Network 10 ‘happy’ despite A-League struggles as AFL broadcast bid looms

Undeterred by poor linear ratings, Network 10 insists it is incredibly happy with the first season of its long-term investment in the A-Leagues while reaffirming its strong interest in the AFL’s broadcast rights, saying it can help put Australia’s indigenous game in front of an international audience.

10’s is off to a challenging start, with the men’s competition in particular struggling for mainstream relevance amid a continued downturn in crowds, TV ratings and general interest.

Most games are hidden away on 10’s nascent streaming service Paramount+, which launched in August, but ratings for the A-League Men on the network’s main channel have declined during the season, averaging just 86,000 according to OzTam – a marginal increase on last season’s ABC numbers. The elimination final between Western United and Wellington Phoenix last weekend rated so poorly that 10 had a lower audience share than secondary channels 10 Peach and 10 Bold.

Much can be blamed on the pandemic, which forced the Australian Professional Leagues to reschedule more than 90 men’s and women’s matches during the peak of the Omicron wave, robbing the season of any sense of momentum, while have also left fans infuriated.

10’s co-chief executive Beverley McGarvey said after Saturday night’s grand final between Western United and Melbourne City, the network would sit down with the APL for an in-depth review of what went right and wrong this season.

But for year one of a long-term deal, we’re all very happy in a very challenging environment, she told the Herald and The Age.

The interesting thing is the reach has certainly grown this year. The A-League, on our platforms, the reach is up 22 per cent, and that’s important. No matter what way you cut it, the reach is bigger. Because we’re across three platforms [linear TV, 10Play and Paramount+] it doesn’t come through as strongly that that is the case.

There’s an awful lot of noise around it, which is to be expected – we’re used to that. We really want to make sure people know we’re committed to it. We’re coming into something we knew needed to build and grow . . . we got a few curveballs this year that will make it easier, moving forward, to amplify and build on that.

Would we like it to be doing more on Saturday nights? Absolutely, but you could ask me about any show on the schedule and I would say I would like more viewers.

Asked directly if 10 would persist with showing the A-League on its main channel – which sources say is written into the broadcast deal, and could prove an obstacle for any future contract with the AFL – McGarvey said: We would never talk to the details of a commercial agreement, but we will always work with the APL to make sure the games are in the right place.

McGarvey promised improvements to the app were on the way – ideally in time for next season – to give viewers the option of being able to pause, rewind and fast-forward during live matches, which she explained wasn’t as simple to implement as many might think.

It requires deep investment into the product roadmap and then the ability to execute it, so you need lots and lots of developers, he said. We have the benefit of being part of a big, global company and all of that stuff will come.

McGarvey also said that unpopular in-game advertising breaks are here to stay on 10, and will continue to be shown whenever there is a natural stop in play. The APL had into each half during Saturday night matches to make room for ads, a plan which was abandoned due to a furious reaction from fans.

Honestly, the economics don’t make sense if we don’t do it. We simply cannot pay for it, she said.

If the game is going to be financially supported, people have to see the advertising messages. That’s just how it works. We don’t want it to be intrusive and annoy the fans because nobody wants their advertising in front of an annoyed fanbase. It’s just about doing it in a way that is the least intrusive.

10 also has the rights to Socceroos and Matildas matches and other international tournaments, including the AFC Champions League and English FA Cup, with football marking the network’s first serious foray into sports since it was taken over by US conglomerate Paramount (formerly ViacomCBS).

The AFL could be next. McGarvey and 10’s other co-CEO Jarrod Villani recently met with outgoing AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan in New York, as 10 and Paramount contemplates a big-money bid to take over from Fox Sports and Seven as that competition’s chief broadcaster from 2025 onwards – although she was reluctant to speak in detail about the meeting or 10’s ambitions.

Given the nature of our business now in Australia, we have multiple platforms and multiple revenue streams, we would remain very interested in having a look at what else is out there, McGarvey said. And obviously the AFL is one of those things that is incredibly interesting, should it be genuinely available.

The AFL is an Indigenous sport to Australia but given it is really high quality, incredibly premium, I do think there’s [an overseas] market for it, and I’d say that’s something that is really of interest to them, and something we could certainly bring to the table.

Watch football’s biggest superstars in the and Finals this May on Stan Sport. in Champions League – ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport in 4K and 9GEM on Sunday 29 May from 4:30am AEST. in the Conference League Final (May 26) – all matches streaming ad-free, live and on demand, only on from 4:30am AEST.

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