Even as the AFL relishes the prospect of looking to break an all-time single round attendance figure (367,974 set in round 22 in 1998) thanks to a roaring start from its Ben-Cousins driven box office bonanza at a sold-out MCG tonight; spare a thought for NSW and Queensland viewers without Pay-TV.

Yet again the AFL’s much vaunted TV broadcast agreement is full of more holes than a Mickey Mouse cheese tasting for the roughly 70% of viewers in those states making do without Foxtel-Austar access. Channel 10 might be trumpeting its launch also tonight of ONE HD — its new 24 hour high definition sports channel — but headed by Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, like the network’s Free-to-Air (FTA) big brother; don’t bother tuning in until 11.15 if you want to see the Carlton v Richmond blockbuster.

Before then you can watch swimming, which I assume is designed to prevent viewers getting first dibs on the game via ONE before Ten. Scooping yourself extends only so far it would seem!

However, Pay TV viewers in the two northern states can get the live game feed from 7.30 tonight in NSW via the Main Event channel, and an hour earlier in Queensland — almost five hours ahead of Brisbane FTA’s scheduling. This gives a new meaning to the current AFL broadcast agreement requiring near-delayed status for network FTA matches as originally sold to the public by the league; as we now enter the third year of its $780 million five-year agreement.

Tomorrow night the same viewers, depending on your region, may or may not get a break with Channel Seven coverage of the equally eagerly anticipated grand final replay between Geelong and Hawthorn. Again Sydney and Brisbane fans restricted to FTA can make do with such riveting fair as Scrubs for the preceding 90 minutes prior to an 11.45pm kick off with a 3am finish. However, here on the Coast thanks to Prime we can see the game on near delay from 7.30pm if you don’t or can’t watch it earlier via Main Event starting an hour earlier.

As for the other six games spread over the following two days depending on which of the 25 designated AFL viewing zones you reside in around Australia — you may or may not get to see them depending on various permutations, including Pay-TV having four of them. But the most put out any Fox Sports-Main Event viewer can be as far as I can figure during the first round, is the lengthy delay of several hours before the Port Adelaide v Essendon Sunday match.

There is one clear moral in this massively confusing picture — FTA is a round by round lottery for all AFL fans no matter where you live — but for Pay TV viewers there’s one certainty — you get to see all eight games at some time; and that’s before the repeats!

You can access the league’s 2009 AFL broadcast guide providing the schedule and designated media coverage being offered match-by-match for each round by TV, radio and online relevant to your local area here.

Footnote: So confusing is the picture we may actually have got something wrong in trying to make sense of the opening round.