AFL boss bemoans buffering at MCG as app hunger rises

Australian Football League chief executive Gillon McLachlan bemoans the amount of buffering at the Melbourne Cricket Ground when a big crowd piles in and many of the spectators are hunting for information and statistics through apps on their mobiles. The sheer volume of people means smooth downloads are few and far between.

He says digital disruption is hitting the AFL and one of the biggest challenges it faces is being able to service the enormous growth in demand for instant information.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan (right) had an app open during the Australian Open tennis men's final and loved the ...
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan (right) had an app open during the Australian Open tennis men's final and loved the experience. He sat next to Seven West Media chief executive Tim Worner. But the experience when a big crowd is at the MCG is less impressive when everyone's trying to download and update.  Photo: Michael Dodge

Mr McLachlan says he was at the Australian Open tennis final on Sunday night watching Novak Djokovic beat Andy Murray at Melbourne Park and had an app open with statistics and information that enhanced his live viewing experience. It all worked smoothly. He acknowledged that at the Australian Open there was a crowd of 15,000 which was much less than a big crowd at the MCG for an important AFL match, which grapples with technical problems if large numbers of people are using mobiles at the same time.

Digital disruption is having a big impact at many levels.

"There are a series of consequences for us," he said at an Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce business lunch in Adelaide on Tuesday.

"Servicing the growth in demand for information," he said when questioned about the biggest challenges posed by the digital shift.

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Richest broadcast deal

The AFL in August, 2015 signed the richest broadcast deal in Australian sporting history to run for six years from 2017 to 2022, securing $2.508 billion in a joint deal signed with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Kerry Stokes' Seven West Media and Telstra.

Channel Seven will telecast an average of 3.5 matches per round on free-to-air television, Foxtel retains its rights for all nine matches each round on pay television, and Telstra holds the digital rights.

The broadcast rights deal was substantially higher than the previous deal worth $1.25 billion over five years from 2012 to 2016.

Mr McLachlan says the rise in streaming and people using apps has been extremely sharp.

He told the business lunch that 4.2 million people downloaded either the AFL app or an AFL club app last year. "That's a fundamental change".

Mr McLachlan says it is crucial the AFL invests the funds from the broadcast deal wisely to strengthen the game and to address perceptions which he says are incorrect but are widely held by some, that the elite level of the sport has taken precedence over the grass-roots and community level. Those investments needed to have a long-term horizon.

Our job now is to invest the money wisely. It's to invest for 20 years, not to distribute for six.

Gillon McLachlan, AFL chief executive

"Our job now is to invest the money wisely. It's to invest for 20 years, not to distribute for six," he says.

Mr McLachlan says the expansion clubs such as Greater Western Sydney needed time to build and he was satisfied with their progress, after starting from scratch.

"They're complete start-ups," he says.