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Are we fed up with televised football?

Has television coverage of the AFL and NRL reached saturation point? Has the seemingly endless TV appetite for our two biggest winter codes been sated at last? And now, sitting bloated and burping in front of the great smorgasbord of televised sport, have the viewers finally said: enough is enough?

Figures released last week indicate that the two biggest winter codes in Australia have suffered significant falls in free-to-air TV ratings this year.

According to The Australian last week, almost 40,000 fewer viewers per match tuned in to watch the AFL this season (telecast by Networks Seven and Ten in a shared arrangement). That represented a drop of 5.5% on the previous year.

Channel Ten copped the biggest hit of all, its average audience falling by 9.4 per cent – or more than 70,000 viewers a game, an astonishingly high number. At Seven, the figures were marginally better. Their audience was down 2.5%.

There was even talk in The Australian that Channel Seven had tried to move its Friday telecast of the Sydney-Western Bulldogs semi-final later in the evening in Sydney and Brisbane, or have it transferred across to Foxtel, in contravention of its agreement with the AFL.

So, what’s going on here? Is this some deep-seated trend revealing itself? Are we falling out of love with our winter codes – or is this some blip on the graph that can be explained away by, among other things, the fact that some of the successful clubs this year struggle to pull decent TV audiences in their traditional markets (see North Melbourne, Sydney Swans, Melbourne Storm etc)?

It will be interesting to see the TV ratings from the two codes over the weekend.

In the NRL, average audiences for the home-and-away season on Channel Nine are down 3.6 per cent on last year, or almost 20,000 viewers per match.

The surprisingly modest AFL crowds over the first two weeks of the finals have reflected this lukewarm TV response throughout the year. Sydney and the Kangaroos drew just 19,127 in the first week of the finals; Sydney and the Western Bulldogs 42,731 to the MCG on Friday night, and then two Victorian powerhouses in St Kilda and Collingwood played to just 76,707 on Saturday night.

It might seem churlish to question that sort of crowd figure but, in an elimination final on a dry night involving two of the biggest supported clubs in Melbourne, you’d imagine they’d draw at least 80,000 or 85,000.

The AFL is hoping to reap $1 billion from the sale of the next five-year TV rights deal from 2012, a 30 per cent increase on the $780 million it received from Seven and Ten (and Foxtel) in January 2006.

It plans to extract this price from the networks by extending the season from 22 rounds to 24 (with the advent of teams in western Sydney and the Gold Coast), introducing Monday night games and forcing TV networks to show more live matches.

But in light of these recent figures, and the slowing economy, I wonder which network is really going to stump up that sort of money. They’d want some guarantees that this year’s viewing figures are an aberration, and that they’re not buying the rights to a sport that has suddenly lost its TV lustre; where fed-up viewers are begging for something other than a relentless diet of football.

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  • 1
    mundo
    Posted September 15, 2008 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Televised or otherwise. Yes.

  • 2
    Thomas Hunter
    Posted September 15, 2008 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Australia’s appetite for sport on television has been sated? Unthinkable. Maybe they are switching off to watch the competition — Sunday Arts with Michael Veitch and Fenella Kernebone. Although it’s not shot in high definition and there are no super slow-mo replays set to the latest Coldplay ballad, it doesn’t have ads and Christie Malthouse isn’t on it.

    If it is the relentless diet of TV footy that’s turning people off, won’t the AFL’s expansion plans only make the problem worse?

  • 3
    Posted September 15, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Only when Carlton play, Thomas :)

  • 4
    Trevor Nowak
    Posted September 15, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s a sports overdoes and will come around every four years. Maybe two depending on when World Cups and the Olympics are scheduled.

  • 5
    Trevor Stanning
    Posted September 15, 2008 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    The fall in attendances at Finals is due to an AFL miscalculation of what the market will bear for ticket prices at the 2008 Finals.
    The fall in watching TV audience has quite a different cause. Factor analysis will reveal the patchy performance of the SWANS in the largest, but fickle, market, accounts for most of the drop.

  • 6
    colin.rigby
    Posted September 16, 2008 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I agree with Trevor. IMHO the SWANs have been very patchy and their style of football is not endearing to fans. Neither is North Melbourne’s. Such is Geelong’s and Hawthorn’s power the other finals teams have been reduced to ‘also rans’ status which deters viewers from tuning in to watch another flogging. On top of this, the standard of sports commentary seems to have fallen away on both Channels 10 and 7. It is often embarrasingly amateurish, particularly on 10. Some of the half time analysis is diabolical and this lowers the viewers respect and desire to suffer through another game. To create drama and make the TV viewing experience more real we now get to observe and hear pre match discussions before teams come out destroying some of the aura and mystique viewers like to build up about their teams. Constant cut aways to the coaches boxes to observe reactions after a goal is scored or missed seems gratuitous, adds nothing to the experience of watching the game and appears to have been created as another opportunity for product placement ads such as mineral water. Finally, inserting advertisements after each and every goal destroys any sense of spectacle for the viewer. Indeed, the ads suck so much attention out of the game the football match is in danger of turning into a support act for a shopping channel program.

  • 7
    Shane Nixon
    Posted September 16, 2008 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    The elimination final was $20 per head more expensive in Sydney than the games in Melbourne or Adelaide. That would account for many not attending. The Saints V Pies game might have been seen as a dead rubber. The expectation is that the GF will be between Geelong and the Hawks so who cares about the lead up games.

    Why doesn’t Seven put the Friday night matches on live in Sydney and Brisbane on one of their other digital channels? They have at least 3 plus the HD channel. As much as it I hate to give credit to Nine they have been doing the right thing by us northern footy starved fanatics by putting Footy Classified and the AFL Footy Show on LIVE on Nine HD. So kudos to Nine for that. Even Seven puts the AFL match preview show Sunday mornings live on the HD channel. So why can’t they do that with the footy? At least it isn’t siphoning off to pay tv which some of us can not get. Almost anyone can get digital for free.

  • 8
    John Ryan
    Posted September 16, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Did it ever occur to you AFL people that Sydney and Brisbane don’t really give a fig about AFL, one finals game got clobbered by an Iron Chef repeat.
    If 7 and 10 had there way AFL would not be shown until after midnight as it does not rate,so if you want to watch the second rate code get pay.

  • 9
    Posted September 16, 2008 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m an NRL fan – I’m sick of watching games at ANZ with 10,000 or fewer spectators.

  • 10
    mattb
    Posted September 17, 2008 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised no-one, including the author, has mentioned or analysed the impact of that other code of football, aka soccer, on NRL and AFL. It’s no secret that Channel 7 tried to kill the NSL back in the 90′s (you don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to think this, just read the C7 courtcase transcripts). NRL, AFL (and Rugby) were always worried about what would happen if football in Oz ever got its act together, which it has started to do in the last 3 years with the new A-League.

    As far as I know, the A-League is the only local football comp *growing* right now, in terms of viewing figures on Foxtel and attendance figures at games. That’s definitely not the only reason NRL and AFL are suffering (yes, people in Sydney don’t give a toss unless the Swans are winning everything in sight) but it’s got to be a factor.

  • 11
    Gervase Greene
    Posted September 19, 2008 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Has not a point being overlooked here (and no, I’m not referring to a scorer’s error or any other bashing of officials, however in vogue that may be).
    TV ratings are down this year because the result is known in advance. Another reader noted that viewers may be watching the football’s competition. Actually, they are search for ANY competition. If you know Geelong will win, you will switch over to the opera. Everone prefers a close contest, except here in the West, where ratings declined by 20% because their teams were hopeless.

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