Less than two weeks out from the start of the second AFLW season, it’s been confirmed that the majority of the free-to-air telecasts of AFL Women’s matches will be shunted by the Seven Network to one of its secondary channels, 7mate.
In the inaugural AFLW season, free-to-air games up to and including round four were broadcast on Channel 7 into the main football markets of Melbourne and Adelaide, with Perth (due to its time zone) and the non-traditional football markets of Sydney and Brisbane receiving the game on 7mate.
From round five, Saturday night matches were relegated to 7mate in all markets, and as a result viewing numbers dipped to around or below 200k free-to-air viewers, down from the figures of around 500k and 350k in the first two rounds.
This is despite the quality of football increasing considerably in the back half of the season.
It’s worth noting that while the AFL men’s JLT Community Series was underway as this point, there was no direct competing matches in the Saturday night time slot at the time AFLW was relegated to the Seven Network’s secondary channel.
Although it can be argued that there is no difference in accessing Channel 7 or 7mate, as they are all on free-to-air television and the channel can be changed with the push of a remote button, it is a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
Commercial television networks air their best and highest rating programs on their main channels (7, 9 and 10), and naturally most of their marketing budget and resources are aimed at promoting the programs that air on those channels.
It may explain why Channel 7 has gone heavy on promoting reality shows and dramas which air on the main channel during the Australian Open, and have done little promotion of AFLW.
In contrast to the Seven Network, the first games of the then newly created Women’s Big Bash League were aired on Network Ten’s secondary channel, One. After promising early audience figures, the WBBL was promoted to the main channel (Channel Ten), and as a result audience numbers and awareness in the competition grew, and continue to grow today.
It’s important to mention that all games will again this year be streamed via the AFL website and aired on Pay TV via Fox Footy or Fox Sports 3.
The move of having the majority of free-to-air games on a secondary channel instead of the main channel may also delay further pay rises and the move to full-time professionalism.
Advertisers paying for airtime during AFLW matches would presumably pay a lower rate with the games on a lower rating secondary channel than on the higher rating main channel. In turn, this would equate to lower revenue for the television network.
Lower viewing audience combined with lower advertising revenues equals lower bids when it comes to AFLW TV rights at the end of the season.
Less TV money plus expansion means the longer the Australian Football League is required to subsidise the AFLW, and the more reluctant they will be to upgrade players from semi-pro to full professionalism.
All in all, the lack of AFLW marketing that’s been noticed by many, plus now having the majority of free-to-air televised games shunted off the main channel, should concern all of those in the women’s footy community.