Crystal-clear stream could avoid fixturing debacle
Two elements were made crystal clear when South Fremantle’s elimination final against a talent-laden Peel was fixtured to start at the dead time of 12.10pm on Sunday.
The first is that the WAFL’s status has fallen significantly – and probably permanently - below that of the AFLW.
The second is that the sooner the coverage of WAFL matches moves to streaming platforms, rather than stays on free-to-air television where its fixturing is so compromised, the sooner the league might start to recover some of the ground lost in recent seasons.
It was Channel 7’s call to play the elimination final on Sunday as a television curtain-raiser to the AFLW clash between West Coast and Essendon. Elimination final host South Fremantle had no choice in the time slot. They were simply bulldozed into the midday start.
This is the most significant football match in WA this week but it is being treated as little more than an exhibition event and television filler. The Bulldogs would have anticipated a strong financial windfall from a packed-out president’s lunch and pumping bar trade had the sudden-death match, featuring the grand finalist of the past three seasons and the rising Thunder jampacked with a dozen or more ambitious Dockers, been played in the afternoon.
Instead, some of the best footballers in the State will be hanging up their boots for the season just as footy prime time arrives on what is forecast to be a fine and sunny spring day. Adding salt to South’s wounds is the fact that the WAFL telecast is not even considered worthy of leading directly into the AFLW match.
Rather, episodes of Highway Patrol and Border Security will be used to fill the hour-long gap between the two matches. Is there any wonder FTA television is struggling to retain audiences?
Which brings us to the second topic. And a disclaimer. I have spent much of this season commentating on WAFL games streamed live on the AFL platforms. It has been an eye-opener, not least when my splendid (trust me) call of a league debutant’s first-kick goal was deflated somewhat when the unimpressed mother of another player contacted me to confirm it was the apple of her eye who had kicked the spectacular major.
Oh well, BT probably suffers similar grief occasionally. The coverage is still quite rudimentary – mostly just one caller, two cameras, limited replays, etc. – but it is cheap, flexible and, quite clearly, the way of the future.
The massive free-to-air and pay TV broadcast deal announced by the AFL this week might well be the biggest in Australian sport, as chief executive Gill McLachlan boasted, but it surely signals the end of State league football as a television product.
Enter the age of the streams with their ability to reach anyone armed with a phone or mobile device and the capacity to provide clubs with considerable product to use for their own promotion. It was evident in this inaugural season of WAFL streaming that clubs and fans had a new and more nimble landscape in which to follow the sport.
Within an hour or so of a match finishing, three vision packages – about one minute or so of a key player’s highlights, a 12-minute mini-match that grabs moments from each quarter and then a full match replay – are cut in Melbourne and published on the AFL website.
Clubs can make use of that vision and the most forward-looking soon catered to their members and supporters by publishing packages on their own websites or social media outlets. The WA Football Commission raises several hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to underwrite its WAFL coverage yet that money, or even a portion of it, might be better invested in the next generation of media coverage?
The WAFC as a WAFL broadcaster? If that improves fixturing and takes the game to more people, why not?
It might even allow vital finals to be played in decent time-slots.
WEDNESDAY HERO: Ben Sokol has collected the first medal of the season after seeing off Jon Marsh and the fast-finishing Tyler Keitel to head the league goal-kicking list. The Lion kicked 3.5 against West Perth to finish with 41 goals and earn his second Bernie Naylor Medal. It was the lowest winning total (except for the shortened 2020 season) since another Subi spearhead in Pat Rodriguez kicked 36 in 1920 though it is a mark of Sokol’s consistency that he has kicked at least one goal in every match for the past two seasons. And speaking of Rodriguez, a prominent and farsighted football administrator after his playing days, the shield bearing his name was collected by his other club West Perth after their minor premierships in all three grades.
IMAGE: WA Football