About three years ago, I wrote an entry on my blog here at AFANA.com on "Why AFANA Is Important Even If You Don't Get The Footy Now". My argument then, in a nutshell, was this: If the only time you support what we do is when you are happy with the coverage, we might not be there on the day when you are not. Or alternately, if you only visit our site when you feel you need us, don't be surprised if we aren't able to help you. Despite years of complaints about Fox Sports, as soon as Fox dropped the sport and Setanta picked it up, we saw a plunge in our financial support as fans unhappy they couldn't get Setanta no longer contributed. Ironically, now that Setanta has left and ESPN / TSN have returned, much the same thing is happening.
As with the situation three years ago, we've had a change in coverage in 2009. One we didn't necessarily want and which we were hoping would not happen. Judging from the e-mail and surveys we continue to receive, many fans out there are surprised and unhappy about the change in TV networks. Not a day goes by that we don't get a message that "I couldn't find the AFL on TV, so I went to your site and found Setanta had dropped the sport. Why did they do that?". (That's the family rated version, I can't print some of the language we've seen.) We published four major stories over several months about Setanta's problems yet so many fans tell us that they didn't know -- probably because they don't use this site except when they are desperate. So it seems my blog from 2006 bears repeating and rewording now.
AFANA exists for the fans. AFANA is a group of fans who volunteer their time and money to make this work. We will only be here if you support what we do (we do not receive any AFL funding!). We will only be here if you support us when you don't get the coverage and when you do. We will only be here if you support us when you like the network and the coverage and when you don't. We will only be here if you regularly check our web site and patronize our advertisers and sponsors when times are good and when times are not so good. You can't be a "fair weather" supporter of AFANA and expect us to be able to make your footy world "right" whenever you have a problem. We are only as effective as our numbers of donors and numbers of regular web site visitors make us.
I know that as sports fans we think it is our universal right to complain about TV coverage, TV networks, the AFL, etc. but the reality is that crescendo of complaints does reach the AFL and networks eventually. Our voices can be voices for positive or negative change. Many of you also blame AFANA when you can't get the footy and cheer us when you can (but don't send us a donation in either case!). The cumulative damage of this I mentioned to in my earlier blog post on The ESPN Deal and History. AFL fans in North America are vocal and you have been the backbone of AFANA's effectiveness in the past 15 seasons. However, there is a time and place to complain and there is a time to be supportive of what you have.
We are at a crossroads in the USA and Canada now. The future of the AFL coverage hangs in the balance. ESPN and TSN have thrown us a lifeline, MHz and America One are determined to continue showing the AFL. If we (the fans) step up and the streams on ESPN360 / TSN.ca do well, the ratings for TSN & ESPN2 are good, and the coverage on MHz and America gains popularity, we will get better coverage. I am confident of that. However, if we fail to watch the sport on ESPN, TSN, MHz, and America One the prospects beyond 2011 are grim. If we spend most of our energy complaining about the coverage and not supporting the coverage or supporting AFANA, the outcome will be poor. Do not misunderstand me here in any way: the time is now. If we fail as fans at this stage, the prospects of ever getting back to multiple games of full match coverage, some or most live, is extremely poor over the next decade.
As Kimber Smith, our new co-Chair has written, we must take a different approach. Let me outline a few suggestions:
- Support AFANA. Donate, volunteer, and help Kimber when she asks for help. If you don't know where you can help, write us and tell us what skills you have and are willing to offer, and we'll try to find a place to use you.
- We are your most reliable source for TV schedules. Don't rely on your on-screen guide for that information. Sooner or later, you'll be caught short. Support what we do so we can continue to be the first stop for dependable schedule information.
- If you get ESPN360 and TSN.ca, use it and watch matches
- If you don't get ESPN360, ask your ISP to add it and do so in a courteous and polite manner. Explain why you like footy but do not run down other sports and if you are an ex-pat, remember that is not relevant to your ISP or ESPN or TSN so don't mention it, it will not help the cause.
- If you are in an area served by MHz or America One, watch it and support it and let them know you are out there. If you don't get MHz watch for an announcement from Kimber soon about what you can do to get it added to a local channel in your area.
- For US fans, when matches are aired on ESPN2 get everyone you know to watch. Make it an "event". If you are in Canada, record TSN or TSN2 and have "viewing" parties several times a season.
- Remember, not every fan is in your situation. Others have it better, some have it worse. We are all in this together and we may never have a situation when 100% of fans in North America have exactly what they want.
- Live coverage, other than online, is not likely to return unless we show we have the fans to support it and we "put our money where our mouth is". Before you complain that you aren't getting 3 or more matches a week, be thankful you have any at all.
- The AFL is not perfect but they are not the enemy. Nonconstructive criticism about their efforts to get coverage in North America will only convince them it isn't worth it. Tell them courteously where and why you think it could be better. Specifics are better than broad sweeping complaints. If you are an ex-pat remember they do not owe you or anyone else coverage here.
- Be informed about the facts on the coverage. There is much misinformation out there. We still had fans early this season telling others that the sport was on Fox or ESPN when it had not been for years. Read our TV Info page and if you have questions, ask us first. (Not only will we try to get you an answer, we might clarify our web page as a result!) Once you know the facts, be a missionary for the sport and get your friends to watch and get them to visit afana.com
In return I promise, on behalf of the new leadership of AFANA, we will be in there fighting for you with the AFL and working with the networks. We will get our footy in 2009 and beyond!