What about the fans?

Almanacker John Weldon has weighed in with his thoughts on the latest TV rights deal and he doesn’t believe the fans are getting much of a look in. Check out his piece at the link below and then add your thoughts here.



  1. John Butler says

    Interesting thoughts JW

    Since the AFL became an entity unto itself, separate from the clubs, it’s interesting to look at their big interventions and decisions- mergers, expansion, etc.

    They obviously feel confident about the fans’ loyalty, and membership numbers and crowd figures would seem to provide some support for their view. But this fan ‘game experience’ they keep referring to isn’t necessarily the one the fans would choose.

    TV rights income plays an increasingly large part in their reckoning. It’s the only possible economic justification for the Suns/GWS experiment. But at what point does the pursuit of TV dollars become actively in conflict with the interests of the fans attending the game?

    You’re right about the fans needing some form of representation.

  2. Andrew Fithall says

    I believe the football fan already enjoys significant power in this negotiation. The football follower has a vote, and exercises that vote every time they elect to attend a game, every time they turn on the TV to free-to-air football, and every time they take up a subscription to pay TV and upgrade to the sports package. If the football follower hadn’t already voted in the numbers they have, then the price negotiated wouldn’t have been as high as it is. Foxtel wouldn’t have paid more for the TV rights that channel 7 has paid and channel 7 would have let the free-to-air rights go to channel 9 or 10 (or the ABC or SBS) who could have paid a lesser amount. There are downsides such as the number of fans who cannot attend a grand final because that is the game where the corporates seek a return on their sponsorship investment and occupy too many of the seats, and the clubs legally scalp their allocations. But I certainly don’t want to return to Saturday afternoon football with a one hour replay of two quarters from two games on Saturday night.

  3. John Butler says

    AF, I don’t think it’s an either/or choice.

    There’s much that’s good about the present, but there’s also an increasing encroachment in matters that affect fans.

    Do fans like twilight games? Monday games? These exist primarily to suit the purposes of TV. I doubt many who attend would vote for them if given the option.

    There’s nothing sinister in this. Just the reality that TV will want what they want for all that money.

    But the individual club member has no influence on that process.

  4. Andrew, you make a couple of good points but the landscape has changed significantly since the days of the Saturday Night Replay.

    For a start, all games were played in Melbourne then and any able-bodied person could attend a game if they lived here. These days, if your team (or any team for that matter) is playing interstate, there’s a fair chance you won’t be able to see it unless you don’t have pay TV. This applies especially to the smaller-drawing clubs. Footscray had 13 consecutive interstate games over 2 seasons in 2007-2008 and NOT ONE was on free-to-air TV in Melbourne.

    As the national comp evolved, it became standard for games played interstate to be shown live on free-to-air TV. That’s no longer the case and this is the area in which the fans are now being ignored in my view. Imagine if Adelaide were playing in Melbourne and that game wasn’t on free-to-air. They’d tear the churches down.

    As for Saturday afternon footy, Brian Taylor was seen on Foxtel a few days ago lamenting the fact that the MCG will be vacant every Saturday afternoon for the next 7 (or something) weeks. BT, you might want to talk to your employer about that. It’s for them that we have games at silly times such as twilight on a Sunday which results in fans who attend getting home after dinner and having to get ready for work on Monday, a feeling made even worse if your team’s lost. I can count at least 10 friends of mine who’d have gone to that game if it had started 2 hours earlier.

    Like any commercial organisation (I’m thinking of banks in particular), the AFL can be expected to take as much from the fans as possible until they reach a “breaking-point” and the fans start turning away, either on TV or in attendance. I think JW is right to seek a greater voice for fans before we reach that point.

  5. Supply and demand. The tyranny of the market – for better and for worse – thats the AFL media deal in my view. Fans Union is a noble idea – but pointless. Like dairy farmers or small winemakers saying we won’t sell our milk or wine to Coles and Woolies – and then what? Plenty of others will.

    Same with footy broadcast rights. The AFL/clubs/players – in that order – have something special or unique that we all rightly pay a lot to share in. Limited supply and plenty of demand from fans (we whinge but couldn’t live without it) – drives up the price for the participants and the costs for us as consumers. The networks are the intermediaries who take their percentage on the way through. Legal drug dealers to us footy drunks.

    Personally I’m ok on 2 fronts. One Eagles game a week is enough ‘mainlining’ for me – alternating weeks on free-to-air or at Subi as a member. South and West Aussies are much better off with TV than the low ranking Melbourne team supporters. Melbourne, North Melbourne etc – tough for the individuals – but the market at work again. If it hastens the demise of 2 Melbourne teams – all the better. This is an Australian game with stronger Melbourne antecedence – but not dominance. The dilution of talent and game standards is what worries me most about 18 teams, so 2 less would be better for everyone, except the fans of the weakest 2. Such is life – as Ben Cousins chest sagely commented.

    I will never have Foxtel until I’m in the nursing home (maybe the 10 year discount subscription isn’t such a bad idea after all at my current rate of decay). Books, radio, music, work, friends, sleep – the Almanac for Christ’s sake. Paraphrasing Roy and HG – ‘Pay TV – when too much footy is never enough’


  6. John Butler says


    It’s good to get a non-Victorian viewpoint on this.

    Much of this discussion is couched in terms of Victorian attendees.

    There would seem to be obvious benefits to followers in other states from the ‘new deal’.

  7. #5. “Fans Union is a noble idea – but pointless.” Not if the union gets enough numbers to have an impact. As an example I cite the “Don’t palm them off” campaign which was promoted by (amongst others) members of Friends of the Zoo in Victoria in an effort to highlight the damage being done to the native environment of the oragutan in order to create palm tree plantations. As a result of that campaign, the two major supermarkets have now committed to labelling products that contain palm oil (which could previously be hidden within the term ‘vegetable oil’) and Cadbury have turned away from using palm oil in their production of chocolate.

    The campaign numbers were small at the beginning and there were many doubters. But the tipping point was reached. Footy fans have the same capacity. There might not be enough who feel strongly enough, but there just might be.

    And Peter, as for hastening “the demise of 2 Melbourne teams”, I certainly understand that point of view. But the AFL’s stated position is still to maintain 10 teams in Melbourne. With the new TV rights deal, they’ll be able to do that. But one wonders then what the wisdom of that approach is, if they allow the fan numbers to dwindle by not giving these clubs equal exposure to the big ones.

  8. Thanks Gigs. Good reminder – ‘pointless’ was too harsh on my part.

    I’ve spent a lot of time tilting at windmills. Most of the time the sails came around again, and belted me on the scone. Try to pick my fights these days. So many good causes, so little time.

    Try to pick those with the best chance of a divie. Or those I am most passionate about, and that is a personal call for all of us.

    “Progress depends on the unreasonable man” – so I try to be as unreasonable as possible – except where the Avenging Eagle and the Boss/Paymaster is concerned. Martyrs don’t get to find out who takes Collingwood down this year!!!


  9. #7 “if they allow the fan numbers to dwindle by not giving these clubs equal exposure to the big ones.”
    Is it televsision exposure that creates fans? Would greater TV exposure for the Kangaroos solve their membership problems and allow them to become a powerhouse? If that were the case, their pioneering of Friday night footy should have seen them develop a larger, self-sustaining membership base — but it didn’t. Nor, interestingly, did a sustained run of success with two Premierships and seven consecutive preliminary finals during the 90s.
    Going back to the original post, while there’s much that I’m sentimentally in agreement with, there’s also a great deal that modern football consumers take for granted that we didn’t have back then. Such as comfortable stadiums (as long as you’re a five-footer — knee room is a constant bugbear at the G and Docklands), generally superb playing surfaces that allow us to see footy played at its most skillful, fitter and more skillful fully-professional players, more games and more of them (generally) on free-to-air. None of these things come cheap. Would we want to go back to footy in the “outer” at suburban grounds? Perhaps on a nice sunny day . . . before you needed to visit the toilets.

  10. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Poignant piece Weldo,

    at the moment I reckon a tipping point is looming between the AFL and the fans.

    As you pointed out on 774, the rituals are changing too rapidly to cater to a televisualised cultural ideal. Yes, us fans have demanded more comfort and better facilities, but we’ve forsaken the multisensory experience of going to the footy. My visual and aural senses get bombarded way too much for my liking when I go to a game these days. It’s almost like going to the movies and that is not the experience I crave as a fan.

    Would definitely subscribe and be involved in a Fan’s Association. Excellent idea.

  11. Peter Schumacher says

    Just wish that we wouldn’t be treated like total ning nongs once at the game. The rampant commercialism makes me want to throw up.

  12. john weldon says

    Thanks for the comments comrades. To address some of them.

    I’m exercising my AFL ‘vote’ by hardly ever going to the footy anymore – I can watch ads at home for free; by refusing to believe that it’s worth $700 plus for the pleasure of watching Gold Coast vs Fremantle LIVE on Foxtel.

    I am not against the commercialisation of the game as such. I understand that we live in a footballing world dominated by the economic bottom line. But if we’re going to pay to watch footy on the box then the AFL needs to get sophisticated about it. Package my membership with my foxtel, allow me to choose the games I want to watch, don’t make me buy the whole Foxtel disaster with half a dozen irrelevant weather channels. Show me some respect and give me some recognition AFL.

    The fans are much more important to the continued existence of the AFL than the players,the commission or the clubs. I’m amazed that anybody could think otherwise.

    Could the Almanac be the rock on which to build the church of the AFLFans Association?

  13. Phantom says

    Don’t go. Go to local footy instead. It’s only going to get worse. And we will be the ones who allow it by playing along.

  14. smokie88 says

    It will be interesting to see the price hike Foxtel imposes on its consumers prior to next season.

  15. Andrew Fithall says

    Smokie – Foxtel’s business model is all about penetration rates and churn rates. Price hikes impact negatively on these two measures. The football package is about attracting and retaining customers who do not currently buy Foxtel as well as retaining those who do. The 8 games live is an incremental benefit to new and existing purchasers. They don’t allow John Weldon, or anyone else to “Package my membership with my foxtel, allow me to choose the games I want to watch, don’t make me buy the whole Foxtel disaster with half a dozen irrelevant weather channels.” You cannot buy just the sport package. I may have to eat my words but I don’t expect you will see an extraordinary price hike. But unless Foxtel’s penetration rates increase, they will have done their dough.

  16. Stainless says

    Ultimately what this comes down to is the level of “addiction” that AFL fans have for their sport and the price they’re prepared to pay to continue to get their hit.

    I think we’re still way off the point at which the addicts will start to stay away or switch off in serious numbers – and the AFL knows it.

    If you compare the inconveniences that have been summarised by John and others above – odd scheduling, the cost of Pay TV, the increasing commercialisation of the game, higher attendance and membership costs and difficulties accessing games etc – with overseas elite sport such as the EPL, NFL and the like, it’s quite obvious that AFL fans still have a sport that is way cheaper and easier to access than their longsuffering counterparts in the USA and UK. Yet those folk still shell out enormous sums in order to sustain their addictions and the popularity of these competitions shows no signs of waning.

    As a postscript, having made a recent move out of Melbourne, I am now a Pay TV subscriber. I acknowledge that for many, this is an expensive luxury and that the prospect of football being increasingly broadcast on Pay TV is a disturbing one. However, for what it’s worth, I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. The coverage itself is superior and it’s nice to watch footy with the sense that it’s a priority for the network rather than an annoying distraction from their regular schedule of lifestyle programs and soap operas.

  17. Mark Doyle says

    An interesting discussion! I believe that the AFL is one of the best, most entertaining and most democratic of any football competition in the world. The salary cap and draft make it a very fair competition for all clubs. I have attended soccer games in Germany, Spain and Italy. The German Bundesliga is the most fair, democratic and affordable soccer competition for fans in Europe. I believe fans of AFL Football are serviced better than in the past. Facilities are better at AFL venues. I prefer watching AFL footy live rather than on TV and go to 7 games at Skilled Stadium in Geelong as a Social Club Member each season where we have excellent seats on the wiing and access to a relaxed bar at half time. I also attend the MCG in Melbourne for 5 or 6 games as an AFL Member each season and have excellent seats on the wing at level 1. I also go to Etihad Stadium for 2 or 3 games in Melbourne each year as an AFL Member and have excellent seats on the wing on level 1. The behavior of fans at AFL football has improved significantly over the years. There is much less drinking and more women attend, which makes for a friendlier environment. The TV coverage on Foxtell is excellent with four live games and several replays of all games each week which are not interupted with ads. The only part of AFL football where fans are not serviced as well is the mainstream media coverage. Most of the mainstream media (radio, TV, newspapers and the internet) coverage is mediocre and superficial. A lot of the content is trivial and celebrity nonsense. Most of radio and TV talk reminds me of “pub talk” which is either illinformed, irrational or illogical. The only TV shows worth watching are ‘The Marngrook Footy Show’, “On The Couch’ and ‘AFL Insider’. The standard of newspaper and internet writing has also deteriated in recent times. It is also interesting that most of the communication between fans today is electronic. When living in Melbourne in the 1980’s I enjoyed social functions for “footy tragics” at the Dover Hotel in Carlton, which was managed by retired Carlton players Adrian Gallagher and Peter Jones. As well as meeting Gallagher and Jones, It was also great to meet people such as Dinny O’Hearn, Laurie Clancy, Barry Dickins, Garrie Hutchinson and Brent Crosswell and talk footy, politics and the meaning of life.. Football writing in the “Melbourne Times” with columns by ‘Wacker’ and ‘Royboy’ were very entertaining. With respect to a lot of negative comment in Melbourne about the AFL, I believe that the underlying sentiment is that people have a romantic and conservative view of the past. The AFL has made us better informed of football culture for all codes in all parts of the country and brought us closer together as a nation. As well as the AFL, we can enjoy the Tiwi Islands aussie rules grand final and the rugby league state of origin games as well as great rugby league players such as Darren Lockyer, Jonathon Thurston and Billy Slater.

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