Foxtel, the AFL and the Seven and Ten Networks yesterday told AFL fans around the country that if they wanted to watch the game they love, then they will have to pay.

That is, pay to go to a game, pay to go to a club or pub (and spending money on alcohol and food) or take up Foxtel with its basic sports package at almost $52 a month.

No-one will be able to watch for free, unless you’re single minded about one team, or just a casual fan: even then some games in Adelaide and Perth will not be seen live but later on free to air (FTA) TV, after the results are known.

A year ago all eight games were on FTA TV, something welcomed by the AFL. Now, all eight games will be split 50-50 with Pay TV, and that’s a good thing, according to the AFL, which has got its way again and proved it’s more powerful than either Seven, Ten, Foxtel and its owners.

For the AFL, it’s all good because it enables the pressure to be maintained on the FTA networks and on Foxtel for the next round of rights negotiations in 2011-2012.

As reported, Foxtel has secured the four AFL games it needs (along with Fox Sports) to broadcast on the Fox Sports 3 channel later this year but the whole untidy negotiating mess has confirmed what many in TV know is coming down the track.

It’s all part of the AFL’s long-term plan to make fans pay to watch Australia’s favourite game (when they can’t get to the game).

A senior TV executive says the industry knows the AFL wants all the games that appear on TV to be paid for by viewers, much in the way that Premier League soccer in Britain and the Ashes cricket tests can only be seen on Sky in Britain.

It’s why Foxtel ended up doing the deal (and wanted the deal done despite opposition from PBL to a higher cash price).

The first hint of what the AFL is aiming for is the arrangement in Adelaide and Perth where fans of the two AFL teams there will have to pay to see four games this year, or go to the ground to watch. They will be replayed later on FTA stations but not live.

Foxtel has been given a big leg up by the AFL in Adelaide and Perth where subscription levels to its service are very low.

Foxtel needs a driver for increasing the take up in both cities for not only Fox Sports, but for Foxtel. You can’t buy the Fox Sports channels alone; they are a $15.95 a month add-on to the basic Foxtel package of $36.95: meaning you will have to pay more than $50 a month to watch the AFL.

Currently, reigning premier, the West Coast Eagles, have a waiting list for membership, so even going to the game is not an option.

People in Melbourne and other cities have been told to go jump by the AFL with the new twilight games: they will only be seen on Foxtel, so if there’s a game you want to see, it’s off to the ground.

Foxtel drafted the 2007-2011 rights agreement specifically to benefit Foxtel by forcing Seven to broadcast Friday night AFL games live in Sydney (and NSW) and Brisbane (and Queensland). Seven didn’t want to do that and commit commercial suicide taking on the strong NRL in both league states.

Nine would not have shown the games live either had it retained the AFL: they were to be Foxtel’s.

The AFL knew Seven would exercise its last right of refusal, and top the Nine bid so it drafted the agreement to cause it maximum disruption and to give Foxtel, and its owners, News, PBL and Telstra, a head start.

The AFL also drafted the agreement in such a way which prevented Seven from moving the Friday night rights to other actual or probable Pay TV operators: SBS and Channel 31 were the only options but the costs involved were heavily outweighed by the $50 million Seven will receive from Foxtel (indexed).

Welcome to the future of sports viewing in this country.

Peter Fray

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