There isn’t too much that you can be sure of these days, but one safe bet is that if two organisations of the calibre of the AFL and Telstra get together, you can almost guarantee that the result will be a fiasco.

It isn’t surprising therefore that the new AFL website (which is operated by Telstra for the AFL) is one of the worst sports sites on the internet. The redeveloped website is a direct result of the 2006 deal in which Telstra paid the AFL $60 million for the online and mobile rights from 2007 until 2011 (more than double the $25 million deal agreed paid in 2000).

Generally, sports websites are among the slickest sites on the internet. Major League baseball and the NFL in the United States are world leaders. Cricket website Cricinfo may not look pretty, but contains a wealth of easily accessible data. By contrast, the AFL site is nothing short of disgraceful. On an ADSL connection, it took 41 seconds for the site to fully load (by contrast, NFL.com took around five seconds, Cricinfo less than six seconds).

When Sandra Davey, head of BigPond Sport (the division of Telstra responsible for the AFL website) sought feedback on football forum BigFooty, the response from users (many of whom are in the IT industry) was rabid.

Complaints ranged from the incredible slowness of the site, inaccurate scores, incorrect statistics, false ladder information, overuse of cumbersome and slow flash programming, appalling video and audio streaming (which seems to be worse than it was way back in 2002), too much advertising, the site crashing regularly, an absurd left-aligned page and many elements of the site not being accessible for Safari or Firefox users. There is, it seems, almost nothing that Telstra did right.

The problems with the AFL site run so deep, many suggest that Telstra would be better off starting again from scratch and making a site that is simple, functional and less flashy.

The AFL should be extremely concerned about the current state of its website. The site is no longer a medium for fans to obtain information on the game, but rather, primarily a revenue generator for BigPond (which is seeking to recoup the $12 million per year it paid for the rights). For international and younger fans, the web is a crucial selling and communication point which is being decimated by poor management and incompetence.

The AFL’s exposure to its potential markets has already been reduced by its lucrative, yet short-sighted broadcast deal (which reduced the number of free-to-air games in exchange for a few pieces of silver) — and it looks like its internet deal might be an even worse result for football fans and the game.

Peter Fray

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