Fox Footy and Seven are the key players as all media descend on Adelaide for Gather Round


Why Fox Footy needs a strong FTA partner to showcase AFL to all viewers.

AFL Gather Round, in two short years, has grown to be a massive success for a sport you might have thought couldn’t get any bigger.

After the success of Gather Round 2023, every media player with any sort of sports connection wants in. You couldn’t move around Adelaide this week without seeing reporters and broadcasters making sure they had a piece of the AFL pie.

Not having broadcast rights doesn’t mean you can’t be all over the sport for your audience. However, there is only one place for viewers wanting to watch the code – Seven and Fox Footy.

And just one place to watch all the games – Fox Footy. Either via Kayo Sports or Foxtel.

The Foxtel Group is out in force in Adelaide, as is Seven. Both media groups have a small content army covering every angle of the weekend. Both media groups also have much of their executive team visiting the city.

On the opening night, the Foxtel Group was well represented. Fox Footy has around 20 commentators and presenters in town to work across the weekend. Add in another 10+ production people.

Watching the first game were News Corp and Foxtel executives including Michael Miller, Patrick Delany, Julian Ogrin, Les Wigan, Steve Crawley, Cate Hefele and their guests.

Two people critical to securing and keeping the group’s AFL rights spoke to Mediaweek at halftime about the AFL. Rebecca McCloy is executive director – commercial, sport at the Foxtel Group. Michael Neill is the general manager of Fox Footy.

Behind the scenes at Fox Footy

AFL Season 2024

Among the initiatives at the dedicated AFL channel this year are significant timeslot changes. The daily football analysis show AFL 360, hosted by Gerard Whateley and Mark Robinson, has been moved an hour earlier to 6.30pm daily.

“The numbers for the show are up a little bit so far this year,” said Neill. “We felt we were possibly missing a little bit of audience earlier in the night. That timeslot work well for NRL 360. We still manage to get multiple replays in and build the cume audience.

“It has allowed us the space to showcase the new product The Tackle which has also been going very well.”

The Tackle airs at 7.30pm on Tuesday and Wednesday nights with a rotating panel of Herald Sun sports journalists.

Neill admitted there was some initial concern the Fox Footy audience might not find the show with its earlier start. “The audience has adapted quickly. People really love the show which is an institution at the station after being on air for so long.

“It’s appointment viewing and it’s become the show of record for AFL.”

Best On Ground gets more votes

Neill also admitted the weekly Saturday night show Best On Ground might have been an ambitious move when it first launched two years ago. It looks like it is expensive to get on air. “It is! But it has a future though. We are doing a special here in Adelaide this weekend. Between the two Gather Round games at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday there will be a one-off edition.

“Next year we are looking at revamping Best On Ground and don’t be surprised to see it back on your screens.”

Adelaide Oval provides a dramatic backdrop

Supporting sports rights with adjacent programming

Part of the Fox Footy attraction for the AFL is the promotion the code gets away from the nine games every week.

McCloy explained: “It’s one of the reasons why sports partner with us as a group. When you do a rights deal for seven or eight years you have to be committed to innovating. Maybe without even knowing what those initiatives might be at the time.

“The Gather Round is an example of that. Even though we are in contract, we and the AFL realise it is important to innovate. To bring in new fans and reach new subscribers.

“We look at making sure we continue with high production standards. And we continue to have great storytelling. That’s why Mick and his team have been in Adelaide all week.”

Dedicated sports channels – Fox Footy and later Fox Cricket – are moves that have helped the Foxtel Group forge strong relationships with both the AFL and Cricket Australia.

Fox Footy panel prepares for Gather Round

Technical innovation

Trying out new tech in the coverage has been something high on the agenda at the sports channels.

Neill: “We were trying out something called aeroshot in Round 1 of the AFL this year. It’s a little bit like a spidercam. We have been working with the AFL about getting onto the ground after goals to get tighter shots of players. That’s something that seems to resonate with the audience. Our directors are always looking at the best way to cut the game. What is the best experience for the viewer?

The motto at Foxtel overall is to be different, better, special. We are constantly challenging what we do. We need to keep reinventing and getting better. Otherwise, people will go past you.

“It’s not unlike a footy team. If you win the premiership one year, you can’t then go and trot out the same thing the following year. Other teams will know what you are doing and go straight past you.”

McCloy: “Our focus with the AFL is already on next year where we have the biggest opportunity we’ve ever had. We will be able to produce all matches every round with commentary, and graphics. It’s the opportunity we have been waiting for.

That change is going to make 2025 Gather Round extra special for Fox Footy.

Neill: “We are very proud of our coverage and the opportunities for us next year are enormous.”

Fox Footy’s Michael Neill with hosts Sarah Jones, Jason Dunstall, David King and Leigh Montagna

Competing and partnering with Seven

Fox Footy competes hard with FTA AFL rights holder Seven for viewers. It also partners with them where it makes sense on the coverage.

Neill: “We are separate broadcasters, yet we share facilities like OB providers [NEP]. There is a friendly rivalry. We work very closely with Seven on a number of things. They try to outdo us and we try to outdo them. It’s great for the game.”

McCloy: “Because Fox Footy is the only place to see every game, we need a strong FTA partner that can showcase the game to everyone. Or job is then to bring in some of those people who want to watch their team every week.

“We will still be the exclusive digital home for all games from next year. That’s a really important position to have. But we need to be able to work with Seven overall to grow the game.”

See also: ‘You grow sport by making it more accessible’: Seven doubles down on anti-siphoning lobbying ahead of 2024 AFL season

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