Another entry from my blog on the old AFANA site with some updates. This one, written during our last fan survey seems particularly appropriate: (updates in color):
August 29, 2003
ESPN and My Time Machine
As noted at the end of the previous blog, AFANA has a survey of footy fans in the USA and Canada underway at the moment. (The current survey is at:
If you haven't taken the survey yet and you live in the US or Canada at present, do it as soon as you finish reading this blog.
One of the most important goals of the survey is to find out how fans across the continent view the telecasts. The results won't be scientific but will be the first significant opinion summary we've had in a few years and will shape what AFANA has to say to the AFL after the season ends. It will also help us set our goals as an organization and tell us a bit about who the typical footy fan is these days.
I'm sure that some of my ideas about what fans want will be proven wrong. So be it. I'd rather know the reality in this case than have my personal biases vindicated. I'm also very sure that whatever the AFL and AFL Films thinks will also be proven to be off the mark in some way. That's worth the time and effort by itself. Facts are better than opinions.
Already, a day and a bit in, it's obvious that AFANA needs to explain some things about the situation that fans just may not be aware of. To that end, we will be answering some "frequently asked questions" after the season along with publishing a summary of the survey. (We now have a FAQ at: http://www.afana.com/drupal/tvfaq ) Between now and then, we will answer any comments made in the survey to those who provide their e-mail address and I'll be answering a few things here.
One issue that comes up repeatedly is why footy is not on ESPN. There are several answers to that but lets take my time machine back to 1996 and 1997 when last they carried our sport.
In 1996, after a five month campaign by fans, footy finally got underway in early June with a month delayed Round 5. The time slots made FOX Sports World look awesome. (Coverage is now on Setanta Sports.) We got only the highlights and usually at 4:00 AM EDT or so on ESPN2. They just about caught up as we neared the Grand Final. However, they declined to carry the Grand Final. Not live, not at all. So, the AFL having tried all of the other networks available at the time, turned to AFANA and the Australian American Chamber of Commerce of SoCal just 8 days prior to the Grand Final. And it was AFANA & the AACC that arranged the satellite feed and sold the telecast to every US and Canadian party and home viewer.
The following season the schedule settled down some and improved a bit to Thursday or Friday afternoons usually about 3:00 PM EDT. Highlights only again, and on ESPN2 (then in under 10% of American homes). All season, AFANA repeatedly checked with ESPN's programming dept. to verify their plans for the Grand Final. We were told, right up to three days before the GF, that it would be live on ESPN2 and not to worry. We and the AFL were deliberately mislead by their management. Less than 30 hours before the telecast we suddenly discovered via a wire service notice that it would be tape delayed 90 minutes and shortened. We (and the AFL) were stunned and furious. The next day fans all but shut down the ESPN phone and fax lines, but to no avail. (Those in the TV business still talk about that incident to this day.) The result was that the footy got underway at 1:35 AM on the east coast. Following the season, the AFL and AFANA immediately sought a new home for footy. That lead us to the new FOX Sports World network the following year.
It's easy to wax poetic about how well footy got treated in the early days of ESPN. Even ESPN talks at great length about it in their 20th Anniversary special. (And again in their 25th Anniversary program.) But the ESPN of 1980 is gone. Then ESPN was a crazy idea about a 24 hour satellite distributed sports network. Most in the TV and media business made fun of them and waited for them to fail. When your other live programming is women's field hockey, footy is a gold mine. Today they are part of a huge media conglomerate, dominate sports rights to the major American sports, and have multiple 24 hour networks.
If footy returned to ESPN today, it would likely be stuck in the same time slots as in 1997. Almost everything ESPN shows today falls into one of two categories: it's a major US sport OR they own a piece of the action. (You may not know this but ESPN owns BASS fishing and X-Games, for example.) The Grand Final wouldn't be live because they have guaranteed Major League Baseball two or more live games during the last weekend of September.
Sure, I'd like to see footy get the exposure it had during 1980-1987 on ESPN. It's why I'm a fan today. But you can't go back in time. Alas, my time machine doesn't exist.
AFANA Chairman (who pines for the olden days...)