The AFL world went into meltdown on Tuesday when it emerged that the Sydney Swans had made an offer to Hawthorn’s Buddy Franklin under the AFL’s restricted free agency rules (which means that Hawthorn can match the offer made by the Swans). The 9 year, $10 million offer caught most off guard as it had been widely anticipated that the GWS Giants were in the box seat to take the star forward from AFL heartland to the harbour city. Such was the magnitude of the news that Fox Footy’s AFL 360 (which was only one day into its summer break) broadcast a special episode to dissect the events of the day.
Following the shock news there has been some criticism that the Swans can afford players such as Buddy Franklin due to the club receiving a salary cap bonus in the form of a high cost of living allowance. The argument is that smaller Victorian clubs cannot compete with teams such as the Swans in attracting the big names because of this extra allowance.
As a result, the question that must be asked is the better commercial proposition for the AFL having all Victorian-based clubs strong at the expense of interstate teams, or does the AFL need stronger teams in the most populated city in the country more? We are going to tackle this question solely from a TV viewership perspective, given that the AFL’s major source of income is revenue from the sale of its broadcast rights.
A starting point is this year’s grand final broadcast by the Seven Network. The game between Hawthorn v Fremantle attracted an average 5-city metro TV audience of 2.717 million viewers, compared with 2.937 million viewers for the 2012 Grand Final between Hawthorn v Sydney. This suggests that having a strong Swans is better for the broadcaster and therefore as the broadcaster can extract more revenue from a telecast if it has more viewers, it is likely they will be willing to pay more for such telecast rights.
Examining the Sydney TV market closely reveals the Sydney average audience for this year’s match was down by 265,000 viewers, or nearly 40 per cent on last year. While Perth’s audience for 2013 rose 110,000, or 28 per cent, compared with last year’s Perth audience, this gain did not completely offset the loss in Sydney viewers for the 2013 Grand Final broadcast. This is obviously because the Swans were not in the Grand Final.
The Swans have in-fact featured in the three most watched AFL Grand Finals. This is no coincidence given Sydney is the biggest TV market in Australia. For example, the 2005 Grand Final between Sydney v West Coast recorded 3.391 million viewers.
This shows that a strong Sydney is better for the broadcaster and therefore better for the AFL (at least commercially). The prospect of Buddy Franklin wearing the famed red and white should help the Swans remain a premiership chance at least for the next decade.
As such, the news of Buddy Franklin possibly going to Sydney is Buddy brilliant for TV and the AFL!