Contributed by: Brett NortheyIn possibly one of the most dramatic developments in the history of Australian Rules football, the United States AFL has reportedly signed a three year contract with the new All Sports Television Network. If this deal reaches its potential, the major US leagues could be fast-tracked to the first semi-professional Aussie Rules leagues outside of Australia.
The USAFL (also known as US Footy) has overseen strong and steady growth of Australian football in America, since the game first put down roots in 1996. With around forty clubs, and many clubs developing local metro competitions, player numbers are now over 2000. There are three interstate leagues - the MAAFL, based in the American mid-west, the NEAFL in the north-east, and the SEAFL in the south-east. In the west, the California AFL is in the process of reorganising to an expanded league in 2005, probably including an Arizona representative side. In the Pacific north-west, Seattle competes against Canadian sides from British Columbia. Many metro leagues run within cities and states, such as the Golden Gate AFL, Chicago metro league, and the Arizona AFL, to name but a few (the worldfootynews.com links section has all the US leagues and club websites).
In recent years, the Mid-American AFL (MAAFL) has made a determined effort to conduct their league in a professional manner - not in terms of player payments, but in the commitment to schedules, travel and organisation. The other leagues will aspire to this. Sponsorship and media coverage has grown with this professionalism, but the league has lacked a break-through to promote it.
Now a new sports network has been unveiled in the US. Called the All Sports Television Network, it claims to be the only broadcast (i.e. not purely cable) sports-dedicated network in the country. It aims to deliver coverage to 80% of US homes by the end of 2004. The USAFL are reported (during the 2004 US Nationals, won by Denver) to have signed a three year deal, which could see up to three games broadcast each week, from the various US leagues. A report on Yahoo states that "ALL SPORTS will feature select coverage of national and international sporting events including football, baseball, basketball, track & field, tennis, softball, soccer, swimming, wrestling, volleyball and Australian Rules football". Under the agreement, 40% of revenue from advertising would flow back to US Footy. The leagues will have to ensure certain standards to be considered for matches to be telecast, such as at least 16 a side matches, all players registered, accredited staff, commentary, crowd seating and half-time events such as Auskick.
The 2004 season would suggest that most leagues would struggle to meet these requirements, with the exception of the MAAFL. But the opportunity cannot be overstated. The incentive of income streams and massively increased exposure should prove a massive motivation. Clubs such as Atlanta and Dallas are well placed to capitalise on this agreement. With a lot of hard work, it is not difficult to see the MAAFL meeting the requirements. As all fans of Australian Rules football will agree, the sport is a great spectator game, both live at the ground and televised. If US matches are televised and gain a solid following, the clubs should see a huge increase in sponsorship and player recruitment. From there, the future could be unlimited. Of course, all this is simply potential. Time will tell whether the USAFL and its clubs can make it work, but it is a promising development.
More details can be found on Yahoo here (may require a Yahoo account) and on the CAFL Forum. Follow-up stories will be published as more details become available.
World Footy News