THE AFL will reap a major financial windfall after striking a colossal new six-year, $2.508 billion broadcast rights agreement.
The new deal will see Channel Seven, Foxtel and Telstra continue as the League's broadcasters under the new deal, which will run from 2017 to 2022.
The current deal expires at the end of the 2016 season.
The existing deal was effectively worth $250 million a year; the new deal is 67 per cent bigger at $418 million a year.
AFL Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick and CEO Gillon McLachlan were on hand to announce the deal, and they were joined by News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, News Corp CEO Robert Thomson, Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes and Telstra CEO Andy Penn, among others.
The press conference at AFL House revealed:
• Channel Seven will broadcast matches in HD free-to-air from the start of the new deal in 2017. Kerry Stokes said Channel Seven is looking into broadcasting in HD before the new deal kicks in.
• The AFL retains full control of the fixture, including whether the Grand Final is scheduled as a day, twilight or night match.
• The AFL fixture will remain at 22 rounds, with nine games each weekend.
• Outside of Thursday night matches, public holiday and bye/split rounds, the competition will feature:
- One Friday night match
- Two Saturday afternoon matches
- One Saturday twilight match
- Two Saturday night matches
- Two Sunday afternoon games
- One Sunday twilight game
• Foxtel will continue to broadcast every game, except the AFL Grand Final, live on Pay TV.
• Foxtel holds the right to sub-licence one game per round each weekend in the Saturday 3.20pm AEST timeslot to a free-to-air provider, if it chooses.
• Telstra will once again hold the rights for hand-held devices, AFL.com.au and the club digital network. Telstra will broadcast every match on mobile devices.
McLachlan said the historic deal delivered for clubs, players, supporters and the community.
He said the deal would provide financial security for clubs and players to "allow future growth and certainty".
McLachlan said the deal would see resources directed towards the foundations of the game, while growing into new communities to "create new generations of supporters, members, players and volunteers".
The League struck the existing five-year, $1.25 billion agreement in April 2011, less than a year before the deal came into effect for the 2012 season.
AFL Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick said the new deal will help the League grow its reach over the next decade.
"We need to continue to be the first choice for our elite and talented athletes, we need to strengthen our clubs at all levels, and we need to invest in the community level of our game," Fitzpatrick said.
"This agreement with News Corporation, the Seven Network and Telstra will allow us to make the right investment to keep our game strong."
He thought it was important the players "get a fair deal out of this".
Murdoch, whose company is yet to negotiate a deal with the NRL, said he believed the AFL was Australia's "premium" football code.
"This is a very significant investment for us. We've always believed that this is the premium code in Australia – it's the national game," Murdoch said.
"We're very happy to be doing this. We believe in the strength of the game and we'll do everything we can to make it stronger."
With the new deal, Channel Seven will show matches in high definition on free-to-air TV from 2017.
But Kerry Stokes revealed the broadcaster would search for ways to broadcast in HD before the next agreement kicks off.
"It's a matter under review. It's been a technical issue for the network, as you're aware, and we're reviewing it again this summer with the hope that we can find a way of bringing high definition to Melbourne," he said.
Stokes also backed Good Friday football: "We'd love to play football every day of the week – Good Friday included."
He said his network have made "suggestions" about switching the traditional afternoon Grand Final bouncedown to a later timeslot.
"We did make the point that … twilight games happen to get more ratings than day games do," Stokes said.
"And if one wants to be the most watched Grand Final in Australia it would seem sensible it might be at twilight. I hasten to say we have not put any conditions.
"The AFL control the schedule and we accept that."
Telstra boss Andy Penn said the milestone deal would see his company "continuing to provide you with the technology and the digital innovation that is really going to just transform the experience of fans watching AFL footy in the future".
The new agreement comes a week after the NRL confirmed a new four-year, $925 million agreement for free-to-air TV coverage with the Nine Network.
The rugby league deal has accelerated negotiations for the AFL rights.
Nine's deal with the NRL will involve four free-to-air games per week.
The NRL hopes its total broadcast rights deal will be worth around $1.7 billion once a pay TV deal is reached.