SYDNEY -- The biggest sports rights deal in Australian television history was finalized Thursday with the Australian Football League and broadcast partners free-to-air broadcaster Seven Network, paynet Foxtel and telco Telstra Corp. inking an AUS$1.235 billion ($1.32 billion), five-year arrangement.
The deal, according to AFL chair Mike Fitzpatrick, will see an “unprecedented amount of live football shown to more parts of Australia across more platforms than ever before."
The AFL is Australia’s native football game – the largest and one of four versions played here, which also include soccer, rugby league and rugby union.
Grasping the opportunity to take advantage of continually evolving digital TV, pay TV mobile and IPTV platforms, from the 2012 season the multi-pronged deal provides for:
- Every game during the regular season -- nine per week -- and the finals, with the exception of the grand final, shown live and uninterrupted on Foxtel and Austar, giving the game complete national live coverage for the first time;
- A minimum of four games per week including Friday night, Saturday afternoon and night and Sunday afternoon games will air live or near live on Seven’s digital channel 7mate and on Seven’s primary channel with the two main games each week scheduled for Friday and Saturday nights;
- Every match live each week will be streamed to Telstra mobile customers on its Next G platform and one live game per week streamed via IPTV to Telstra TBox and Foxtel via Xbox Live customers.
The AFL’s Fitzpatrick said the deals guiding principle was to provide an improved TV outcome for all football supporters across the country.
“This …landmark agreement… will take the game to more people than ever before, in ways never seen before," he said.
“In the next five years our supporters will have better access to live games on TV, better access to live games on mobile phones, better access to live game online, and most importantly that coverage will be better than at any time in the games history,” he added.
The AFL will pocket $1.256 billion in cash and $145 million in marketing and advertising support over five years from 2012. Seven confirmed today that it paid $454 million plus $53.5 million in ad support for its four games per week, the same as its current rights deal, while Foxtel is believed to have paid up to $642 million and Telstra $160 million. That’s a significant increase on the 2007 rights deal which netted the AFL $835 million in TV rights split between Seven, Ten and Foxtel and $64 million from Telstra for mobile rights. The national competition expands to an 18-team competition next year with nine games per round up from the current eight.
Foxtel and sports broadcaster Fox Sports will reinstate a dedicated AFL channel each season to screen all games, with a commitment to show all games in high definition. Seven magazine style shows a week will also air on the channel.
Seven’s digital multichannel 7Matewill become the defacto home of free to air AFL broadcasts. Details of the games each week that will air on 7Mate, and on the primary channel are yet to be decided.
Seven West Media CEO David Leckie said the deal will “cement Seven as the number one network for many years to come”.
“AFL is in our DNA. We’re the number one network and we can’t see any way that we’ll get rolled,” he said Thursday.
As to any erosion of Seven’s audience when games are simulcast on Foxtel, Leckie said “we are very confident most Aussies will still want to see footy for free. We will wrestle with Kim Williams on ratings but Seven will have the best coverage and the best commentators."
Seven may still onsell some of its four games per week to the Ten or Nine network but Leckie said such a deal is “down the line."
The deal is in line with the guidelines set by the federal government’s recent anti-siphoning reforms.
AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou said that at all stages during the 12 months of hard-fought negotiations “we have kept the commitment we gave our fans and the federal government to ensure games continue to be available on free to air TV while expanding the reach and method of delivery of AFL Football to those people who want to watch all games live. The government should be applauded for getting the balance right,” he said.
Foxtel managing director Kim Williams said “This is a great day for Australian sports fans. It's an agreement for the 21st century which takes all the truly amazing possibilities of digital technology to put the viewer firmly in control of their TV viewing and to deliver to them live sports coverage like never before and over a device of their choice."
He said the new Fox Sports AFL channel will be included in subscribers basic package plus sports tiers, meaning those who are new to Foxtel can get the AFL channel as part of a package at a base cost of A$60 per month.
He said the paynet was expecting “a big jump” in subscription numbers following the deal.
“The prospect of having nine live games in high definition and uninterrupted is an appealing proposition and will take off like wildfire” he predicted.
Currently around 35% of Australian households have a pay TV subscription through Foxtel or Austar.
Telstra CEO David Thodey said bringing live content outside of the lounge-room represented a watershed moment for the T-Box, mobiles and tablets connected to Telstra networks.
“Australians are hungry for AFL content and we’re delighted that Telstra can bring them even closer to the competition from next season regardless of what device they want to view the game on,” he said. “This agreement represents the coming of age for mobile technology and IPTV. No longer do Australians need to be tied to the lounge-room to catch Australia’s favorite sporting code live.”
Communications minister Stephen Conroy welcomed the agreements saying the government’s anti-siphoning reforms “mean better live coverage of matches on free-to-air TV and enhanced viewer choice through the use of multi-channels, subscription TV and IPTV.
“The agreement announced today guarantees the four best games of each round will be shown live or near live on free-to-air TV across Australia and that’s great news for AFL fans,” Conroy said.