Fans pay most for AFL broadcast rights

Is the average fan in the outer the big loser in the TV rights deal? AAP

The AFL is happy with the broadcast deal for 2012 - 2016 it has negotiated.

Channel 7 and Foxtel are happy. The players will be happy too, once their pay negotiations are worked out. A billion dollars goes a long way, it seems, but does it go far enough? What will the fans end up with once the coin has been rolled out?

Well, they’ll still be able to watch four games on free-to-air TV each week, but with Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon as the big drawing teams it’s likely that they’ll make up the bulk of those games.

Those who follow the lesser teams will have to wait until they play the big three to see them for free, much as they did back in the 60s and 70s when football was only on TV once a week.

So, for the fans, things are no different and are certainly no better. Perhaps they’re even worse, with Foxtel now the only place fans can choose which game to watch; if they’re prepared to shell out over $700 per year to do so.

This bitter financial pill is sugar coated in the idea of footy now being broadcast live. But how big a deal is that for the average fan? If the game is delayed by an hour does it really matter?

Does it significantly change the experience? Is it worth $700 plus on top of the club membership, the raffle tickets, pies, scarves and jumpers they’re expected to buy to support ‘our’ (are they still ours?) clubs? I don’t think so.

Ever since the first TV rights mega-deal back in the early 2000s, the AFL, the clubs, the players and the broadcasters have enjoyed constant and significant rises in their rewards and expectations. The fans have experienced the opposite: an incremental loss of amenity.

As recently as the late 1990s club members enjoyed the right of free entry to pre-season games. They could also, if they missed any home and away games, use those unused notches on their membership cards to bring a guest along to the last few games of the season. Not anymore.

They didn’t have to pay to go onto a lottery to win the chance of paying for a Grand Final ticket either. Nor were they bombarded with constant ads at the game.

The AFLPA rightly maintains that it is the players who put on the show and that they are therefore entitled to a large chunk of this new broadcast deal. But no one seems to care that there would be no show without an, increasingly marginalised, audience.

When the AFL is selling football to the broadcasters they’re not selling Adam Goodes, or Chris Judd, they’re selling me and every other football fan. They’re selling the audience, not the players, and they’d do well to remember that. The broadcasters and their advertisers don’t care who is playing the game, they only want to know who is watching.

Thanks to the ever increasing hordes of club members willing to hand over their demographic profile along with their membership fees that knowledge is hand-delivered to them.

And what do the fans receive in return for creating this huge array of target markets for the AFL and the broadcasters to feast on? They are given the opportunity to shell out a lot more money for the privilege to do so.

Maybe there needs to be an AFL supporters union, similar to that formed by public transport users. I’m not suggesting supporters deserve a seat at the broadcast rights negotiating table, but when it comes to carving up the fiscal pie they needs should be represented.

Currently they’re not.

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