The Fox Footy general manager Michael Neill learned a lot about broadcasting last year, but it’s not an experience he wants to repeat.
The channel has been running its talk shows for nearly two weeks now in addition to live AFLW and AFL pre-season. The AFL home and away season starts Thursday March 16 and Fox Footy will again cover all nine games live each week.
“A few key things for us from 2020 were adaptability, flexibility and agility – words and actions we used a lot last year,” Neill told Mediaweek. “It was very challenging yet also really rewarding. The weeks where there was football being played every night put a lot of pressure on the team, but we did a great job and got a lot of positive feedback from the audience who thanked us for helping them get through Covid with football on all the time. It was a credit to everyone involved from the AFL to also Channel Seven and all the radio broadcasters too.”
Foxtel has a seat at the table with the AFL when the footy fixture is planned each year. As to a desire for more Footy Frenzy weeks, Neill said: “It got a lot of good reaction, but you don’t want too much of it. We are open to more of it if the viewers want more. Planning this year has been a challenge though with a continued possibility of border closures.”
Broadcasters were not able to travel to grounds for much of last year and Neill explained Fox Footy put a lot of work into making remote broadcasting a good experience for the commentators and the viewers. “Our team don’t just sit there watching one small TV, seeing what the viewer gets at home. We have multiple screens including a wide-screen view of the game. We expect most of our team will be at games in Victoria this year at venues, but we won’t be doing a lot of travel.”
Fox Footy will again have people at venues outside of Victoria. “We will never broadcast a game where we don’t have someone at a venue. That’s what happened last year and why Alistair Lynch [in Queensland] was at an incredible number of games.” Looking after Fox Footy in Adelaide is Mark Ricciuto and in Perth Matthew Pavlich.
One initiative this year that viewers will notice is a Fox Footy mini for every game. What took Fox Footy so long to introduce the cut-down versions which have been a hit for cricket fans for some time?
Neill: “The growing demand from the audience meant we had to commit to doing it for every game this year. We are excited about the potential for them, especially for people who stream on Kayo, Foxtel Go and Foxtel Now.”
Fans won’t have to wait long for the 18-minute summaries after the final siren. “Our dedicated AFL editors work on them during and then after the match. We are hoping to get them up no later than an hour after the final siren.”
Current players that have been signed to Fox Footy this year are veteran Eddie Betts and relative newcomer Christian Petracca. “We think they both have real potential to be outstanding media performers. We have been lucky in finding people who are both good media talent and good footballers. Our team includes Richmond’s Jack Riewoldt who used to run away from cameras and do self-imposed media bans. He’s now on AFL 360 and does other things. Jack does an amazing job.”
Neill is hoping for good ratings this year after this year’s Fox Footy pre-season coverage was up over 50% year-on-year. “There seems to be a big appetite for us to be back at the footy.”
Photo: Just some of Fox Footy’s team for 2021 [L-R]: Jason Dunstall, Kath Loughnan, Garry Lyon, Sarah Jones, Dermott Brereton, Kelli Underwood, Jack Riewoldt and Jonathan Brown