As an avid and passionate sports fan I have decided to write an article with a tone more serious than usual seen by me this time around. I’m going to take a look at sport and its connection to TV, to the media and through that, to the public.
I’m sure we have all seen the ads on TV currently featuring Nicole Livingstone and Sandy Roberts, among others, that implore us all to keep sport on free-to-air (FTA) TV so that it can be enjoyed by everybody. This is the main point of the article and every point will come back to the sport on TV and the viewership of the general public.
The current debate revolves around sporting major events being able to stay FTA or pay TV, or Foxtel, gaining all the sporting events for their viewers. This would be fine, except for the fact that two-thirds of the Australian public does not own Foxtel, in most cases, due to their unwillingness to pay for the packages that it promotes. The AFL is already looking at separating its rounds into A-games and B-games, with FTA and pay TV splitting the proposed A/B games between them. Cricket Australia is looking at 20/20 cricket being shown exclusively on pay TV, including the Indian Premier League and Champions League. Why are major sporting organisations considering this? The answer is simple, money!
The AFL’s last TV rights between Channel 7 and Network 10 gained the AFL broadcast rights by paying a grand total of $780 million, with the rights up for grabs in the very near future the total is expected to rise above $1 billion. Nice little profit for the AFL there isn’t it? So it is easy to see why the AFL is all for pay TV being able to broadcast sports exclusively, the betting rounds would keep the price going up and up and up. It also means that classic matches like the ANZAC Day match, Dreamtime at the ‘G and matches between traditional rivals like Collingwood/Carlton would be exclusive to pay TV. What happens when the finals begin? Do all matches become matches of the round and thus pay TV automatically gains the broadcast? The Grand Final is a different question altogether.
In terms of cricket, Cricket Australia (CA) is a part-owner of the Champions League, along with major Indian business partners. The same Indian business partners that CA is inviting to put money into the Australian 20/20 teams. If pay TV is able to gain the broadcast rights to the 20/20 matches, there will again be a nice little pay packet for CA along with the Indian partners.
Outside of AFL and Cricket, other major sporting events that are currently shown on FTA would not be seen. Events like tennis grand slam events, major golfing tournaments, major swimming meets, motorsport and the list goes on. I haven’t even begun talking about what happens with the Olympic games, the Commonwealth Games or the Winter Olympics!
As I said at the top of the article, two-thirds of Australians do not own pay TV, are they expected to go out and purchase Foxtel, in tough monetary times for the everyday Aussie, just to watch the sport that they love. Sport in Australia is like America and fried food, one cannot survive without the other. Speaking of food, another area of business that would thrive from pay TV gaining all the sport is the pubs of the Australia. Every man and his dog will head to the local to see the sport they can no longer watch in the comfort of their lounge.
The sporting organisations believe that the reduced airtime will also gain access to more profit through more people heading through the turnstiles to attend the event. I believe the opposite, the access to the sport is limited if it is not on FTA and could cause people to turn off the sport completely. In terms of AFL, people are not going to fill up the MCG if its Richmond vs Melbourne on a Saturday afternoon just because it isn’t on TV anymore.
On one hand I am all for sporting organisations to try to expand their game and breach new horizons and I understand that money needs to be flowing for them to do so. However, the moving of televised sport from FTA will do more harm then good, all that needs to be done is advertising. I have never seen an ad stating the next game details, by this I mean who is playing who, where they are playing and the time they are playing. Sure you see ads about who is playing who and what time they are playing, from the individual networks about their upcoming broadcast, but never anything from the sport themselves. I can guarantee that people would see an ad from the AFL, CA, NBL about the upcoming game and where/when it is and will think to themselves that there is a day/night out.
So the sports need to stay on FTA, the audience is larger, the potential greater. But as usual, the money will win out, it always does!