Seven's Rob Maclean on the final AFL season before full digital rights kick in

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 7 March 2024
Rob Maclean; image supplied by Seven.

Toyota, McDonald's, AAMI, Harvey Norman and Bunnings have come onboard as broadcast sponsors for the 2024 AFL season.

Joining Telstra, Coles, Sportsbet, Industry Super Funds, Hostplus, CBUS, Chemist Warehouse, NAB, Asahi Beverages, Uber, OMO Ultimate, Cash Converters, Bundaberg Brewed Drinks, Colgate-Palmolive and Virgin Australia, Seven’s national sport sales director Rob Maclean says that the bevy of returning brands recognise the value and effectiveness of aligning with Seven AFL.

"There's been a lot of trust built over the years in terms of ways of working and being able to service those accounts and they've seen what we've been able to do together, not only around Seven AFL but across other properties like cricket and also what we did more recently with the Women's World Cup - events that form a part of culture and which presents an opportunity for brands to be move the needle on their own objectives and brand health outcomes in a really effective way," he said.

Perhaps the biggest news of this coming AFL season - which kicks off tonight when the Sydney Swans and Melbourne meet at the SCG - is what's slated to happen later in the year, when the network's full digital rights to the AFL kick in with the Brownlow Medal and the AFL Grand Final, followed by the AFLW (which is already running on 7plus) then the full 2025 season.

Seven’s digital rights to cricket start in October 2024, with Test matches, Women’s Internationals, BBL and WBBL running on 7plus for the first time.

On whether those sponsors who have signed up for the 2024 season will come across to the 7plus product once those rights do kick in, Maclean says that when Seven goes to market, it's guided by preferential rights obligations as part of its own broadcast agreement.

"Generally speaking, there'll be a trigger point where the governing body say to us 'these are our partners for the coming year', who we will then engage with to have a conversation with so that same process will play out," he told AdNews.

"Some of these sponsors know now that we have these properties locked in all the way out to 2031, both cricket and footy, so it gives us the opportunity to work together to build really powerful, long term partnerships."

As the partners of the sport get first rights to engage with Seven on their broadcast proposition, they can then ultimately decide whether they want to be a broadcast sponsor as well, utilise a cross screen package or play no part at all, with the latter scenario meaning Seven is then able to approach competitors in the category of those brands.

"Certainly those brands that are a partner of both the governing body and our own broadcast are set up for success, because they have the ability to leverage the IP, they can utilise athletes and talent in a creative and the sum of those parts can really create a powerful marketing proposition," he said.

"At the other end of the spectrum, we've had some really fantastic success working with third party sponsors - brands who are not partners of the AFL or Cricket Australia, for instance - to create really relevant TVCs and creative and content for those brands as well.

"The ways that we do that is look to leverage some of our own IP and talent. Think about something like the 30 second ad break after a goal; they can show up with Seven AFL talent in that scenario, and there's an immediate connection to the environment, and the context of the program around them that drives super outcomes."

With around one and a half million verified AFL fans in audience intelligence platform 7REDiQ, Seven has opted to introduce 'show pages' for each of the AFL clubs on 7plus in 2024, as well as adding to the 800 videos that were available on demand on the BVOD platform in 2023.

"The Seven AFL FAST channel grew 125% year on year last season and that's complemented by FAST channels around AFLW and the state leagues," he said.

"We're really leaning into our growth in those northern markets too; last year for instance, we saw that Metro Brisbane grew by about 20% on the year prior and regional Queensland grew 10%, so that's why you'll see more footy on Channel Seven in Queensland, but also in New South Wales across some big Thursday nights."

The 2024 season will be the biggest ever on the Seven Network with more games in prime time, more Thursday night games, more Friday night games and more Saturday night games. Across 2023, Seven’s AFL coverage reached 17 million Australians and the AFL Grand Final reached 7.83 million people with an average total TV audience of 3.98 million, up 22% on 2022.

Maclean said that the growth of interest in international sports like the NBA, NFL and the Premier League in younger Australians due to being "more accessible and easier to consume [on digital]" is exactly the same in Australia for the likes of homegrown sports such as AFL and cricket.

"Getting the full digital rights will be a game changer because it will bring optionality and choice in terms of how and when fans consume sport," he said.

"For broadcast, we need to be everything to everyone as a long form storyteller, because that captures the broadest audience, but with live streaming, and on demand content of which we will have really expansive rights, that'll enable us to connect with those more fanatical sports fans who want to consume content in different ways."

"What that personalisation and hyper targeting ultimately means for our partners and sponsors and brands is optimised reach outcomes and incremental reach outcomes, more access to really high value audiences and enhanced effectiveness driven by those data smarts and insights."

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