Fans must come first, before players, in next broadcast deal

Whoever becomes the AFL’s next broadcast partners – Ten and Paramount+ in a joint deal, the incumbents of Seven and Foxtel, a combination of those parties or even Amazon in partnership with a free to air network – the AFL is assured of a windfall.

It is clear that the bid for the rights by Ten and Paramount+ is serious and that the AFL is taking that bid seriously, as the game shifts towards a future of internet streaming.

Paramount+ has entered discussions for the AFL’s next broadcast rights deal.Credit:AP

Gillon McLachlan would not be in New York with his two most senior executives and Ten would not be sending their two co-chief executives to pitch for the rights if this was merely a ploy to drive up the price.

But the price will be driven up and the amount the successful bidder pays from 2025 will be higher than the $946 million that Seven and Foxtel are forking out for 2023 and 2024, a deal that was struck during the pandemic when the AFL was in a weaker bargaining position than today.

The landscape has shifted with consumer habits. Streaming is no longer something that will happen. It has happened. The numbers who watch footy on Kayo, in preference to the more expensive Foxtel cable package, has grown exponentially since the pandemic and will continue to grow.

The view within the media industry is that Foxtel/Kayo cannot afford to lose the AFL rights, or their business model will suffer a potentially fatal wound. Logically, Foxtel and their majority owner, News Corp, will have to match or exceed whatever Ten and Paramount+ put on the table and there’s also the possibility that Amazon will come to the party, the tech monster also meeting with the AFL bosses in Los Angeles.

It would be surprising, given the stakes, if Foxtel didn’t retain at least a sizeable share of the rights.

Thus, the near-certain upshot is that the AFL will have millions more to spend. It is equally certain that the players – men and women – will have their hands out for a sizeable share of a larger broadcasting pie, the players (via the AFL Players Association, their union) having finally managed to land a deal in which they receive a percentage of the game’s revenue.

For the AFL, the new broadcast deal will be well-timed, taking advantage of a new media/technology consumption pattern to source the dollars necessary to satisfy both the male players and the underpaid AFLW cohort. McLachlan has already confirmed that the men and women will be drawing from the same pot of money.

But as the AFL assesses the bids in New York and LA and then goes back to Foxtel and Seven to see what they can extract, the league should be tempering their lust for money – and all the problems and parties (expansion, AFLW, club funding) that money can satisfy or redress – with this overriding objective: That they place the fans first, even ahead of the players.

The pandemic has clarified what matters most for the AFL and indeed for all professional sports. What we discovered, as the AFL and clubs made savage cuts that saw dozens of coaches, recruiters and marketing staff depart, is that there were two indispensable groups, without which there is no game: players and fans.

Fans who take out a club membership costing hundreds of dollars cannot always afford an expensive pay TV or pay streaming service.

Foxtel is relatively expensive – the basic package carrying AFL is $40-plus per month. This is why fans are defecting en masse to Kayo, which costs $25 a month and can be cheaper if you’ve got a Telstra account.

Paramount+ is even cheaper at $8.99 a month, though it is unclear what any AFL streaming package would cost.

AFL fans need to be considered in the league’s next broadcast deal. Credit:Getty Images

In navigating this new deal, the first in which live sport has made the great leap forward from old television to streaming, the AFL must prioritise the fans and make sure that they don’t pay too much for the privilege of watching their team play.

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