A little over two weeks ago the AFL announced it would
not be selling the radio rights for season 2007 and beyond at the
prices broadcasters had enjoyed until now. Emboldened by the success of
its deal with the TV networks and the expected $50 million windfall
from selling
the internet rights to Telstra, the AFL announced it would raise the cost of a radio license by up to 500%.

The big loser is expected to be the ABC, who admitted that $1
million was “a bit out of our league”. But the public broadcaster responded
cleverly over the weekend by inviting footy listeners to let them know from where
they were listening and, as expected, people were tuning in from nearby
suburbs, country Victoria, islands in Bass Strait, throughout Queensland and outback Western
Australia, from Hong Kong and beyond.

Which moves us to ask, given the mountains
of cash the AFL is currently sitting on, how much difference does $500,000 to $1
million from the ABC actually make? Is the AFL foolhardy enough to undervalue the ABC’s contribution for
the sake of money? And is this just another example of the AFL trying to stitch up
complete control of the sport?

On the question of control, Rex Hunt had
weighed into the debate on Saturday. “The AFL not only
appears to want to control the game, which I don’t think they are at the minute by the
way, but they also appear to want to control what is said and broadcast and printed
about its so-called product,” he said in response to criticisms about the standard of AFL commentary.

If the AFL pursues its interest
in sports broadcaster SEN, it will be perceived to be paying for editorial control. While
that might please those like Fremantle chief executive Cameron Schwab, who
thinks all footy coverage should be positive to protect the image of the game,
it won’t fool the majority of footy fans, who can tell a decent game from a dud
regardless of what the talking heads say.

And it definitely won’t please those who
may prefer to tune into a code without a filter of Big Brother politi-spin
between the viewer or listener and the action. If the league was really as
confident about the strength of the AFL brand, the healthier crowds, etc, why this desperation to control
every element off the field?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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