March 23, 2004
TV Coverage on the Brink
For the benefit of the general audience of footy fans, many of whom (regrettably!) do not get our TV and Media newsletter, I am reproducing below the key section of our most recent issue published earlier today. Following that I will have a brief comment.
UPDATE: A deal has been done to restore coverage. AFANA received notice from the AFL with the following message: "Fox Sports World is back on board for 2004, at the final hour! I understand they will show the 50 min World Highlights show, plus the 104 min Match of the Week, plus the GF live on ESPN and delayed on FSW. This means programming will also be taken into Canada and D.C. (on WNVC) as was the case previously." Thanks to all of the fans who pitched in to help.
From the newsletter:
Since our last issue, the situation has not significantly changed for the better. This is despite the strongest response by fans since 1997. AFANA has received copies of hundreds of e-mail messages sent by fans to FOX Sports International (FSI) and the AFL. All of you have made a difference, at least with the AFL! Keep it up!
AFANA contacted FSI management as recently as Friday, 19 March and this time they chose not to respond. However, their most recent response did not indicate an agreement was likely. A source which has requested anonymity told us on 9 March that "Foster's declined [sponsorship] this year because it thought the [FOX Sports World] audience was too small for [Foster's] to support it... they [AFL] wanted a single big advertiser." This is very similar to the issues surrounding Foster's from last season. The source also told AFANA that FOX Sports World (FSWLD) management will not sign a contract for Australian football without a sponsor already lined up and FSI feels it does not have to program the AFL products on their networks if they don't have a sponsor. The announcement of the featured matches for Round 1 was received today, 23 March by AFANA, and it is no longer "Foster's Aussie Rules" but "Toyota Aussie Rules".
Recently, one enterprising fan managed to get a response from a senior V-P of FOX Sports. The message included this, in part: "I appreciate your concern for the availability of Australian Football League programming on Fox Sports World. If more people felt as strongly as you do,
and actually tuned into the programs, it would be much easier for us as a network to justify the investment in license fees and technical costs associated with covering the AFL. Unfortunately, our ratings for AFL programs continue to be very poor in comparison to the other global sports programming we carry... I hope that you are able to provide ...more viable... leads than have the AFL itself and the various Australian Rules fan organizations that have contacted us in the past." (Editorial response from AFANA managemen: If the ratings are poor, it's because only AFANA is trying to inform fans when and where the telecasts can be found. If FOX Sports World continue to refuse us the schedules as they did last season, where does the fault lie? We have repeatedly, going back to a time prior to FSWLD going to air, offered our assistance to FSWLD management and been refused.)
FOX Sports World Canada (FSWC) confirmed to AFANA on 19 March that they were still seriously interested in airing the sport. Christopher Rowe of FSWC told us, in part: "I understand you and your fans are starting to get a little anxious. We are still confident, however, that we will be broadcasting the AFL. Unfortunately, the cost of delivery is still an issue, so we haven't confirmed anything as yet. But again, we are hopeful that we'll be able [air] this league." A Canadian fan was told something similar by the program manager: "We are currently negotiating for a renewal and are optimistic we will be successful. ... I do agree that Aussie Rules is an exciting sport and we will do our best to improve our coverage." The April schedules for FSWC do not list Aussie rules. Most curiously however, fan P.S. in Winnipeg noted this on Monday, 22 March: "I was watching a soccer match on Fox Sports World Canada this afternoon and they started to overlay one of their tickers at the bottom of the screen... in addition to a couple soccer matches and rugby matches listed, there was this one interesting entry: 'Aussie Rules Football Richmond vs. Collingwood Friday March 26th'. Also, FSWC has begun airing some Aussie Rules commercials between shows." It's AFANA's assessment that coverage in Canada is unlikely unless there is coverage in the USA. But read on...
MHz Networks (WNVC, Washington DC metro area) has also remained very positive. Their viewer newsletter issued on Monday did not indicate coverage was imminent. However, we received this from the AFL's broadcast coordinator yesterday: "we have made an arrangement with WNVC whereby they will be taking the 50 min and 98 min highlights programs, to be shown at the following times:
* 98 min program - 8pm each Friday night commencing on 2 April
* 50 minute highlights program - 8pm each Monday commencing on 5 April
This is an interim measure while we work out a deal for the whole season." This is potentially good news for those in metro Washington, D.C. and perhaps eventually in Canada. We awaiting confirmation of this directly from MHz.
The AFL's broadcast coordinator also told AFANA about the broader North American situation: "We will be putting a note on the afl.com.au web site about the plans for 2004... that programming in the USA is yet to be finalised, but we are working hard to get AFL on the air as soon as we can into the 2004 home and away season."
In conclusion, AFANA now believes that coverage on FSWLD and FSWC this season are increasingly unlikely. Accordingly, we are actively examining other options which we will detail in a newsletter very soon. Until then, fans should continue to follow our advice below and lobby FOX and the AFL. We cannot afford to let up pressure if we want coverage. If the AFL or FSI think they are off the hook, then we have lost the battle.
FSI (based in London, UK) has the worldwide syndication rights thru the 2006 season as part of the AFL's 2002-2006 domestic TV contract. It is FSI that is immediately responsible (not the AFL) for finding a new home for footy in the US. Many networks are facing higher charges by FSI and AFL Films for the dubbing and shipping costs of the video tapes in 2004. We've heard nothing from the AFL or FSI which would suggest to us that they are close to a deal with any possible new network in the US or Canada. We believe they intend to air it on FOX Sports World or it
may not be shown.
The key consideration is time. Most networks do their forward schedule planning anywhere from 8 to 13 weeks in advance. With the AFL season starting in just days away the situation is now critical if we don't want to lose any of this season's TV coverage. It is important for fans to begin to make their voices heard. We've given the AFL and FSI time to find a solution. AFANA's officer's are working behind the scenes to find a home for footy where and when it seems appropriate for us to do so. We remain optimistic that a home for footy can be found but fans should expect it is going to be difficult and they will need to help.
We recommend that fans do the following:
a.) Contact FOX Sports World and let them know you want footy back.
b.) Contact the AFL and let them know fans in the US and Canada want their footy in 2004!
To make things easier we have a new contact page with all the info you need to do this (opens in a separate window):
Please copy (cc:) AFANA on your e-mail messages and send us copies of any responses. This is very important so that we can coordinate everyone's actions and narrow our focus as we go forward. It also helps us identify if broadcasters or the AFL are giving out different stories to different fans.
Please be courteous and polite in any messages. We encourage you to contact at least one network each week from this time forward.
AFANA continues to work to seek restoration of the coverage for the 2004 season. Our staff, both here and in Australia, considers this our top priority. We've been here several times before and you can count on AFANA to keep you informed.
Closing comment: After nine years of fighting for improved TV coverage it is remarkable how similar things are now to the way they were in year one. Once again we are dealing with shortcomings at the AFL, an arrogant network more than willing to blame the audience for their problems than themselves, and a general lack of cooperation from either with AFANA or anyone else.
What is also the same is the incredible loyalty of the footy fans in North America. After so many years of getting ignored by the AFL, trashed by the networks, and endlessly screaming for their favorite sport, you might think they would give up. Not in the least. This season has seen the biggest response by fans to the call to arms since 1996. Hundreds of fans have contacted the AFL and FOX Sports International and begged for their footy.
I remain cautiously optimistic in the face of the arrogance of FOX Sports, that we will succeed. We will get our footy in 2004!
-Rob (who is inspired by his fellow footy fans!)
March 05, 2004
There is much to the culture of sport, particularly Australian sport, to like. In many ways it is the heart of "mateship". To share a kick, to rehash the most recent match over a brew, to yell at the "telly" when the umpire rules against your club, and so on. For those fans so far removed from Australia, it is through our families, local clubs and organizations like AFANA that we participate in this.
There is also much not to like about the culture of Australian sport. A quick of the newspapers and other blogs will bring front and center the current scandals of the NRL's Canterbury and Melbourne clubs. If the allegations have a shread of truth to them, for some individuals and clubs non-consensual sex and violence are just what you do after a good night of footy. (I'll skip recanting the stories of where some rugby players place their fingers or the Kobe Bryant, Univ of Colorado, and English soccer affairs.)
In this writer's opinion none of this has any place in modern sport. Violence toward others is not to be tolerated or ignored. It's one thing to give an opposing player a hard shirtfront on the ground, it's entirely different one to force a woman to engage in sexual activity without consent. I hope that the legal authorities and the involved clubs and leagues take the appropriate action, including criminal prosecution where warranted, for the alleged behavior. If the AFL and it's member clubs are paying attention, they'll lay down some tough guidelines for their players and staff so the next story in the newspapers isn't one about the AFL.
If you are a parent as I am, talk to your children. Teach them not just how to play sport but how to behave on and off the field, and how to avoid situations that could turn dangerous, particularly for women. Practice what you preach by behaving appropriately yourself.
Several related commentaries we think are relevant to this are:
-Rob (who is disgusted and offended by all of this)
March 03, 2004
The TV Outlook for 2004
Updating my earlier blog on this subject and in anticipation of the release of a much delayed TV update, we have some new developments on the coverage front.
It seems, just as a year ago, there is an issue about how much FOX Sports International (FSI) is willing to pay for shipment of the highlights and Match of the Week master video tapes from Melbourne to Los Angeles. As a result we have no coverage at this moment anywhere in North America. Even though the MHz Networks (Washington DC metro area only) and FOX Sports World Canada (FSWC) are willing to air the sport, they can't unless FOX Sports World US does, too. FSI doesn't confirm this, however our sources do and so does FSWC.
Suffice it to say that four decades after Telstar first transmitted transcontinental TV it is hardly reasonable to be air freighting video tapes all over the globe when there is a glut of available satellite transponders. Be that as it may, that's where we are.
Based on 9 years of previous experience what I'd bet is really going on is this: the problem is "real" to the extent that the AFL really doesn't want to lose any more money than necessary to ship the tapes around the world and thus prices that service into the rights fees for broadcasters. The problem is not real to the extent that FOX Sports International (FSI) in LA has their own agenda here and it's conflicted to say the least.
On one hand, they (FSI) own the international distribution rights for the sport. Meaning they, not the AFL, do all the negotiating with broadcasters around the world for coverage. Something they got in the 2002 AFL domestic Australian TV deal. But my sources have told me in the past it wasn't something FSI folks in London & LA wanted but instead got forced on them by FOX management. So, I suspect that the LA crowd would be quite OK if no deal happened, in which case FSI (and their subsidiary FOX Sports World US) could largely wash their hands of a sport they apparently don't like much or truly want.
You'll note here there is the small matter of a conflict of interest. FSI has to do a "deal" with their own subsidiary company. The AFL, sometimes lacking a serious and real commitment to international popularization of the sport, won't spend any more than necessary and thus likely caps what they'll accept as the minimum fee from FSI and any other international network. This is playing right into FSI's hands.
I want to see coverage this year and feel strongly that we will get something one way or the other. Still, it might be in our long term interests for FSI to succeed in dropping the sport since that would result in the loss of 80% of the worldwide coverage and be a huge embarrassment to the AFL. That might in turn get some real change in the arrangements.
If the AFL wanted to do satellite distribution they could. I've said that over and over and in fact, even offered at one point to arrange it for them. They always fall back on tape duplication and air freight. You guess why, I'd don't know.
-Rob (who thinks we seemingly go thru this EVERY year...)
Melbourne Media Attitudes
Recently, journalist Martin Flanagan addressed the AFL club presidents and CEOs. An edited version of his speech is here::The meaning of football
In particular, I draw your attention to these paragraphs: "The quandary facing Australian football is that we have a world-class game played, and followed, by only a tiny fraction of the world's population. That can work both for us and against us.
The reason we weren't raided by Rupert Murdoch in the way that rugby league was a couple of years ago was because there wasn't a sufficient global audience for our game. Similarly, I don't believe our code will ever be seriously challenged by the National Soccer League while the likes of Harry Kewell play in Europe; part of the magic of sport is the belief that you're watching the best.
But the world of global entertainment is upon us. Australian football evolved in the same sort of cultural isolation that created West Indian cricket. The present state of West Indian cricket shows what can happen when that isolation is breached."
I don't fully agree with Martin Flanagan here, I think the danger to Aussie rules if it doesn't face the international threat is very real. The sport must seek to develop that global audience to survive. There must be international development or else.
He's absolutely right though that the lack of a large international audience is working against the sport. If for no other reason than it is one of the great sporting spectacles around and it would be a huge success... if only potential fans were exposed to it. This is exactly the thinking behind what AFANA wants to do in North America.
He's also correct that the world of global entertainment is here and the sooner the AFL comes to terms with that the better off it will be.
-Rob (who is glad someone addressed the AFL on this point!)
February 12, 2004
Exhibition Match in LA - Redux
Late January came and went without the rumored exhibition being so much as officially announced, never mind played. It also came and went without a courteous response from the AFL to the concerns we raised either by mail or to our Melbourne representative. It even passed without the proponents of that event coming forth to defend their efforts against our criticisms.
I'd like to say that all of that is surprising, but it isn't. The idea is far from dead however as a recent article in the Melbourne Age strongly suggests.
That's both good news and bad news. Good news because AFANA wants to see an exhibition in the US or Canada. Bad because the proponents of this event continue to hide in anonymity (AFANA has some pretty good clues who they are but because we don't have incontrovertible proof I won't publish their names). Bad because the AFL should have more courtesy and respond to reasonable inquiries from AFANA on such issues. Bad because none of the concerns we raised have been addressed by the promoters or the AFL.
As a fan, if you want to see an exhibition here in the US then you need to let the AFL know that. But I would also add that we need to make sure the AFL understands it's not an issue of promoting a local footy club or league or AFANA or an issue of promoting Australian trade and culture to footy fans here. To 99% of footy fans here it's an issue of promoting (and watching live) Australian Football and nothing else.
This last point is clearly going to be problematical to some in the footy community over here. I enjoy Australian culture, too. I feel very much at home when I am in Melbourne. I have business reasons to see trade grow between the countries (witness the recent blog on the Free Trade Agreement). However, the cost and complexity of staging the first exhibition here in over 15 seasons requires that footy gain the maximum benefit possible from such an event.
It also requires that the promoters anticipate what is going to happen when the exhibition is announced and confirmed. Even allowing for my concerns expressed in the earlier blog on this subject, it's safe to say that thousands of fans are going to travel from all across the continent to attend. Even in late January. Are they prepared? What venue is going to be used? The questions go on and on.
The time for answers is drawing nigh. If the AFL intends to go forward with this event between the 2004 and 2005 seasons, the decision needs to be made ASAP and we need answers to our concerns.
-Rob (who wonders if anybody at the AFL is listening?)
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