In 1979, I was lucky enough to be travelling in Canada with my family. I pestered my Dad so badly about the result of the VFL grand final that he rang the Australian consulate in Vancouver. I received three versions of the score – two which had the hapless Magpies winning. One said Carlton had won by five points.
Seven years later, down and out in London, I was reliant on street magazine TNT for VFL results. It was somewhat less than reliable – games with incorrect scores, matches missing, VFL teams with rugby league nicknames.
Footy fans on hold over Telstra's 2012 packages
In the mid-80s, watching footy overseas - if you were lucky - meant getting the grand final in a packed bar, maybe a weekly highlights package, weeks late, featuring a rules of the game segment. A mobile phone was one with a very long cord, that could be carried across the room. Portable phones which played live video were fantastic visions in Dick Tracy cartoons. The World Wide Web was a popular chain letter. A T-Box might have been the gearbox of Thunderbird Two. An X-Box was probably something pornographic.
Raised on replays, I was a rapt watcher of live broadcasts of plodding Army Reserve Cup seconds games from the Lakeside Oval. They were an exotic treat. Like many footyheads of my certain vintage I developed a tiny soft spot for the Swans, because they were on TV every second Sunday, the only live coverage most Victorians experienced in the 1980s.
Since those days of five concurrent games on a Saturday, I have become accustomed to live coverage, spread over the weekend, and I was excited by the new AFL broadcast rights deal announced last year, which assured fans that every game would be covered live. These days I only want to watch a replay if my own team has won.
Part of me gratefully accepts that as a modern AFL fan, I am spoiled, and things are about to get better.
The other part wants simple questions answered about the services offered. Questions like: "How much will it cost?" And: "What will I get for my money?"
Less than two weeks before the start of the AFL pre-season competition, answers to such questions are tough to get.
Try to sign up for live matches on your mobile phone or tablet, and you will meet courteous, but mystified salespeople. One said she "wasn't into footy", so would have to ask someone to help her. That person couldn't help her. And hooking up to the relevant internet-TV services this summer has been a task for only the keenest tech-savvy shopper.
In 2012, Telstra will stream all nine weekly AFL games live to mobile phones and tablets on their NextG network, and via Foxtel on their T-Box internet-TV service. Gaming console Xbox will also air live matches. The products are wonderful, but gaining access to them is currently easier said than done.
In the wake of last week's Federal Court ruling that seemingly enabled non-internet rights holders to re-broadcast free-to-air AFL matches on a delay of less than 90 seconds, Telstra is less than prepared for customers seeking its mobile service.
The website of the telecommunications giant made no mention of AFL coverage until mid-afternoon Monday February 6, when it put up a banner asking interested customers to register their interest in their upcoming service. "We're launching AFL Live in early February to make sure it's ready for the NAB Cup. Simply enter your details and we will let you know when its ready," it read. Searches of 'AFL' on its site had yielded the press release from April 2011 heralding the live coverage to come.
At that stage BigPond links on smartphones had not been updated from 2011, with no mention of the new deal for coverage of live matches in the "AFL action pack", which retails for $49.95 per year. All a salesperson could offer is that daily, monthly and annual packages would be offered. She guessed that the yearly rate would remain around $50.
The best clues about the potential mobile coverage came from the 'Foxtel from Telstra' section of the telstra.com.au site. Customers who own an 'eligible Telstra 4G or Next G mobile or tablet' and are signing up to receive their Pay-TV through Telstra, are offered a Free Live Mobile Season Pass for 'live footage of every game', replays and highlights and more.
This should reflect the service that will be provided for all mobile phone users, a boon for footyheads keen for some live action whilst trapped on public transport, or waiting on a friend. It mentions a 60 minute limit per session viewing limit, and says that vouchers can not be redeemed before the 17th of February.
The only assured way, as of February 7, to promptly guarantee access to coverage of pre-season matches – in demand due to the thousands of fantasy football devotees scouting prospective players - was via Pay-TV. Ring Foxtel, and within five or ten minutes you can be signed up, and within a few days, hooked up to the Pay-TV monolith, for a currently discounted minimum of $50 per month. This provides you with every AFL game live, except the grand final, which is delayed, and the revived 24-7 Fox Footy Channel, which launches on February 17. It is quick and painless, until you consider your finances. The incentive to become a couch potato in order to justify the expense will hopefully recede once the games begin the same day.
Where Foxtel cables cannot be connected to a dwelling, the Xbox and Tbox consoles offer access to live footy via 'internet-TV'. However, when theage.com.au contacted Telstra, Foxtel and Xbox, the representatives we spoke to were unfamiliar with the services. And it took a while before the systems allowed us to speak with a human being, who turned out to be a very polite US-based American asking what 'AFL' was. She then referred us to Foxtel. Foxtel had referred us to Xbox. A similar to-and-fro occurred with Telstra and Foxtel over what would offered when, and for how much, on the TBox.
But the Xbox 360 AFL option is up and running, and by yesterday, details were available online. Its Footy Play service will show eight live matches per round – generally missing the fourth match of each round, the 4.40pm Saturday fixture – and most Fox Footy Channel content. The monthly charges add up to $29.50, plus either $20 per month, or a one-off payment of $100 for a 'season's pass'. The cost of the console itself is around $300.
The Age's Adam Turner acclaimed the new AFL broadcast regime as a "ground-breaking deal" for footy tragics, when it was announced in April 2011, saying such new media platforms would ensure fans of teams not featured regularly on free-to-air TV access to live broadcasts of their matches.
But it might pay to be patient. Various Telstra salespeople told the The Age that none, five, and six AFL games would be live on the TBox. A Telstra spokesman then assured us that "Customers will be able to subscribe to FOXTEL on T-Box and get all AFL games live." Other content will be provided by Big Pond's AFL channel, rather than the Fox Footy Channel.
The T-Box service will also cost $49.50: $19.50 for the Get Started package, $10.00 for the sport package and $20.00 for the AFL content. The machine sells for $299 outright, or $35 up-front plus $11 per month for 24 months. The customer must be signed up to Big Pond broadband, which has a cheapest bundled service of $89 per month for internet (5GB), home phone and the T-Box (paid off at $11 per month).
The upshot of all of this?
If you want to get AFL on your mobile phone or tablet, hold fire. The deals aren't available yet, the sales staff don't know the product, and the court case and appeal has obviously created issues. The product itself, when it arrives, should be spectacular, and may end up a huge success, but for now, it is not ready.
Pay TV? The product is already spectacular – we all love live broadcasts, existing Fox Footy programs, and the return of the 24/7 Fox Footy Channel is a major plus. It is annoying that you have to take on superfluous channels to get the content that you want, but that's the commercial reality.
Fox Footy is ready, and the sooner you subscribe, the more likely you will avoid delays as the season comes upon us, and the footyheads realise they want to watch that 28-year-old rookie for Fremantle strut his stuff in the pre-season.
Xbox? T-Box? Some argue that these are good options for those wanting to avoid the extra Foxtel channels. But you don't have to watch those channels, and the deals are no bargain, especially if you don't have already own the hardware. These gadgets are most important for offering access to live matches for those who cannot access Foxtel cabling (in metropolitan areas), and those who already possess the consoles. Users are also not tied into long contracts, being able to opt out when they wish. If you are bundling your telecommunications with Telstra, the T-Box may prove an economical option. It's all down to how much you use your internet and phone, in what way, and what you can afford, and that takes a calculator, plenty of wary comparing of prices, and a nerdy nephew all over the latest deals.
After a week of dealing with websites that demand an existing customer account number; voice prompts that send you to dead ends; conflicting statements from customer service representatives; and large corporations passing potential customers back and forth, all I can do is quote '80s cop show Hill Street Blues as you contemplate the brave new world of live AFL coverage: “Be careful out there.”
Or: go to the pub. A hotel industry publication reports that Fox technicians have been "run off their feet" installing Fox Footy Channel at venues, after the broadcaster offered its first season free to those which upgraded to a high definition service.
In 2012, whatever technology you choose to watch your footy, it will be more comprehensive and expensive than getting Dad to call the consulate.
Click here to see what platform your team is on in 2012