TV networks told to seek compensation for ‘substandard’ Essendon games after doping ban

Network Seven and Foxtel have been urged to seek compensation from the AFL with predictions the decision to ban 34 past and present Essendon players over systematic doping at the club will hit TV audiences.

Yesterday the Court of Arbitration for Sport handed down bans for some of the team’s star players amid a doping scandal which has dragged on for nearly four years.

Mark McCraith, CEO of media agency Maxus, told Mumbrella the ban, which leaves Essendon with a massively weakened team and favourites for the wooden spoon, made one of the nine games per round “substandard”.

“If I was the networks I would be asking for compensation,” said McCraith. “This is devastating. The ninth game in the AFL is not worth the paper it is written on.

McCraith: Ninth AFL game isn't worth the paper its written on.

McCraith: Ninth AFL game isn’t worth the paper its written on.

“The whole point of bringing in two new teams Gold Coast and GWS was to have the ninth game and to build that extra revenue pile for the AFL now all of a sudden that game is really diluted.”

The ninth game was added to the schedule in 2012 when GWS Giants came in to create an 18-team competition, helping the AFL expand its TV revenues when the new deals were negotiated that year.

Seven refused to be drawn on whether it would seek compensation, but its CEO Tim Worner issued a statement restating its ongoing commitment to the Essendon club and code.

“After the handing down of today’s decision and acknowledging its impact, Channel Seven will continue this support and will stand by Essendon and assist them as they go about the rebuilding of their great club,” said Worner.

Asked about the impact on TV audiences and stadium crowds AFL boss Gillon McLachlan said the code would continue to retain its ANZAC Day match, traditionally one of the biggest of the year, where Essendon plays Collingwood.

However, McLachlan also acknowledged that: “Clearly (Essendon) won’t be as competitive as they would have been”.

Gillion McLachlan: 'Essendon is going to be weakened.'

Gillion McLachlan: ‘Essendon is going to be weakened.’

“Essendon is going to be weakened, there is no doubt about that,” he said. “But this is a huge club, with 700,000, 800,000 supporters, and it’s an inflection point of the history of this club, over 140 years old, and supporters are tribal.”

KiaOther major sponsors were reluctant to comment, with a spokesman for car maker Kia telling Mumbrella: “We have a business relationship with the Essendon Football Club and contract and we honour our contracts.”

However, they refused to comment on whether it would re-sign when its contract expires at the end of the year. Other major sponsors Fujitsu and Adidas have not responded to requests for comment at the time of publishing.

Experts have also predicted an impact on viewing audiences as a result of the decision to ban many of the club’s top tier players, with the team predicted to struggle all season.

Barry Urquhart, principal of consultancy Marketing Focus, said: “There is no question that there will be brand damage (to Essendon) but the bigger issue is when the AFL sits down will they give Essendon preferred scheduling for Friday night football? I don’t think so.

“It is eyeballs on screens rather than seats in the stadium that determine the innate value of a club, a brand and a footballer and therein lies the situation.”

EssendonThis was a point emphasised by McCraith who argued: “The decision raises a number of questions like will the AFL move to schedule more of these Essendon games on Foxtel. If I was Foxtel I’d be disappointed.

“With Seven, if they have a lot of Friday night games they are likely to be disappointed because the team is only going to be at half strength potentially, you don’t know if there is going to be another court challenge, players will be devastated – some might give up – there will be a lot of consequences from this.

“This is still under the old broadcast deal and if I was the networks I would be asking for a refund on the ninth game.”

Ryan: impact of Essendon ban should be minimal.

Ryan: impact of Essendon ban should be minimal.

CEO of media agency Carat Simon Ryan challenged this viewpoint arguing the impact on TV audiences will be minimal.

“The fans, followers and viewers know it is bigger than one team’s incident,” said Ryan. “While they are bringing new players into the team that will bring new opportunities for them and I think they will be a strong but young team.

“It may be one or two or three per cent difference but it is not going to create an uproar in ratings because the ratings are still significant.”

Managing director of Nunn Media in Sydney Chris Walton said he believed the impact would be greater on the Essendon brand as it struggled to retain sponsors and lure new brands in.

“I don’t think people are less likely to watch AFL games but I do think this will affect those associated with Essendon the club rather than the AFL as a sport,” said Walton.

“This (doping scandal) has been dragging on and on and on,” he said. “It is hard for Essendon to get brands to associate with them while you have this undercurrent of issues and controversy.”

“A drop in on field performance will likely cause an impact, however, this would be expected to be short term on ratings,” said Adam Hodge, head of strategy for sports marketing agency Octagon.

“Besides providing broadcasters an opportunity to question the short term value on their investment, is probably not at the top of the AFL’s concerns as they look to drive increased value in their broadcast product, both on TV and digitally.”

Andrew Woodward a consultant at Partnership Marketing argued that despite the negative headlines and expected short-term impact on Essendon’s on field performance the heritage AFL clubs have a resilient brand.

“I think most people recognise this is a rogue incident rather than a systemic thing,” said Woodward. “One of the things about Essendon is that they are from Melbourne’s western suburbs and have one of the most ferociously loyal and dedicated fan bases in the game. They will just ride this through.”

Foxtel had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Nic Christensen 


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