Australia’s major football codes have welcomed government law changes allowing games to be screened on free to air digital television channels.


Under the federal government’s two-tiered reforms announced on Thursday, more sporting events will be available on free to air television’s digital format.

All of Australia’s qualifying games for soccer’s World Cup must be showed on existing analogue free to air, as must all major cricket Twenty20 matches involving Australia, including the T20 World Cup.

The soccer and T20 showpieces were added to an anti-siphoning list which the government split into two tiers.

Tier A events, such as AFL and NRL grand finals, the Melbourne Cup, and Test cricket involving Australia at home and in the United Kingdom, must be screened on free to air channels.

But the government removed four AFL and five NRL regular season matches from the list, meaning they can now be showed on free to air digital platforms or pay television channels.

Currently, the AFL and NRL have to sell rights for all games to free to air networks. Those networks can then be on-sold to pay television providers.

The changes mean both football codes will be allowed to negotiate directly with pay television, resulting in potentially higher returns for television rights.

NRL chief executive David Gallop welcomed the reforms.

“The anti-siphoning list had previously given the free to air networks the right to determine how many matches we could offer subscription television, even though the free to air networks themselves had no intention of telecasting all eight games,” Gallop said in a statement.

“Today’s decision more closely reflects what people actually watch.

“But, importantly, it takes away the constraints on our ability to negotiate the best outcome for the clubs, the players and the fans.”

Gallop said the reforms would allow the NRL to recoup the full value of their television rights and bargain for broader free to air coverage.

AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan said the reforms were “a sensible and balanced decision” which ensured all matches were televised in all markets.

“I think there is 71 games currently not shown in some market in Australia, there are black spots in our free to air and pay television schedule,” McLachlan told reporters in Melbourne.

“That doesn’t need to be the case.

“What that does is help enhance national coverage, I think that’s a great outcome for football supporters everywhere.”

Both the AFL and NRL had committed to provide high quality games for free to air coverage, with a mechanism to guarantee such outcomes to be determined.

“The government was firm in seeking from the AFL significant undertakings to ensure that high quality games will be played on Friday and Saturday nights and we gave those publicly and privately,” McLachlan said.

“We want to ensure that we share our showpiece games with the widest possible audience while also having the ability to negotiate with all partners to provide the widest exposure of our sport.”

Gallop said the NRL had given similar undertakings.

“Rugby League has always been committed to high quality free to air telecasts across key games each week and across State of Origin, finals games and Tests,” he said.

“We have already committed to that philosophy going forward with the minister and will work with the government to address those undertakings in more detail.

“It is important though that the sport is able to determine issues such as fixed and floating season schedules and that it has some say in its free to air offering.”