Excessive: 42 day wait for free-to-air football | Opinion

The Hawks after a loss in 2012. Picture: Sebastian Costanzo
The Hawks after a loss in 2012. Picture: Sebastian Costanzo

What is the point of broadcasting Aussie rules football free-to-air when a team can go 42 days without their matches hitting Channel 7 screens?

The Hawks are gearing up for another nail-biter against the Cats, but fans who refuse to waste their money on needless pay-TV channels just to watch a few hours of football once a week might as well be living through cricket season.

It would not leave such a bad taste in the mouth if not for the fact that (1) it's now been more than a month since a televised free-to-air Hawks game, and (2) the broadcast drought has played out as Hawthorn has looked to lock in a spot in the finals, including with a four-point thriller against Essendon last week.

This is not an argument against Foxtel having the rights to televise games. Nor is it an argument against paying a small fee to watch games on the AFL Live App, going to the pub or watching at a mate's place.

But something is wrong with the system when there is such a long stretch between games being broadcast free-to-air.

It is a question of priorities. Do the AFL and the broadcasters want a system based on ratings and adherance to the fixture, or can they also ensure a more equal distribution of free-to-air games?

Football is a tribal sport for everyone except those with an unhealthy obsession. We might watch a good clash if it does not feature our team, but we only do so with an academic detachment. So it is not unreasonable to expect every team to be guaranteed a spot on free-to-air at least every couple of weeks.

A failure to do so chips away at more than one broadcaster's ratings.

It undermines the support clubs are thirsty for. Fans might like the idea of sticking like glue to their team's every trial and tribulation but if tuning in becomes too much effort they will shrug and wait until another week.

Unengaged fans are less likely to spend money on memberships or make the effort to turn up for the big matches.

That is especially the case in regional areas like Bendigo, where getting to and from a stadium already brings a significant commitment in time.

Still, at least all droughts eventually come to an end. The football gods have been benevolent enough to schedule a free-to-air game against the Saints next week.

Footy fans can only hope that future seasons will not give rise to any more of these dry spells.

Tom O’Callaghan is a Bendigo Advertiser journalist.