In the biggest media deal in Australian sporting history, the AFL announced on 6th of September that Channel Seven and Foxtel have retained the Australian domestic broadcast rights to men's and women's competitions for a further seven years, fending off strong challenges from rival channels Nine and 10. The new deal, which expires at the end of 2031 season, is worth a total of A$4.5 billion (US$3.08 billion) at an average of A$643 million per year, a large increase on the A$473 million per year figure for the two-year contract extension Seven and Foxtel signed with the League in 2020, at the height of COVID pandemic. The previous rights deal from 2017 and 2022, also with Seven and Foxtel, was worth A$2.5 billion. [Ed. note: This new deal does not immediately affect coverage in the US and Canada which are covered by pre-existing contracts extending beyond this season. The current AFL deal with Fox Sports US has a mutual renewal option for the 2023 season.]
It was the first time 10 was involved in bidding for the broadcast rights since it last televised the 2011 AFL Grand Final; the first time 10's new owner Paramount Global (parent company of CBS and Paramount Pictures) was involved in negotiations, and the first time four of Australia's streaming platforms - Kayo (owned by Foxtel), 7plus (owned by Seven's parent company Seven West Media), Stan (owned by Nine) and Paramount+ (owned by Paramount) - were represented in the negotiations, signaling the growing importance of streaming in live sport.
Foxtel and Seven will pay the majority of A$4.5 billion in cash with the rest in contra [equivalent benefits] and advertising. While Foxtel will contribute the bulk of the increase in rights fees, Seven will pay a 14% increase on the 2023-24 rights in 2025; with indexation over the term this represents a 3.6% compound annual growth rate in rights fees across the period. According to veteran football journalist Caroline Wilson, Paramount offered to pay A$6 billion over 10 years to televise games through 10 and Paramount+, while Nine's offer was A$525-535 million a year, plus another A$100 million in marketing using Nine’s assets (including newspapers The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and radio stations such as Melbourne's 3AW). Both offers were unsuccessful.
Under the new contract, Seven will be able to stream AFL and AFLW games produced by the network, as well as the Brownlow Medal, and all AFL and AFLW Finals (including Grand Final) for the first time on 7plus, for Australian subscribers. Seven has been heavily criticized by footy fans for not paying more for the streaming ability in the 2017-2022 broadcast rights contract, seemingly to protect the interests of Foxtel and part-owner Telstra, who offered live streaming with the AFL Live Pass, and WatchAFL outside Australia. The Live Pass merged with Kayo at the start of 2021 AFL season. In return for live streaming through 7plus, Seven will not be able to broadcast Saturday night games in the first eight rounds of the regular season (except Anzac Eve, Anzac Day and Dreamtime at the 'G if they were to fall on a Saturday), allowing Foxtel to create an exclusive line-up of Saturday games under the Super Saturday brand. [Ed. note: AFANA and some other footy organizations received commissions for sales of WatchAFL subscriptions but that program was terminated at the end of 2021. It is not clear what effect this new contract will have on streaming access for fans in the US, Canada, and Latin America.]
The features of the new domestic broadcast deal are:
- The AFL will retain control of scheduling of men's and women's games, including the timing of the Grand Final.
- During the AFL regular season, Seven will continue to televise games on Thursday nights, Friday nights, selected Saturday nights, Sunday afternoons, plus marquee games (Dreamtime at the 'G, Anzac Day Eve, Anzac Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday and Queen's Birthday) and at least three additional marquee games, such as the season opener and Queen’s Birthday Eve.
- Seven will televise Thursday night games in the first 15 rounds of the regular season, selected marquee games on Saturdays from Round 9 to Round 15, and a Saturday night game every week in the last eight rounds.
- Foxtel will provide its own calling teams and graphics for every AFL / AFLW regular season game, every AFL and AFLW final (excluding the AFL Grand Final), and all preseason games. [Ed. note: We cannot say whether this means that more of the broadcasts shown to fans in the US and Canada will be those from Foxtel or continue to be a mix of Seven and Foxtel.]
- Foxtel and Kayo will televise live each and every AFL / AFLW regular season game, every AFL final (excluding the Grand Final), all preseason games, and AFL and AFLW events including the draft and award nights, excluding the Brownlow Medal. They will televise all AFLW finals (including the Grand Final) on delay.
- Seven and 7plus will televise live at least 30 AFLW regular season games per year, and all AFLW finals including the Grand Final, with local market substitution rules.
- Outside Victoria, the match involving the local team will be broadcast live into the local market on Seven and 7plus, except for selected games to be broadcast on delay for up to two hours. (While selected games involving clubs from South Australia and Western Australia had been subject to delay on Seven since 2017, the new arrangement will also affect games involving NSW and Queensland clubs.)
- As part of the new broadcast deal, telco firm Telstra has retained the digital rights to AFL and AFLW until the end of 2031 season. Telstra will be building on their investment into Melbourne's Marvel Stadium and extending into innovation and the League's digital offerings through the AFL / AFLW apps and all 18 clubs’ websites.
At the media conference in Melbourne announcing the new broadcast deal, AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan said the same amount of games would continue on free-to-air television, with changes to the number of Thursday night and Saturday night games. McLachlan said the deal would also help continue to make the game affordable and keep ticket prices down, adding: “I think that people understand that we are getting increasingly digital. People’s viewing habits are changing ... We need to look at our agreement and to reflect on what our partners want, where it’s going, and our ability to monetize that and this and other areas.” McLachlan said the League would use the money from the new contract to pay for the proposed 19th franchise from Tasmania, as well as women's and community footy programs.
Seven West Media CEO and Managing Director James Warburton said: “We are delighted to extend our partnership with the AFL until 2031. Securing a comprehensive package of digital rights to the AFL for 7plus was our absolute focus. For the first time, fans will be able to access the best AFL games and video content, live and free, in a way that suits them ... More importantly, this new combination of broadcast and digital means SWM will be ideally positioned to drive and capture a significant share of the growing total television market.” He also called the AFL rights “the most important piece of content that money can buy” and the broadcaster had been able to secure a deal that was incredibly hard fought with all the competition. Seven West Media Chairman Kerry Stokes, who joined the media conference via videolink from Perth alongside AFL Commission Chairman Richard Goyder, said he was excited to continue the relationship with the AFL and now every city had access to free-to-air football. Stokes said one of the reasons the partnership between Seven and the AFL had been so successful over the years was due to the shared love of the game.
Foxtel Group Chief Executive Patrick Delany said the new rights deal was great news for sports fans that love Foxtel and Kayo, and would extend the company's 20-year relationship with the AFL, which began in 2002 when it first televise games in association with Nine and 10. Delany said the pay TV company would “...continue to bring the highest-quality analysis, shows and entertainment as well as innovation in production to record breaking audiences and in turn providing unprecedented growth to the AFL.”
The battle for the new AFL broadcast rights began in March this year when Gillon McLachlan flew to the US, visiting the head offices of Amazon, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Paramount Global, to gauge their interests in streaming footy games. Major talks between the AFL and Foxtel, Seven, Nine and Paramount began in June, before the broadcasters submitted their final bids at League headquarters in Melbourne on Monday, 5th September. A deal with Seven and Foxtel was completed in the early hours of Tuesday, before a media conference was held in the afternoon.
Sources: afl.com.au; theage.com.au, Jacqui Abbott, Foxtel Media Release; Rob Sharpe, Seven West Media Media Release
Article last changed on Sunday, September 11, 2022 - 7:30 PM EDT