The AFL has inked the biggest broadcast deal in the history of Australian sport, signing a $2.5 billion broadcast agreement on Tuesday.
It trumps the NRL’s latest broadcast deal, prompting News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch to declare “Aussie Rules” as his company’s preferred choice among the nation’s football codes.
Murdoch, the man who gained control of rugby league in the 1990s when the Super League war broke out, said he would use the considerable power of his media empire to grow the AFL.
“We have always preferred Aussie Rules,” he said.
“We’ve always believed this is the premium code in Australia – it’s the national game.
“We’re also committing all our platforms to support the AFL in every state.
“We believe in the strength of the game and we’re doing everything we can to make it stronger.”
While the NRL is yet to negotiate a pay-TV deal, the five-year agreement signed with the Nine Network is worth $235 million a year, while the AFL’s mega-deal is valued at $418 million annually.
The challenge for the AFL will be spending it, according to chief executive Gillon McLachlan.
Broadcast and AFL bosses have agreed on a six-year deal which locks in the Seven Network, Foxtel and Telstra as the code’s broadcasters until 2022.
The new deal confirms the current 22-game home-and-away season and finals format across the life of the agreement.
McLachlan and AFL commissioner Mike Fitzpatrick were joined by Murdoch and Seven Network chairman Kerry Stokes for the announcement.
McLachlan said the agreement would allow the code to “stay Australia’s game”.
“This agreement will allow us to focus resources to the foundations of our game – to ensure they stay strong, and grow into new areas, into new communities, to create new generations of supporters, members, players and volunteers,” he said.
“We are delivering maximum reach and maximum exposure and we, the AFL, remain in charge and in control of our fixture.
“For clubs and players, we are delivering financial security to allow future growth and certainty.”
While the new deal brings unparalleled prosperity to the sport, the number of matches on free-to-air television could be reduced from four a week to an average of 3.5 without an optional deal being struck.
Foxtel has the optional rights to on-sell a weekly Saturday afternoon match to another network should it wish to, and is expected to try to negotiate a deal with Network Ten.
Stokes said his network’s “very proud history” with the code helped negotiations.
“The signing of this agreement forms a key part of our company’s plans for development, and underlines our commitment to the future of broadcast television,” he said.
McLachlan has no shortage of areas to consider spending the windfall.
“Our challenge is to get the balance right with the distribution,” he said.
“To get the balance right between healthy clubs, fairly paid players, while making the game affordable for supporters in the best stadiums in the world and nourishing our community.
Fitzpatrick said players – who ranked poorly compared to elite athletes from some other codes – also needed to benefit.
“I think it’s important the players get a fair deal out of this,” he said.
“Besides their basic income, there’s also a lot of welfare issues around the players in terms of when they finish, injuries and so on that we’re spending a lot of time and money on.