile phone.

And good luck to you when you receive your monthly mobile phone bill and all those extra zeros appear as you exceed your monthly download limit.   Remember, that $1.25billion has to be recouped somehow.

Which brings us to the Seven Network.  And where, indeed, to begin?  Tom Harley’s penchant for making Dermott Brereton look stone cold concise and plain-spoken?  Bruce McAvaney’s Tonto to Dennis Cometti’s Lone Ranger?  Mark   Robinson’s shameless very public love affair with Nick Maxwell and Leigh Montagna?   Damned football matches continually getting in the way of network cross-promotions and advertisements?

They just – as their promos tell us – love footy.   In fact they love it so much, they bring us Friday night football delayed an hour after the bounce and for consistency’s sake, they repeat the dose on Sunday afternoons – even if said match is taking place interstate.

And as we all know, love means never having to say you’re sorry.

Somehow during the latest round of Rights negotiations, and after five years justifying live coverage of Friday night football in Melbourne needing to take a back seat to the massive Better Homes and Garden audience, the Seven network have assured the AFL that all Friday night matches will be shown live.

From this, we can deduce that either Friday night matches played in Melbourne will now begin at 8.40pm or the world’s greatest three-card trick has been played on Demetriou, Fitzpatrick and co.

The reality more likely to be that South Australia and Western Australia will now see more Friday night action than Maury and Beth Goldberg’s Balaclava Shabbat Shalom Free-For-All.

Okay, so its easy to be cynical from the cheap seats, but Seven has previous form and time will bring to light the fine print of the newly announced contract.  If the Seven network were a racehorse, punters would be staying away in droves on the theory that it’s let backers down in the past.

And the commercial reality is that Channel Seven’s end of the $1.25billion must be recouped.  Shareholders will be expecting a significant dividend from the network’s latest investment.  AFL stakeholders have already flagged their expectation of fair slice of that $1.25billion finding its way onto their balance sheets.  And they’re the recipients.

If you think that not much changes when the latest TV broadcast rights kicks in then you’re sadly mistaken.  Foxtel and Telstra can simply jack up their subscription fees, but no one effectively pays to watch the Seven Network.

Accordingly, Seven will have more influence than any previous broadcaster on where and when games will be played as they attempt to recoup their investment through advertising costs.

Looking at the League’s media briefing document, the words “live or near live” appear all too often for comfort.

It remains to be seen how Seven defines “live” in the new agreement.

But as always, there’s an upside for everything.

The new deal means only 6 more months of having to endure Lehmo and Mick Molloy on Before the Bounce, Anthony Hudson’s shouting commentary and Tim Lane’s piss weak punditry.

Hallelujah!

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