We have all read about the impact online streaming is having on traditional viewing habits, with the likes of Stan, Presto, Apple TV and Netflix attracting more and more eyeballs. It’s only a matter of time before they boast more sports product. Netflix already has the superb 30 for 30 documentary series, produced by ESPN.
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While media companies of this kind are unlikely to have a role in the next AFL broadcast rights deal, the time will come, as noted by AFL chief Gillon McLachlan.

“You have seen Netflix, and you are seeing with Presto and Stan, essentially it’s instead of watching by cable or satellite, it’s via the internet on whatever device you want,” he said.

“That seems to be the future. I am not sure it will be in the next broadcast deal but, at some point, it will play a role.”

Local sports content is increasingly being consumed on tablets and smart phones, and now AFL clubs, away from the match-day broadcast rights, are looking to muscle in on an increasingly fragmented market by maximising their own online platforms.

The Collingwood Football Club, appearing to be awash in cash, is leading the way, to the point that it has produced its own slick documentary (complete with the use of drones to aid footage) covering the team’s pre-season campaign, with three more to come this year.

The Magpies have spent $1.2 million in infrastructure in establishing their own studios in recent years, will pay about $500,000 in wages this year and are set to pocket about $1 million in revenue from their media “products”. Club chief executive Gary Pert said his club had adopted a model established by power European soccer clubs.

“Our model on Collingwood media has certainly come from Manchester United, Barcelona, Arsenal and the way they bring the club to their supporters,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, or the digital or communication platforms that you are on, we don’t ask the supporters now to say come and experience the club through this channel because it suits us. What we say is: ‘Tell us how you are connecting with the club and we will find a way to deliver content, deliver access and get insights and feedback’.”

What clubs can do is guarantee access to talent and the inner-sanctum – something even host broadcasters Channel Seven and Foxtel can struggle to do. In this regard, clubs can be a step ahead.

“A lot of the international clubs that we have been monitoring, they actually don’t get a lot of access to their players. Their players won’t be involved. But our football department has been amazing,” Pert said.

However, the thirst for information can have its problems, a point coach Nathan Buckley has acknowledged.

“It’s a great thing that we are opening up these areas that people didn’t see in the past but the old school in me just says that there has got to be something that the team owns, that there is an inner-sanctum there that bonds a group of blokes together because this information is our’s and no one else gets it,” he said.

It’s also debatable whether clubs would fully detail adverse stories about themselves on their own platform. The Magpies have had two players provisionally suspended for allegedly taking performance-enhancing drugs. Just how this is covered in the next documentary will be intriguing.

While we await to see how that eventuates, Pert has said the club’s expanding media department has provided opportunities, even for curious players.

“We actually have some of our players behind the scenes, coming up with the stories, the creation, learning how to produce a show as well as go on and host it. It’s going to be part of our development program,” Pert said.

So important has their own creation become that the Magpies this year opted to not renew their weekly club-based show on Fox Footy, preferring to retain their own rights.

Pert said the Magpies had no intention of securing match-day rights, something US and European clubs actually crave as part of their overall offering.

“That’s not what we are about. We work with the AFL to make sure our supporters can get the broadcast,” he said.

What the Magpies do have is the flexibility to quickly change direction and service viewers, with feedback directly coming to the club. It’s something traditional media still grapples with.

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