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Labor welcomes AFL deal with Seven and Foxtel but says it will scrutinize anti-siphoning sports laws | AFL

The Albanese government has welcomed the AFL’s historic broadcast deal with Seven and Foxtel and noted it won’t reduce the number of free-to-air games, while still reiterating concerns about popular sports being locked behind paywalls.

In a statement on Wednesday, the communications minister, Michelle Rowland, noted fans’ concerns about changes to free-to-air coverage of AFL games under the deal.

The AFL’s historic media deal with Seven and Foxtel, worth $4.5bn over the 2025-31 period, was announced this week. Seven will broadcast live on free-to-air all Friday night games, Thursday night games in the first 15 rounds of seasons, and all marquee matches, such as Anzac Day and Easter Monday

But Foxtel and streaming service Kayo will have exclusive rights to Saturday games for the first eight rounds in Melbourne. Fans have been critical that not all Saturday games will be broadcast free.

“Our media laws must encourage innovation without locking iconic sports behind a paywall and leaving some Australians behind,” Rowland said.

The Coalition claims the rise of online streaming services is a “loophole” in the anti-siphoning list, rules which give free-to-air channels the first option to broadcast rights for major events.

In a rare move, last month Rowland directly addressed the AFL Commission and broadcast stakeholders, asking them to ensure “no diminution” in free-to-air games.

On Wednesday, Rowland called the deal “historic” and welcomed the fact there would be no reduction in free broadcast games. But while stopping short of criticizing the arrangements between free-to-air and subscription services, she noted there would be “great interest” in the exact schedule of games.

“This historic deal highlights the importance of free-to-air TV and the AFL,” she said. “The AFL is a game for all Australians. Australians should have the chance to enjoy iconic sporting events live and free, regardless of where they live and what they earn.

“I welcome the AFL’s guarantee that fans will have access to at least the same number of free-to-air games.

“However, there are proposed changes to the arrangements for the coverage of AFL matches on Thursdays and Saturdays and mention of some holdbacks. The details of the scheduling and coverage arrangements for matches under the new deal are yet to be released and will, of course, be of great interest to fans.”

Rowland said the government would soon commence a review of the anti-siphoning list, which gives free-to-air networks the first opportunity to buy broadcast rights to major events.

The current rules do not include the role of streaming services. With platforms such as Stan and Kayo becoming major players in sports broadcasting, it’s expected the review may examine how the anti-siphoning list should interact with such services.

“The Albanese government is committed to reviewing the anti-siphoning scheme to give all Australians the chance to enjoy live and free events of national and cultural significance,” Rowland said.

“The review will be conducted in a consultative manner, starting with a discussion paper to provide all relevant stakeholders, including media and sports, with the opportunity to share their views.”

Guardian Australia contacted the AFL for comment.

The shadow communications minister, Sarah Henderson, said the absence of streaming services was a “loophole” in the anti-siphoning list.

“It is concerning that the current anti-siphoning laws do not prevent a major sports body from selling ‘broadcast’ rights directly to digital or streaming platforms such as Facebook, Amazon Prime, Google and Netflix,” she said.

“At a time when so many Australians are facing increasing cost of living pressures, this constitutes a major threat to the right of every Australian to watch their favorite sports, live and free.”

Henderson claimed the current laws were not fit for purpose, raising concerns about Australian sports being sold off to global digital giants. She also said she was “concerned” about the number of Saturday AFL games being broadcast on free-to-air.

“The anti-siphoning list preserves the right of all Australians to watch major events on free-to-air television … as more Australians access super-fast broadband and subscription streaming services, there will be ongoing debate about which events should be so restricted, ” she said.

“There is certainly an argument that additional restrictions are required such as guaranteeing a minimum number of free-to-air games and ensuring that prime days on which events are held are not excluded.”

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