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(This editorial is in response to the following post on the site of AFL Decision Fails Sport in USA.)(Ed. note: Link removed as no longer works as of Apr. 2013)

Our friend Wayne Kraska at recently posted an editorial on why he feels the AFL has failed the sport of Australian football in the USA with it's latest TV contract with Fox Sports Plus (announcement here).  Considering his arguments and those of the many fans who commented here on this site, on our Facebook page, and in e-mails to us, I felt it was appropriate to respond. 

At the outset, I want every reader to know that I am sympathetic to the fans who feel the sport took a backward step with this new deal.  In some ways, that may be true.  I understand the frustration of fans who cannot get or afford to subscribe to Fox Sports Plus (FSP).  I also believe that there is a lack of understanding by many of the realities the AFL faced, the alternatives available, and the history of both recent events and those since 1980 when the AFL first appeared on the then nascent network ESPN.  

I want to address Wayne's key points because he raises some that many other fans have expressed.  It is an exaggeration to say that the sport has gone back to where it was in the 1970's.  That simply is not correct.  There was no live coverage in the US prior to 2006 except for the Grand Finals and a few matches in the early years of ESPN.  For 11 years, beginning in 1995, all that AFANA heard from fans in the US was "when will we get live coverage again?".  In every fan survey, in thousands of e-mail messages and bulletin board posts, that was the refrain.  AFANA and others tried to market live pay per view packages.  No one could get sufficient subscribers for it to work in the "big dish" era.  (The projected cost of this for one match per week in 2000 was $200 per year [about $30/month] per home subscriber and $1000 for bars and pubs!). 

When Setanta came along, offered the AFL its first big dollar US TV contract and promised live coverage, it was a no brainer even though Setanta was only in 2% of US homes (it reached nearly 50% by the end in August, 2009).  Many fans were thrilled but many more were upset because they had to pay $14.99 a month for 2 to 4 matches each week.  This is despite having been warned for years by AFANA that live coverage would never be free again. In truth, it never was free. You pay for every channel you get even if it is wrapped up in your monthly cable bill. This dirty secret is why the cable and TV companies don't want "a-la-carte" pricing.  If you had to subscribe individually they fear you would drop 80% of the channels you now receive.  ESPN is the single most expensive channel group you pay for.  For the average viewer, that runs to somewhere between $5 and $8 a month. 

In 2002, I briefed a number of AFL staff on the future of US media coverage of the AFL.  I predicted then that the future distribution of live coverage of the sport would be via pay per view or the internet in the US.  I think many at the AFL doubted me and fans in the US generally told me I didn't know what I was talking about.  They were convinced, as many are now, that the sport had to be on "free" (??) cable or broadcast TV. 

Is it a surprise that a sport that the "converted" believe is, as Wayne accurately described it: "one of the most, if not the most, exciting team sport in the world" and "is relegated to obscure cable TV broadcasts in the biggest sports TV market in the world"? No, it isn't. Just because folks like you and I and Wayne believe it is the most exciting sport, I can assure that the sports programming directors do not and they don't care unless you can show them the money.  In fact, aside from the major US sports (American football, basketball, ice hockey, baseball, and some big time soccer) the leading sports networks (ESPN and the broadcast networks), don't show anything else unless it a) has a major sponsor or b) buys the time or c) shares the advertising revenue with the network.  Minor sports are relegated to minor sports networks here.  The AFL commands neither the ratings nor the sponsors to do better.  Until it does, it won't get better exposure.  Is it a chicken and egg issue? To get better ratings and sponsors the sport needs better exposure / better scheduling and vice-versa?  Yes, however this can be fixed with more and better marketing.

The AFL marketing budget in the US is nearly nil aside from TV contracts.  AFANA spends more than the AFL and we're living on a shoestring with minimal fan support.  The AFL gives neither AFANA nor the USAFL money for doing the necessary marketing to grow the sport here.  At no time since August 2009, could AFANA or the USAFL afford to regularly send reps to Bristol, CT to spend some "quality time" with ESPN management and staff. 

A few words about how we got from the Grand Final 2011 to the signing of the contract with FSP.  I want to assure Wayne and every fan that to the best of my knowledge and belief, the AFL made every effort to get ESPN back.  ESPN indicated to AFANA after last season that they hoped to continue to carry the sport. So what went wrong? Not being present at the negotiations or able to read all of the messages that went back and forth, I cannot tell you for certain.  What is for certain is the advice the AFL received from the USAFL and AFANA.  With our consent, the USAFL supported expansion of the coverage on ESPN2 and the continuation of coverage on ESPN3.  Four matches a year on ESPN2 at unpredictable times won't build audiences.  Thus, we wanted more games and more predictable scheduling. However, ratings had not been good. Audiences were generally only 20% better than ESPN2 would get showing some "world's strongest man" tape from 1975 and downloads on ESPN3 were OK but not great. 

My best guess is that ESPN never put the offer on the table the AFL was hoping for and the AFL was asking for far more than ESPN was ever going to offer.  Two ships passing in the night with different objectives and different ways to evaluate success.  This happens in negotiations every day.  What fans here wanted was simply not in the cards with ESPN.  Should the AFL have settled for far less? Perhaps. However if that happened, I can tell you that fans would be just as unhappy as today that the coverage "had gone backward".  Into the breach in the final weeks stepped FSP after they had made a similar deal with the NRL. Considering that Fox Soccer -- then Fox Soccer Channel, the AFL, and AFANA had not parted ways on the best of terms in 2005 this was all the more remarkable.  Had FSP not stepped up we would have had the AFL via internet on and that might have been it.  That's $99/season or about $14 a month this year.  Moreover, coverage on MHz was hanging in the balance, too. 

ESPN3 is in somewhere between 55 and 60% of US homes via broadband.  FSP is available to 45 to 50% of homes via subscription. In some cases it is in a sports bundle at around $6 a month, for others it is $15 per month. Of course, there are some of you who now get FSP who couldn't get ESPN3 and some the other way. Some could bury the cost of ESPN3 in their cable and broadband bills and were happy and some who have to pay more now on FSP are unhappy. Problems like this have occurred every time TV coverage has changed. In 1996, a long and hard campaign by fans finally got coverage back on ESPN but it was "espn2".  in 1996, the "deuce" was in 21% of US homes.  That meant 79% of our original core group couldn't even see the coverage they fought for!  Were they ever unhappy!  Sound familiar? Fans who complained when they lost coverage when Setanta folded blamed AFANA though we weren't at fault.  They couldn't get ESPN3 and thought internet coverage was inferior. Amazing how many of them are complaining now, too. There is no free lunch and there is no perfect solution. Sadly, episodes like this have given AFL fans a bad reputation with US TV networks.  They see us as fans who are "never happy no matter what they do".

There is no "slap in the face" to the USAFL leadership or AFANA here though neither organization is entirely happy with how things have played out.  We would have preferred another outcome. The reality is that FSP is working with us and we will work with them.  Wayne is absolutely correct that a pay network (whether FSP or will never provide the best way to expose new fans to the sport.  For that, the AFL has looked to MHz to provide an outlet for free coverage. Not enough fans and clubs have utilized the MHz option and it isn't available to half the population.  (That 50%, the FSP 50%, and the ESPN3 60% are all different and partially overlapping.)

In conclusion, I understand why fans are upset at change particularly when they did not expect it.  I also know that the world would be better if we could get footy both live and on tape delay in a prime-time slot every week on ESPN and see every match.  Unfortunately, that is not happening and never will happen. The AFL decision here didn't fail us, our own expectations did. The long term solution is for more money to be spent on marketing the sport, growing the audience, building youth programs, and improving ratings and sponsorship.  We cannot expect "TV" to save us.  The bottom line drivers on network sports no longer allow it.  It took soccer over 30 years to break through.  By AFANA's estimate, we are barely half way along that window and woefully short in marketing and youth development.  The bell tolls not for the AFL, it tolls for thee.  Let's get to work and maybe, just maybe, we can convince the AFL to see the light and join us.

-Rob de Santos
AFANA Chairman Emeritus


Posted by Gerry D on April 28, 2012


Thanks for injecting a healthy dose of perspective into this topic. It's only human nature that we look at this situation as how it effects each of us individually. Sentana NEVER had access to my carrier. NYC sports bars run by OZ ex-pats had good access to it and I had many a fun, bonding late-nite session at 8 Mile Creek, "Australia" etc. due in part to an understanding wife but on home TV? Zilch. Convenience and my liver often dictated a missed game. On, then, to ESPN III coinciding with full time residence in NJ. FREE on my Verizon-varying transmission, computer screen size image, "chopped" halftime, pre/post game coverage. Oh, and when I say "free", I mean on my Verizon screen. I had to forego the significant savings converting to a CableVision package of phone, computer, wireless would have brought because the cable server does not have ESPN III on internet. Meanwhile, my nephew in NYC, a teen, had no chance because ESPN III had no contract in place at that point with Time-Warner. Too young for a pub, he shared the fate of a nice lady I know, Kate, a big Geelong supporter from OZ. Now living in NYC, and reticent to visit a bar late and solo, she too was penalized. BOTH now have a monthly FSP packages for $6 monthly (with Tennis channel thrown in)and are ecstatic.  In NJ at the same $6/mo in HD on big screen TV I relish the superior pre/post/long break of FSP. That I logically like this incarnation best is as understandable as the grumblings of those charged $20 (!) by their server or those in areas where FSP is unavailable. As Rob patiently points out, barring AFL hdqts revving up, it's always going to be a mixed bag. Some fans rewarded, others sadly punished. As elsewhere in life, no such thing as a free lunch. At least AFANA will do its utmost to keep the lines of contact open so we're not ignored 

Posted by admincms on April 29, 2012

Thanks, Bob and Gerry D.  

I hope that the editorial helps people get that perspective.  I also want everyone to understand that while I am sympathetic to those disadvantaged by this deal as well as those who rightly point out what it doesn't do for footy in the US, we're in this situation because of what we haven't done in the US not just because of AFL decisions. 

AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

Posted by Rob (not verified) on May 15, 2012

While some feel you may have failed in the USA, I am happy with what you've been able to achieve in Canada. Having access to one match per week on TSN2, which is available to most households, is a great achievement.
Posted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012

At the risk of inciting a riot, I'm just going to say it... I'm glad the AFL is on FSP. Would I have preferred live games on a regular schedule to be on a higher-profile network that wasn't going to cost me more? Sure. But as a long-time fan of the NHL, I saw how a North American sport with a long history went through heck in recent years trying to find a national TV home. At one point, they had to settle for a revenue sharing deal because no one was going to pay for national rights outright. That being the case, I wasn't going to be too unrealistic about a sport from another country with (relative) limited appeal in North America getting a great TV deal here. With FSP, the games are on a network that actually has respect for international sports and understands the fan passion for international sports. I get two live games a week in HD, plus a weekly highlights show. (And as a bonus, I'm becoming an NRL fan, too.) With ESPN2 (at least last year when I became a more serious fan) games were few and far between. ESPN3 was a bit better... assuming you had access to it. This year, I also went with the AFL Live TV package which is better than ESPN3 anyway. I understand that not everyone can afford the extra cost, or even get access to FSP if they did have money in the budget. From that point of view, I understand the disappointment. For me, though, I'm happy.

I remember facing much the same situation with trying to get race results in the newspaper. The newspaper said there wasn't enough intrest to support inclusion. The local tracks argued that there was but that with zero coverage it couldn't be measured. Chicken and the egg. I desire better coverage because I see better coverage as a way to grow the sport - not personal use. I prefer for watching games because I get to see the game I want, when I want. But, there is no mistake, that the only reason that I am an enthusiast now is because of a random choice on ESPN3 of something for background noise while I studied. That random choice was the Grand Final draw. Without the ability for some one to stumble into, or be invited to view a game on a network they already have access to, this sport will not grow substantially in the US. Viewing games is not about us - the supporters, it is about them - the 99% who don't know this is "the greatest game in the world." Sadly, TV networks cannot program on good will and possible audiences. My perfect solution would be to have the AFL find a channel that is available on most cable and satellite outlets. Then make an AFL Game of the Week by picking the most exciting game of the round. Then, and here is the point of contention, buy (through the purchase of ads) a semi-prime time slot on tuesday, or similar, that will be there every week. It should also include a promo for USAFL. This will build a following over time. The issue of course is "purchasing" the slot. Money is always an issue. Any surprises ? Until such things come to fruition, I agree it is up to followers, the local clubs, and the USAFL to spread the gospel by word of mouth - one person at a time if necessary. I also think we could develop some tactic that could further that goal. That is my personal goal as a soon to graduate communication major.
Posted by admincms on April 30, 2012

Hi Rick,

Thanks for your comments.  Purchasing the time is one option,  A better one is to take the programming along with locked in sponsors and advertisers as you suggest.  That works as well and gets tie-ins from companies with a stake in promoting the coverage, too. 

Just to be clear, AFANA and the USAFL are independent organizations though we work cooperatively.  Promoting the sport and growing the fan base is AFANA's (our) objective in the US and Canada.  You won't be surprised then when I suggest maybe we could use one of those promo spots, too! 

AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

Posted by Joe (not verified) on May 10, 2012

ESPN3 was the greatest chance for success abroad that the AFL has ever had handed to them gift wrapped and on a silver platter. To not see that was shortsighted and dumb and entirely predictable considering their actions leading up to this point.
Posted by admincms on May 10, 2012

Hi Joe,

Thanks for your comments. 

Even if I accept your reasoning, and I don't, what would you have the AFL do? 

The AFL can't force ESPN to make a deal that the ESPN doesn't feel is in its interest so the alternative was to take an even worse deal than the AFL had before.  It's not whether they wanted a deal with ESPN and I as stated, everyone involved did want a new deal.  Sometimes it just can't be done.  It's not like, as fans, we made it easy for ESPN to say they wanted more due to the poor ratings. 

I'm OK if you think it was the best deal ever even if I think it still had flaws, but what should we do as fans and what should we expect from the AFL and ESPN?

AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

Posted by Bob on May 18, 2012

Originally I was disappointed that footy would not be on ESPN3 this year because I like free stuff.  But after watching AFL LiveSport TV for a few weeks I realized it's worth the $99.99 year's subscription to be able to watch my favorite teams every week, not just when ESPN3 decided to show them

Posted by Bob on May 25, 2012

Well, I might be taking back my praise for AFL SportTV.  Currently I’m trying to watch Geelong vs. Bulldogs without much luck.  It got through the 1st quarter OK then lost the signal.  After a while of blank screen and test pattern it now seems to be alternating between Dr. Oz and Toybox.  Oops, just went back to a blank screen again.  A similar problem occurred in round 6.  I was watching Hawthorn vs. St Kilda when it went out.  Fortunately the Sydney - Adelaide game was on at the same time so I was able to switch to it.  And it actually turned out to be a better game than what I was originally watching.  But this time there is no alternative.  So I guess I got up early for nothing.  I think both times the games were at Etihad.

Posted by admincms on May 25, 2012

Thanks, Bob, for the reports and keep them coming.  (Sadly) it sounds business as usual over at Perform and Telstra.  Glad it was fixed before the end of the game.  I'll be interested to know if the entire game is available on replay and if they issue refunds to customers who paid to see it. 

We can't expect perfection but it would be nice if the service was 99% reliable rather than the seeming 85%. 

AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

Posted by Hunter (not verified) on May 19, 2012

Even though I thought the $14.99 monthly fee was extremely high, I subscribed to Fox Soccer Plus on DirecTV just so I could watch AFL footy. The first couple games of the season on the broadcast schedule were not shown. Then last night and this morning, both games scheduled were only broadcast on the standard def channel instead of the HD channel. Today I called and cancelled Fox Soccer Plus. I told them to let me know when it becomes full-time HD. The AFL is completely alienating footy fans in the USA by signing with Fox Soccer Plus!
Posted by admincms on May 20, 2012


I don't know what happened but your report doesn't make sense to me because as far as I can tell, not a single match has failed to air.  Nada.  FSP has aired matches every week just as promised and planned.  Moreover, the FSP HD channel has had every match and my DVR recorded them. The only matches not in true HD on FSP HD did not originate in HD at the source.  For that, blame the Seven Network and their antiquated "no HD for AFL" broadcast policy.  If there has been any other problems, you are the first person to notice and report them.  I wish you had reported them immediately here or via e-mail to us so we could follow up with Fox and the AFL.  If any other reader noticed the same issues please let us know and who is your cable/satellite provider. 

The only problems reported to us and verified so far with FSP broadcasts occurred because either a match ran over and the broadcast went longer than scheduled or in one case, they cut it off just before the "song" in the locker room.  In a couple of occasions, the initially published schedule gave only a two hour window but in fact, when aired, it went the full 3 hours! 

Do NOT trust the schedule provided by the on-screen guide.  Trust what we publish when there is a discrepancy between the two.  If you note a problem with a broadcast, let us know ASAP, and we will seek verification and investigate it with both Fox and the AFL. 

AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

Posted by Jake (not verified) on May 21, 2012

This last weekend on DirecTV, I also didn't see the games on the FSP HD channel. For the first game, I was up so I kept switching back between 621 and 621-1 to see if the game eventually came on the HD channel. Never did. The other game was on too late for me so I recorded the HD channel in addition the FSP regular channel, even though, again, the game wasn't listed for HD. The next morning, all I had was the DirecTV logo on the HD channel. So something was definitely going on.
Posted by admincms on May 21, 2012

Thanks for the report, Jake. 

This is a DirecTV problem.  The matches aired on TWC and on other cable companies.  I would have a chat with DirecTV tech support and ask for an explanation.  Let us know if you find anything out.  I will pass the problem on to the AFL and FSP. 

AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

Posted by admincms on May 23, 2012

AFANA is still looking into this situation but it appears that DirecTV has chosen to block any content on FSP-HD that is up-converted and not true HD.  That means that any match originating from Seven is likely to air on the regular FSP channel only not on the HD channel.  They do this to soccer content also. Matches from Foxtel are all in true HD and should be OK. 

All we can suggest is that DirecTV customers complain loudly and often.  We have made the AFL aware of the problem. 

AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

Posted by Jake (not verified) on May 23, 2012

Well that stinks. Already fired off my e-mail. I can see that at least the first game for this weekend is supposed to be on the HD channel. Not sure about the second one yet. Frankly, I'm not that much of an eagle-eye that I can notice the difference between true HD and up-converted. I only know that the game we've been getting on the HD channel looks better than the same one on the non-HD channel. My question, which I put to DirecTV is along the lines of, "Does it really matter if it's up-converted?" I mean, it's not like they're doing anything else with the HD channel at that time. Unless it's a matter of cost to them in using that channel. Otherwise, I can't imagine any AFL fans who are paying extra for FSP would complain that they're getting the game up-converted if that's the best available. I've been really happy with those games so far.
Posted by admincms on May 23, 2012

Thanks, Jake.

The bizarre part about this weekend's schedule is that the source video for the Richmond  v Hawthorn match is from Seven in SD and West Coast v Fremantle is Foxtel and HD.  None of this makes sense.  We've inquired with both the AFL and FSP and so far no response from either one.  We'll let fans know more when we know more. 

Side note:  Had Hunter posted details and reported on what was happening sooner and in a calmer fashion we might have figured this out weeks ago.  Jumping to conclusions and no facts don't lead to useful outcomes.  We're here to help but we can't unless fans work with us.  You don't have to like the situation just work with us.

AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

Posted by admincms on May 23, 2012

Hi all,

The AFL got back to us tonight with an e-mail that said, in part:  "...have spoken with Fox Sports and they have followed the issue up with their affiliates group and it appears it was communication error somewhere along the line for this particular weekend. They have advised that the issue has been rectified and matches should air in HD with no problems this weekend."

However, the issue is with DirecTV specifically and not any other affiliate, which has to turn on the HD feed if a live game has 720p or 1080p HD video from the source. Otherwise, DirecTV will not allocate HD bandwidth for FSP-HD (channel 621-1). My sources tell me that DirecTV's contract with FOX for FSP is very clear on this issue: 621-1 is only turned on when HD video is available for a live event and not for 16:9 SD video.

FOX has yet to reply to our inquiry. 

AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

Posted by Jake (not verified) on May 24, 2012

Got a response from DirecTV which was a bit frustrating because I specifically asked about up-converting. But it seems they shy away from technical discussions with viewers: "Thank you for writing us regarding Australian Football League in HD. I am sorry to hear that you weren't able to watch last weekend's AFL game in HD. Channel 621-1 is dedicated to HD feeds. We provide select games in HD on this channel, but in some cases there is not an HD feed available or we don't have the rights to the HD feed. We certainly agree with you on the quality of HD - DIRECTV is the leader in HD programming and are constantly striving to provide an HD quality signal to our subscribers." I pretty-much knew that without writing and it's why I was very specific in my question. I'm a big boy... I can handle a big boy answer. But I doubt my note was ever going to get to someone on that level. I got a cookie-cutter, cut & paste answer. So far on my channel guide, the first of the two games on the weekend shows HD availability, but not the second. It may just be that the second won't be listed until after the first game is done on that channel. Won't know for sure until the weekend. Hopefully all this turns out just to be a glitch as we begin the FSP/AFL journey. Thanks for your efforts to get some answers, Rob.
Posted by admincms on May 25, 2012

Yes, you got the generic answer.  Thanks for the words of support. 

The AFL has now acknowledged that my explanation above is correct and FSP confirmed this with them.  You will not see any AFL match carried by FSP-HD unless the content is in true HD.  (All of them will be on the standard FSP channel).  As for this weekend, the AFL says they have been assured by FSP that both will air on DirecTV this weekend.  That remains to be seen.  As I noted above only one is listed and it is, ironically, the one not originating in HD but in SD. 

In any case, this is not a glitch.  The DirecTV contract with FSP, as my sources tell me and the AFL now admits, is specific on this point. DirecTV has taken it on themselves to "police" the HD channels who transmit too much live content in up-converted video and written this in contractually. 

So far, no response to our inquiry with Fox. We're not expecting much at this point. 

AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

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